With street closures, block parties, live bands, outdoor screens and patio beverage areas prepared, Winnipeg has fully embraced the upcoming #WpgWHITEOUT.
The (52-20-10) Jets will host the (45-26-11) Minnesota Wild for the first two games of a Central Division showdown in the first round of the postseason Wednesday and Friday, before the series shifts to St. Paul for games three and four.
Winnipeg set multiple franchise records this past season in regards to its point production, wins, and overall team/individual player success.
Injured defenceman Toby Enstrom has not yet begun skating for Winnipeg, while Matt Hendricks – who has been wearing a yellow no-contact jersey in practice – insists that he is “close, but it doesn’t matter what I think… it comes down to what the doctors say.”
The Wild will be without star defenceman Ryan Suter, who broke his ankle late in the season. However, fellow injured blueliner Jared Spurgeon was a full participant in Minnesota’s morning skate and will look to draw back into the lineup following a torn hamstring in mid-March.
Although the Jets held the league’s best home record this season, Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau doesn’t seem too concerned.
“If you look at it, in recent years the home team doesn’t necessarily win,” Boudreau said. “There’s a lot of quality playing on the road as the underdog; there’s probably less pressure. So it’s not a bad thing.”
Boudreau also offered what many would interpret as praise towards the Winnipeg Jets and a tip of the cap to the season that Manitoba’s team has put together.
“You’d have to be blind not to see it, especially on Canadian TV everywhere,” Boudreau said. “I’m sure we know where Winnipeg stands and rightfully so. They have won nine out of 10. They’re second overall in the league, and I can see why people are picking them. We’re here; we’re going to play the game. We’re glad we’re invited to play. We will give it our best shot.”
Led by Eric Staal and his 42 goals (his highest total since the 2008-09 season), the Wild will be in tough against an extremely deep Jets squad with an abundance of goal scorers.
Although putting up career numbers, Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler failed to match his career high in goals (28 set in 2013-14) this season, having only registered 23. The Jets’ captain, however, recorded 68 assists and 91 points to go along with those 23 goals. Oddly enough, even without his 23 goals, Wheeler’s 68 assists would have ranked him just two points behind the Jets’ second leading points scorer, Patrik Laine.
“It’ll be exciting, and the people are all really excited around town,” Wheeler said following Wednesday’s morning skate. “It’s going to be a good atmosphere. We love playing in front of our crowd, and we feed off that energy. We are very excited to start at home.”
“I’m excited for it,” added Mark Scheifele. “I’m excited to get it started already. Tonight is going to be a fun night. It’s just a fun time. This is what you play all season for – to get to the playoffs. You have to enjoy it. We play a game that we love each and every day. You just have to enjoy every second of it.”
Puckdrop from Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place is scheduled for 6:00 P.M. central, and the game can be watched live on Sportsnet.
By Carter Brooks
Photo by Jonathan Kozub