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Veteran Niederreiter says this year's Jets have more pilots than 'passengers'

Winnipeg Jets' Vladislav Namestnikov (7) scores on Colorado Avalanche goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) during the first period in Game 1 of their NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Winnipeg on Sunday April 21, 2024. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade) Winnipeg Jets' Vladislav Namestnikov (7) scores on Colorado Avalanche goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) during the first period in Game 1 of their NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Winnipeg on Sunday April 21, 2024. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade)
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WINNIPEG -

It was just over a year ago when Nino Niederreiter made a frank assessment of the Winnipeg Jets.

The veteran forward said there were too many "passengers" on the team as it was fighting to grab the second wild-card spot for the 2023 Western Conference playoffs.

Flip the calendar to this season and there are a lot of pilots to take the controls.

"We need to have a full team going to be successful," Niederreiter said after Winnipeg's morning skate Tuesday.

"The team-first mentality and buying into our system and go from there, I think that's something we did a lot better job of this year. We're more consistent than last year -- and that's why we are where we are right now."

A group effort was required ahead of Tuesday's Game 2 as the Jets aimed to take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven opening-round series against the Colorado Avalanche

Winnipeg hung on for a 7-6 victory in Sunday's Game 1 at Canada Life Centre.

Last season, the Jets won the first game of their opening-round playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights but dropped the next four and were knocked out.

Winnipeg defenceman Brenden Dillon says there's been a different vibe around the team this season.

"It's just a way better, more positive feeling than last year," he said.

The Jets snapped a six-game losing streak late in the regular season and surged with eight consecutive wins to finish the campaign.

"Between the coaches' messaging, between us as teammates' messaging, everyone was just, we know how good of a team we are, we know that we've been here before and we've got to be mature about this and stop it before it snowballs," Dillon said.

The players were dialed in ahead of Game 2.

"The mood is definitely very great in the room, but we all know we've got to be so much better than we were in Game 1," Niederreiter said.

"They kind of outplayed us for most of the game and we found the way to keep getting the lead and found a way to expose their goalie a little bit. We did a good job of it, but we all know it's going to be a whole different game."

BOOST FROM CAPTAIN

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog was on the ice for Tuesday's morning skate with his teammates, but he was wearing a hoodie and sweatpants and not participating in drills

Landeskog is still recovering from cartilage replacement surgery in his right knee last May and there's no timeline for his return to action.

His presence around the team is still invaluable.

"It's just fun to have him in the room with everybody," Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon said. "He's such a great person, great leader.

"He's definitely giving us good insight. He's kind of like a coach right now."

Injuries have kept Landeskog from playing since June 2022, when Colorado won the Stanley Cup.

Speaking of that Cup victory, MacKinnon was candid about where the Avalanche are now compared to that skilful team.

"I'm not sure we'll ever be on as good of a team as we were in '22, but we're still good enough to win in this room and excited for the challenge (Tuesday) night," he said.

GOALIE SWITCH

Alexandar Georgiev was scheduled to start again for Colorado on Tuesday, backed up by Ivan Prosvetov, recalled from the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles late Monday afternoon. Goalie Arvid Holm was reassigned to the Eagles.

Colorado regular backup netminder Justus Annumen remains out with an illness.

Prosvetov got into 11 games for the Avalanche during the regular season, registering a 4-3-1 record with a 3.16 goals-against average and .895 save percentage.

Avalanche defenceman Samuel Girard was listed as a game-time decision.

   This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2024.

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