Jets getting defensive in playoffs

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Eric Schmoldt
Thursday, April 20, 2017

Janesville Jets defensemen did their jobs this season.

The team's blue-liners, combined with a pair of standout goalies, helped the Jets allow just 153 goals (2.55 per game) during the North American Hockey League's regular season. Just four teams in the league allowed fewer goals.

But as the postseason began last weekend, Janesville's defensemen went on the attack. Four of the team's six goals—including both game-winners—came from defensemen as the Jets beat Coulee Region twice to grab a stranglehold on the best-of-five first-round playoff series.

“They were close games this weekend, and that's how I feel like every playoff game is going to be,” Jets assistant captain Cole Paskus said ahead of Friday night's Game 3 in Onalaska. “Our defense are stepping up and scoring goals, and so everybody's just finding any way that they can to help the team.”

All three goals in Friday night's 3-2 victory were scored by defensemen. Blake Wareham, who scored two goals in 58 regular-season games, scored twice in 25 minutes to open the postseason. His second forged a 2-2 tie, and defenseman Frank Sullivan broke that deadlock with less than three minutes remaining in the third period. Sullivan had 17 points (seven goals) in 50 regular-season games.

The Jets won by the same score Saturday but needed two overtimes to do it. In the second OT, defenseman Carter Ekberg—who had 11 points (four goals) in 31 games during the regular season—was the hero.

“It's really nice (to see the defensemen scoring),” Paskus said. “I think the main thing is just everybody doing whatever they can. If that means the defense stepping up and scoring goals, the forwards don't care.

“They're just thankful the puck's going in the back of the net whether it's going off someone's head or whether it's Blake Wareham scoring two goals in a night. That's awesome, and the guys are so happy about it.”

If necessary, Game 4 of the first-round series will be Saturday at Coulee Region. A Game 5 would see a return to Janesville on Sunday.

The Jets would love nothing more to wrap the series victory up Friday and save their legs for the rest of the postseason.

“We're going to try to go in and make it happen,” Paskus said. “If we can come out with a win Friday night, we'll get a little bit of a rest for whoever we see next. I think the guys are feeling confident.”

Some of that confidence has come from winning close games.

The Jets are the top seed out of the Midwest Division but have been thoroughly tested by their in-state rivals. That was the case in the regular season, as well, with the Jets winning seven of 12 meetings and six of the 12 being decided by just one goal.

Paskus expects more of the same going forward.

“It's desperate hockey now and it's do or die,” he said. “Everything is on the line, and I think that's just really helped our team rally and try to win at all costs.”

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