When Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler hits the ice at the TD Garden Saturday night, he’ll take a quick, longing look up at the Stanley Cup banner he almost won.
Wheeler spent three seasons with the Bruins before being traded to the then Atlanta Thrashers last February. He missed the Bruins run for the cup last spring along with Jet teammate Mark Stuart who was also traded that day from Boston to Atlanta.
“Mixed emotions for sure,” Wheeler said Saturday after a morning skate at the TD Garden. “It was gratifying [to see his former team win]but it was hard at the same time. You certainly take something out of it just watching the guys that you played with for a few years. That was the hardest part about getting traded. [Stuart]and I both knew that it was very real possibility.”
Wheeler said he and Stuart commiserated frequently while watching the playoffs.
“We had a few powwows for sure during the playoffs. We live all of 10 minutes apart in the summer, so we definitely met up a few times and sort of talked about it. It made it a little bit easier to swallow.”
He said his years with the Bruins have helped him with the Jets. “You know what it takes to go all the way. Just making the playoffs, that’s a huge first step for us,” he said.
The Jets are on something of a roll lately, winning Friday in Carolina and earning nine out of ten points in their last five games. But this will be the third game in four nights for the team and they'll be facing a rejuvenated Bruin team that lost 3-2 in a shootout in Montreal Friday but won ten straight before that.
One big reason for the Bruins success has been the play of teenager Tyler Seguin. He has already scored more goals this year, 12, than in his rookie season last year. He is on pace to pile up 88 points and score 46 goals. He also leads the NHL with a plus-minus of plus 18.
That’s quite a change from last season when he was a healthy scratch for much of the end of the regular season and the early rounds of the playoffs.
Getting scratched was “just something new to me and I had to overcome it,” Seguin said Saturday after the Bruin’s morning skate. “It was adversity and I know what it feels like to be up there [in the box watching]”
Seguin, 19, said he spent much of the off season building up his strength, especially his core, so he could battle harder along the boards. “I wanted to come in with a higher compete level this year and I’ve been coming away with more pucks in the corner,” he said. “This year I really just wanted to keep improving in all areas.”
He added that just being around the team last season has helped.
“I think our experience from being part of a cup run and witnessing everything around it, and what it feels like to be a champion, just drives you so much even more. I think that more than anything has helped me with my start.”
Head coach Claude Julien said Seguin's summer work has paid off.
“He’s certainly not a perimeter player,” Julien said Saturday. “He’s going into traffic, he’s thrown his fair share of hits. I just like the way he competes.
Julien said another factor in Seguin’s quick start has been putting him on a line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. “He’s got some good line mates. They are certainly pushing him to be a better player too,” the coach said.