Monday, April 23, 2018

Weekend wrap: The Jets make history

Yeah, I’d say that felt like it was worth waiting three decades or so for.

The Jets took care of business on Friday night, eliminating the Wild in five games to advance to the second round. While the magnitude of the moment made for a dramatic finish, the game itself didn’t provide much in the way of suspense. The Jets rolled over the Wild, scoring 31 seconds in and leading 4–0 before the game was 12 minutes old. That was more than enough, as Connor Hellebuyck recorded his second straight shutout to pad his all-time Jets lead.

It was the first time Winnipeg fans had seen their team win a playoff series since 1987, when the old Jets beat the Flames in the opening round. That iteration of the team didn’t win another series in its remaining nine years before heading to Phoenix, and 15 years without a team and seven more after luring the Thrashers north had added up to a grand total of zero playoff games won until this year. They took care of the first win in Game 1; now they’ve checked off a series to go with it.

Next up, the team takes aim at another first: The two versions of the Winnipeg Jets have never won a game in the second round of the NHL playoffs. Both previous trips to round two ended in four-game sweeps at the hands of the Wayne Gretzky-era Oilers dynasty.

This year’s matchup won’t be quite as foreboding, although it’s not all that far off. The Predators are the Presidents’ Trophy champions, and will have home ice. Their lineup features the likely Vezina winner, a Norris finalist, and a forward in Filip Forsberg who’s doing something ridiculous in just about every game. But while the Jets were dominating the Wild, the Predators looked at least a little bit vulnerable against the underdog Avalanche and took on an extra game’s worth of wear and tear in the process, so this is a series that Winnipeg can win.

Either way, it should be a must-see matchup, quite possibly the very best of the entire post-season. There’s a strong case to be made that these are the two top teams in the league, and their regular-season meetings were fantastic. It might even be tempting to suggest that this series will be for the Stanley Cup, although that implies that the winner will emerge with anything left for the Sharks or Knights in the conference final. As for who we’re picking, well, we’ll get to that in the power rankings.

But first, one other thing a Winnipeg Jets team has never accomplished: Being the last Canadian team standing in the NHL playoffs. They’ll have to wait at least a few more hours to claim that honour, after the Maple Leafs went into Boston and escaped with a Game 5 win to keep their series alive.

That one saw the Leafs build a 4–1 lead midway through the second period, then hang on as a desperate Bruins team dominated the second half. Boston rained 45 shots on Frederik Andersen, including 20 in the third period, and the Leafs spent much of the game in the penalty box. By late in the third, the Bruins had cut the lead to 4–3, and, yes, everyone was thinking it. But this time Toronto held on, if only barely.

Game 6 goes tonight in Toronto, with a potential Game 7 looming back in Boston on Wednesday. It still feels like the Maple Leafs haven’t put a full game together in the series, with inconsistent play from Andersen and the top forwards. But Saturday at least offered some signs of encouragement, with Auston Matthews looking dangerous in the early going and the return of Nazem Kadri giving the top six a boost.

The end result wasn’t pretty, and probably had more than a few Toronto fans suffering through some traumatic memories of 2013. The Leafs still have a long way to go if they’re going to join the Jets in round two. But for now at least, the country still has two teams to root for, and we can save the annual “Canada’s Team” debate for at least one more day.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a Stanley Cup.

5. Boston Bruins: This is a bit risky, as they’re the only team in our top five that hasn’t already punched a ticket to round two. The safer play would be to swap in the Knights here, but we’re sticking with Boston. Gutsy call, or transparent attempt at the reverse-jinx? You decide.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning: You have to figure they’ll be hoping that the Leafs and Bruins go the full seven and inflict as much damage on each other as possible before the winner crawls their way to Tampa.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

No comments:

Post a Comment