SPORTS

Playoff rookies excelling early in first-round series for Jets against Ducks

04/18/2015 12:52 EDT | Updated 07/06/2015 06:59 EDT
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Paul Maurice is ready to stop talking about the Winnipeg Jets' lack of post-season experience. It helps that playoff newcomers have been some of the club's best players.

Among the eight players making Stanley Cup playoff debuts, Adam Lowry scored a goal, Jacob Trouba set it up and shined on defence and Ondrej Pavelec was more than solid in goal against the Anaheim Ducks.

"They were great," veteran defenceman Mark Stuart said Friday. "It's tough. Your first playoff game, a little bit of the nerves, a lot of emotion. But those guys were calm and collected. ...

"That's what it should be, though. It's playoff hockey. It's the best hockey you can play. I really liked how those guys played."

So did Maurice, who said the opening 4-2 loss to the Ducks didn't hinge on experience or lack thereof. Given all the unknowns about how the Jets would handle the increased playoff intensity, they played well on the road.

Maurice wasn't surprised by that.

"They've been heavily relied on in very, very important games and especially very physical games in the Central Division," he said Saturday. "They've passed through that time that this is my first or second year. They belong on the ice."

Trouba played one of the best games defensive partner Stuart has seen in a long time, showing confidence leading the rush up the ice and a burst through the neutral zone that can make a big difference.

"I love when he's got the puck and he's coming up the ice because you know he feels he can make something happen," Maurice said. "And at that age, you don't see a lot of young guys like that who have a physical element to their game, as well.

"He hits hard, he's got a little snarl to him. Really happy with him."

The Jets have reason to be happy with many of their young players, including centre Mark Scheifele, who was good in his playoff debut except for a roughing penalty on Ryan Kesler late in the second. Anaheim's power-play goal early in the third contributed to the Ducks' comeback victory.

Scheifele and his teammates didn't look like deer in headlights, and the young centre believes Game 1 provided a nice stepping stone.

"We've done a lot of learning throughout this entire year," Scheifele said. "It's just a matter of taking it all in and soaking in the challenge.

"We knew it was going to be tough, we knew it's going to be a new experience, but it's just a matter of accepting the challenge and going with it."

Expect the Jets to continue relying on playoff newcomers because they don't have much of a choice. There is pressure on Blake Wheeler, captain Andrew Ladd, centre Bryan Little and defenceman Dustin Byfuglien to contribute, but there are enough new faces capable of stepping up.

From Game 1 on, Maurice hopes the first taste of playoff hockey serves his young players well.

"The consistency of the level of play will be the thing that they remember," Maurice said. "All the things that came with it, I think: the intensity of each shift.

"There wasn't a drop in the game, there's no lull."

And with the series returning to Winnipeg for Game 3 on Monday, there won't be one any time soon.

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