The Winnipeg Jets were just starting to turn things around when the NHL season was suspended March 12 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The Jets had rattled off four consecutive victories and were 6-3-1 in their last 10 contests, good enough to hold the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference with 11 games left on their regular-season schedule.
At first, head coach Paul Maurice was disappointed that the postponement interfered with their solid play, but soon realized more important things were happening in the world.
"For the first three or four days right after I was sour....So I was grumpy and then you turn the TV on and reality hits," Maurice told TSN's James Duthie during an interview on Monday.
Following a first-round elimination by the St. Louis Blues last spring in the playoffs, most of the Jets' 2019-20 campaign has been trying. After playing under .500 in October, Winnipeg did well in November (10-3-1) before posting a 6-5-2 record in December followed by a 3-8-1 showing in January to sit outside of the playoffs.
Injuries have been a factor with Bryan Little, Luca Sbisa, Adam Lowry and Mathieu Perreault all missing significant time. Star defenceman Dustin Byfuglien has missed the entire season as well after not showing up for training camp.
Still, the Jets were starting to turn their season around and were in playoff contention when the season was halted. Despite knowing that it's unlikely due to the unpredictability of the coronavirus, Maurice wishes they could play out the entire 82-game regular season if and when the NHL returns this year.
"What we went through with the injuries and the travel. We paid for this wonderful month of March in our first five and a half months. We had four blocks of three games in five days with two days off in between and we just got healthy," explained Maurice. "I've never seen a March schedule like that so we felt like we had paid for it. Clearly, it's not going to happen now, but I'd like the opportunity to play all 82 if we could.
"I just want this season to be played [from] a personal point of view. I want to see this Winnipeg Jets team play. I haven't seen them [all back together and healthy] all year. They went through so much and survived and we just started feeling good. Everybody got healthy. We won four in a row. We liked our March schedule. We're thinking, 'you know what, this could be our year. We could get on a run. We could win.' So I want to see this team get that chance."
Kyle Connor leads the team with 38 goals and is tied with Mark Scheifele for the team lead in points with 73. However, Maurice says the key to their strong play as of late is goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
The 26-year-old is 31-21-5 with a 2.57 goals-against average and .922 save percentage over 58 games played.
"We are in the position that we were in to be excited about our March to think we had a chance because Connor Hellebuyck was outstanding," Maurice said.