May 17th, 2024

Winnipeg Jets shake up lineup for must-win game against Colorado Avalanche

By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press on April 30, 2024.

Winnipeg Jets center Cole Perfetti (91) watches a face off during an NHL hockey game against the Dallas Stars in Dallas on February 29, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Tony Gutierrez

WINNIPEG – Going into his first career NHL playoff game on Tuesday, Cole Perfetti knew that he wouldn’t have any family in the stands cheering him on, but he was certain they’d be there in spirit.

The Whitby, Ont., product and veteran defenceman Colin Miller were both set to make their first-round series debut in the critical Game 5 against the Colorado Avalanche, who could eliminate the Jets from the playoffs with a victory.

“They’ll be cheering from home. They’re going to be watching hard and cheering from the TV,” “ Perfetti, 22, said of his family.

Winnipeg’s 2020 first-round draft pick (10th overall) played a career-high 71 regular-season games this season, recording a personal-best 19 goals and 38 points.

Perfetti said he was excited to get his first taste of the “whiteout” crowd at Canada Life Centre but would focus on helping Winnipeg extend the best-of-seven Central Division series that Colorado leads 3-1 off three consecutive victories.

“Obviously, I’ve wanted to play in a whiteout for a while and now I’m getting the chance to do that in a huge game,” the five-foot-11, 185-pound centre said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Miller, 31, was acquired in a trade deadline deal with the New Jersey Devils. He played 41 games with the Devils, recording four goals and four assists. He got into five games with Winnipeg and notched one assist.

The Sault Ste. Marie native has 40 career NHL playoff games on his resume with the Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, and the Vegas Golden Knights, as they made their 2018 run to the Stanley Cup final and loss to the Washington Capitals.

“I think getting back to (doing) things this team did so well all year, that good defensive game slowing them down through the neutral zone,” Miller said. “Breaking the puck out is difficult against them because they’re such a quick team. Try to focus on those things.”

Jets coach Rick Bowness was making changes to the roster for injury and performance reasons, as well as juggling lines.

He confirmed that forward Vladislav Namestnikov, who sustained a fractured cheekbone from a deflected puck during Sunday’s 5-1 loss, would be sidelined. Bowness said Namestnikov felt nauseous on Monday night, hadn’t eaten and was “not feeling great.”

Defenceman Brenden Dillon remains out recovering from a skate slice to his hand in last Friday’s game.

Perfetti slotted in at wing on a second line with centre Sean Monahan and Kyle Connor. Winnipeg’s top line is Mark Schiefele between Nikolaj Ehlers and Gabriel Vilardi.

Miller is slated to be on the third pairing with former Vegas teammate Nate Schmidt.

“We need to score some goals, so that’s why they’re going in,” Bowness said of Perfetti and Miller. “Colin’s got a great shot on the point.”

And it’s time to give Perfetti a good look, he added.

“We had enough offence in the lineup the last couple of games, we just haven’t scored. So let’s increase the odds up in putting Cole back in,” Bowness said.

The coach expected more urgency from his team.

“There’s not one guy in that room ready to call it a day and call the season over,” Bowness said. “So, I’m very confident that we’re going to see the A-game from everybody (Tuesday) night.”

HARD ONE TO GET

The Avalanche were keeping the same roster from Sunday.

Veteran forward Mikko Rantanen wasn’t aware of Winnipeg’s changes, but their focus was on what they had to do to get the series-clinching win.

“We know that this one is probably the toughest to get,” he said. “It’s toughest to beat a team that is facing elimination and their season is on the line. We know they’re probably going to have their best game so we’ve got to match that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2024.

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