With so much focus on the impact of Winnipeg's Mark Scheifele's hit on Jake Evans near the end of Wednesday's series opener, it's easy to become sidetracked from another key issue when the Jets and Montreal Canadiens resume their Stanley Cup playoff series on Friday in the Manitoba capital.
First and foremost, Evans' health is top of mind after the Montreal forward was carted off the ice via stretcher. The four-game punishment handed to Scheifele is also relevant.
The league's department of player safety announced the suspension Thursday evening after Scheifele was given a major penalty for charging and game misconduct for the hit on Evans.
Those issues will be boxed away, though, when the puck drops in Winnipeg and the Jets look to even the best-of-seven series after Montreal kicked it off with a 5-3 win.
"We've got enough experience in the playoffs that whether it's a big win, a loss or whatever, turn the page and refocus," Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey said. "The playoffs are a bit of a chess match, and you have to make adjustments as you go."
The Jets have a few adjustments to make. First, rejigging the lineup without Scheifele, their top-line center, likely means more ice time for Pierre-Luc Dubois. A couple of other key players are questionable as well: Veteran center Paul Stastny might not play due to an undisclosed injury, and defenseman Dylan DeMelo left the game early in the first period with a lower body injury.
"If you're missing Mark, I think you're missing arguably our best player. You saw the effect of that in the bubble," forward Andrew Copp said, noting how Scheifele was injured in last year's qualifying round series with Calgary, which the Flames won. "I think we're better equipped to handle such a (loss). Guys will have to step up in his place. We have to find a way to win the next game. I think that's all we're worried about. ... It's a big game for us."
The Canadiens, who had several players voice their displeasure about the hit, also need to refocus. After all, the Jets looked very much like a rusty squad having gone nine days between games and improved as the game went along, so spending too much time thinking of revenge won't help Montreal win this series.
"We all know what happened ... and the best way to get back at them is to win the series," defenseman Jeff Petry said. "Our focus is to make sure that we're playing the right way, the way we've played in the last four games, and make them pay that way."
Unfortunately for the Canadiens, Evans will be out of action for a spell.
"He's doing better," coach Dominique Ducharme said after practice on Thursday. "We have two doctors with us. They took care of him (Wednesday) night. They didn't feel the need to take him to the hospital, which is good news. He'll definitely miss a lot of time. It's tough to say how long right now."
As much as it's Ducharme job to keep his players focused on the task at hand, he does believe they can use what happened as motivation.
"That's something that we'll manage the right way. We have one objective. That's winning," he said. "We came here to win games and win a series. An incident like that sparks emotion. I mentioned that it's sometimes difficult to spark emotion again after a seven-game series. They've sparked us even more now."
--Field Level Media