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The Jets Now Enter the Real Season

By Scott Taylor

Photo by James Carey Lauder

It’s playoff time and everyone in Winnipeg seems to be worried. If it’s not “trouble in the locker room,” or “that coach doesn’t do things the way I think they should be done,” it’s “we need better goaltending,” or “Patrik Laine is terrible.”

The Jets Now Enter the Real Season

Down the stretch, the Winnipeg Jets weren’t that good (although they were 2-1-1 on the final four-game road trip). In fact, they had first place in the Central Division all but locked down at one point and then Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey were injured and things went into the tank. They finished second to Nashville and were caught by St. Louis and at that point, Winnipeg’s hockey world appeared to collapse. 

All manner of reasons for the team’s inability to hold onto first in the Central were trotted out for public consumption including the alleged fact that every player in the locker room hated every other player in the locker room. The Jets were doomed and it was time to fire the lot. Oh, woe is us.

But at Wednesday night, all the bullpucky can go bye-bye if the Jets get off to a good start against the visiting St. Louis Blues. It’s playoff time and that means all the problems of the long, grinding 82-game season must be left at the door and a new light must shine. The one thing that everyone agrees upon is the belief that if you’ve made the playoffs, you have a real chance to win the Stanley Cup.

Across the league, the Jets have already been written off. But nobody seems interested in the actual fact that the Jets played most of the final month of the season without two Top 4 defenders in Byfuglien and Morrissey. Their presence in the lineup should make everybody better including the goalie that a big group on Twitter likes to criticize.

So, take heart Jets fans. It’s a new day. The playoffs are here. There is a chance that the local side can win the Stanley Cup. I mean, why not Winnipeg and why not now?

Let’s take a close look at each first round series with our picks included:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Series A: Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, 98 points) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (62-16-4 128 points).

The Skinny: This one shouldn’t even be an argument. Tampa not only swept the season series, the Lightning outscored the Blue Jackets 17-3, winning 5-0, 4-1 and 8-2. With Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman leading the way, the Lightning have a significantly better offence than the Jackets. This won’t last very long.

Players to Watch

Tampa Bay:  Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy. Columbus: Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Cam Atkinson, Sergei Bobrovsky.

Season Series: Tampa Bay won the series 3-0-0.

Our Choice: Tampa Bay in four games.

Series B: Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (46-28-8, 100 points)

The Skinny: From Jan. 29 to March 9, the Bruins went on a 19-game point streak despite the fact high-scoring David Pastrnak missed 12 of those games. The Bruins have a very good hockey club and yet, even with all the great players in their lineup, 32-year-old David Krejci had one of the best seasons of his career. Toronto is good. Boston is better.

Players to Watch

Boston: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Tukka Rask

Toronto: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and Frederik Andersen.

Season Series: Boston won the season series 3-1-0.

Our Choice: Boston in six games.

Series C: Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points) vs. Washington Capitals (48-26-8, 104 points)

The Skinny: The defending Stanley Cup champions have been to the mountain and they have the horses to get back to the top. The Caps aren’t the Lightning, but they are still the Caps and that’s a loaded club with plenty of offensive punch. Led by 51-goal scorer Alexander Ovechkin (the top goal scorer in the league) and centre Nicklas Backstrom (74 points), the Capitals can score while goaltender Braden Holtby can keep the puck out of the net. The Caps can and just might win the Cup again. Carolina is a lot of fun, but they just aren’t good enough to beat the Caps in a seven-game series.

Players to Watch

Washington: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby. Carolina: Teuvo Teravainen, Justin Williams, Nino Niederreiter and Petr Mrazek.

Season Series: Washington won the season series 4-0-0.

Our Choice: Washington in five games.

Series D: New York Islanders (48-27-7, 103 points) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12, 100 points).

The Skinny: This will be the best series in the East and the difference will be Sidney Crosby. Everybody loves the fact the Islanders lost John Tavares to free agency, but signed head coach Barry Trotz and became a 100-point team with great defence and outstanding speed. The Penguins, however, are still a championship team with speed to burn and it’s still led by a lifetime winner named Crosby. This will be a tremendous series.

Players to Watch

Pittsburgh: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Matt Murray. NY Islanders: Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and Robin Lehner.

Season Series: The season series was tied 2-1-1.

Our Choice: Pittsburgh in seven games.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Series E: Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs. Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)

The Skinny: It’s been a banner year for the Calgary Flames. After going 37-35-10 and finishing 11thin the West in 2017-18, the Flames won 13 more games and won the Western Conference. Now they have a first-round matchup against an Avalanche team that had 17 fewer points and was a team the Flames beat three times in three meetings this season. Calgary owned the Avs this season and scored 14 times against them in three games. This series will be short.

Players to Watch

Calgary: Johnny Gaudreau, Travis Hamonic, Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano. Colorado: Nathan McKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Semyon Varlamov. 

Season Series: Calgary won the series 3-0-0.

Our Choice: Calgary in five games.

Series F: Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs. Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)

The Skinny: The Predators played their best hockey down the stretch (with the exception of a 5-0 loss to Winnipeg) and stole first place in the Central Division from Winnipeg in the final weekend of the season. It won’t be an easy series against a Dallas club that matched up with the Preds all season. We’re going with Nashville because goaltender Pekka Rinne should be the difference.

Players to Watch

Nashville: PK Subban, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Pekka Rinne. Dallas: Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn and Ben Bishop. 

Season Series: Dallas won the season series 2-0-2.

Our Choice: Nashville in six games.

Series G: Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs. St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points).

The Skinny: The Blues were red-hot down the stretch and almost won the division after a terrible start. In 2019, the Blues are 30-10-5 while in 2019, the Jets are 22-18-3. However, the Jets played without two Top 4 defenseman – Josh Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien – for most of the second half. The Jets win the season series. They should win this series, as well, but it won’t be easy. Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck will be the most important player in the series.

Players to Watch

Winnipeg: Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Connor Hellebuyck. St. Louis: Alex Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko, Joel Edmundson  and Ryan O’Reilly. 

Season Series: Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0.

Our Choice: Winnipeg in seven games.

Series H: San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)

The Skinny: The Golden Knights weren’t as good as last year, but they were still good enough to finish in the Top 8 in the West. The big move for Vegas took place at the trade deadline, when they acquired Mark Stone from Ottawa. San Jose has some old legs, but also a handful of great players and while no one will take Vegas lightly, ever again, it means the Sharks should have more guns than this year’s edition of the Knights. 

Players to Watch

Vegas: Mark Stone, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson. San Jose: Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski.

Season Series: Vegas won the season series 2-1-1.

Our Choice: San Jose in six games.

Covered his first junior hockey game for the Sarnia Observer in 1968. Covered his first Jets game for the Winnipeg Free Press in 1980. Still thinks hockey is the bees knees.

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