WINNIPEG – One of the toughest sequences of Wild defenseman Matt Dumba's season was one of the best for the Jets.
The errant drop pass that Dumba deployed in a Halloween loss to the Jets was splashed on Winnipeg TV on Wednesday as part of a recap of the top moments of the team's season, with that Nikolaj Ehlers breakaway finish off Dumba's turnover to give the Jets a 2-1 victory making the cut.
Much has changed since that game, especially for Dumba. And he will have an opportunity to demonstrate that growth in the Wild's first-round series with the Jets, which started with the 23-year-old on the team's top pairing during a 3-2 loss in Game 1.
"I'm feeling more and more confident," Dumba said.
Even before injuries to Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon late in the regular season reconfigured the Wild's blue line to promote Dumba to the No. 1 unit, Dumba carved out a more prominent role as one of the more established members on the defense.
He ended up averaging the most ice time of his career (23 minutes, 49 seconds) and used that jump to flex his offensive ability, as Dumba set career highs in goals (14), assists (36) and points (50).
Those contributions would come in handy against a high-scoring team such as the Jets, but taming Winnipeg's offense might be more important — a challenge that, if he succeeds at it, could put Dumba's performance in the series on the Wild's own highlight reel.
"I was able to seize those opportunities and find my game within," he said. "I always knew I had that. I think it was just opportunity [and] the experience that comes along with the games I've played in this league now."
Youth vs. experience
The Wild is well aware it's been cast as the underdog in its matchup with the Jets.
"You'd have to be blind not to see it, especially with Canadian TV everywhere," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "But I'm sure we know where Winnipeg stands, and rightfully so. They've won nine out of 10. They're second overall in the league. I can see why teams are picking them. But we're here. We're going to play this game. We're glad we're invited to play, so we'll give it our best shot."
One area the Wild does have an edge over the Jets, though, is experience.
Fifteen Wild players boast at least 20 playoff games, while the Jets have only five players who meet that standard. Winnipeg also had seven players making their playoff debut Wednesday, with the Wild having only four.
"There's a lot of emotional swings because every playoff game is that much more," winger Daniel Winnik said. "A goal against feels like you're getting scored on twice. You gotta be able to handle those swings of you being up and then it being tied and you being down and tying it and handling that excitement. So I think that's probably where the experience comes in the most."
Nine of the 18 skaters in Winnipeg's Game 1 lineup were 6-3 or taller, magnifying the importance of the size and strength the Wild possesses.
Cue forwards Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle, who could be vital catalysts for offense since they have the stature and strength to not only win and hold on to pucks in the corner and along the boards but also have the muscle to crash the net with authority — a likely necessity to solving the Jets defense and ace goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
"I think they'll be a big key," Boudreau said. "They're big-bodied guys that need to play big. We're counting on them. This isn't their first playoff game. They've been around for a few years now."
As expected, Spurgeon returned to action for Game 1 on the second defensive pairing next to Carson Soucy.
It was Spurgeon's first game since he suffered a partial right hamstring tear March 13 against the Avalanche.
"I don't expect him to play 30 minutes [Wednesday] if he plays," Boudreau said before the game. "But I expect him to be Jared Spurgeon."
Elsewhere in the lineup, the Wild opted to go with Jordan Greenway on the left side of the third line instead of the more experienced Tyler Ennis. Greenway's size influenced the decision.