Juggernaut Jets? Observers note early parallels with Los Angeles Kings' 2012 Stanley Cup run

From the lack of expectations to an elite goaltender, young stud defenceman and a gritty veteran captain, Winnipeg looks like a carbon copy of L.A. nine years ago.

'We're just kind of worried about Game 1 of the next series,' says Jets forward Andrew Copp

Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck celebrates with his teammates after beating the Oilers in overtime on May 23, 2021. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press)

Randy Lewis experienced a little deja vu watching the Winnipeg Jets sweep Edmonton in the first round.

He texted his Jets forward son, Trevor Lewis, that the team was giving him flashbacks to the 2012 Los Angeles Kings — the team that also knocked off a heavily favoured opponent and buzzsawed through the playoffs on the way to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

From the lack of expectations to an elite goaltender, young stud defenceman and a gritty veteran captain, Winnipeg looks like a carbon copy of L.A. nine years ago.

Trevor Lewis, the only player on both of those teams, sees the parallels in goalies Connor Hellebuyck and Jonathan Quick and the us-against-the-world mentality that fuels them.

"There's definitely comparisons with Quickie when he was unbelievable and Hellebuyck — he's been awesome for us," said Lewis, who spent 12 years with the Kings before joining the Jets this season. "A tight-knit group and kind of going in as an underdog and no one really giving you a chance."

Almost a decade since the Kings won their first three series with a total of two losses, the Jets' next chance to show they belong in that company starts Wednesday when they host Game 1 of the second-round series against Montreal. The Canadiens will surely know what's coming.

"Maybe Edmonton was a little surprised at our commitment to defence and how tightly we were able to check some of them early in the series," Winnipeg forward Adam Lowry said. "I don't think moving into round two you're going to see that. I think you're going to get every team's best every night and the better team's going to come out on top."

Defenceman Josh Morrissey, left, tangles with Montreal Canadiens forward Josh Anderson earlier this season. The Winnipeg blueliner was a tower of strength for the Jets in the first round of the playoffs. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The opening round was a showcase for Hellebuyck, No. 1 defenceman Josh Morrissey and captain Blake Wheeler. After the 2012 Kings held Henrik and Daniel Sedin to seven points in five games, the Jets limited likely MVP Connor McDavid and reigning MVP Leon Draisaitl to nine in the sweep.

Morrissey averaged 30 minutes a game, doing his best impression of Kings top blueliner Drew Doughty.

"Every player wants to have the opportunity to play as much as you can and sort of run with that," Morrissey said. "I certainly relish that opportunity."

Hellebuyck, the 28-year-old reigning Vezina Trophy winner, stopped 151 of 159 shots. Quick is also American and was emerging in his mid-20s as one of hockey's best netminders.

"They've been really good on the road, and the comparable there would be the goaltending," two-time Cup winning Kings coach Darryl Sutter said by phone Monday. "Quick and Hellebuyck would be real comparable."

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler carries the puck against the Oilers in the first round. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

So are the styles of hockey. Sutter, who coached against Winnipeg this year with Calgary, draws parallels when looking at the Jets' strength down the middle and relentless forecheck.

"There's probably similarities in terms of size and grit and speed," Sutter said. "When you're a big team, then they don't say you're fast. But those teams in L.A. were big, fast teams and that's what gets overlooked little bit. That's probably similar to Winnipeg."

The Jets are also leaning on their captain like the Kings did with Dustin Brown in 2012. Brown became the second U.S.-born captain to hoist the Cup, and Winnipeg's Blake Wheeler is aiming to be the third.

Wheeler took a puck to the midsection late in the third period of Game 4 against Edmonton in one of those captain-making moments the Jets have gotten used to seeing from him.

"It's not just in the games: It's how he moves around the room," coach Paul Maurice said. "He's in a great mood. He's excited.… Blake's a driver. He's a grinder and he's a driver and he's a wired guy. So when he brings more than that like in terms of having fun around it, he kind of lightens the room a little bit."

Similar coaching resumes

Maurice is a lighter touch as coach compared to gruff, no-nonsense Sutter, though their resumes are alike. Sutter was on his fifth NHL head coaching stop, while this is Maurice's fourth and he has been around long enough to have been behind the bench for the Hartford Whalers.

"They're definitely similar in how they know the game," Lewis said of the coaches. "They might get the message across definitely, but you definitely understand when they're trying to get something across. They might have different ways of going about it, but their knowledge of the game is pretty similar."

Similarities to the Kings may be coming a little soon for some younger members of the Jets.

Andrew Copp, who was a senior in high school when L.A. made its run, is well-versed in comparisons to the 2016 Nashville Predators who went to the final despite entering the playoffs as an afterthought. He doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself.

"Any time when a team is discounted or maybe an underdog in the first round and kind of gets out against a team that was kind of expected to move on, I think you start drawing parallels to [Los Angeles] or Nashville," Copp said.

"But we're not really concentrating on drawing parallels to Stanley Cup winners just yet. We're just kind of worried about Game 1 of the next series."


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