The playoffs are once again upon us and that means the Winnipeg Jets will look to vanquish the Minnesota Wild in the first round.
Game One of this series takes place on Wednesday in Winnipeg.
This marks the first time the two teams have tangled in the post-season and it should be a doozy. Both squads are young and both squads have an awful lot to prove. The reborn Jets have only been to the playoffs once before this since their relocation from Atlanta and they’re looking for their first win.
The Wild, meanwhile, want to prove they belong in the dance. They filled the second half of their regular season with wins. They’re 24-10-8 since January 1, which makes them the third-best team in the West. The Nashville Predators have been first in that timeframe, while the pesky Jets have been second.
Unfortunately, said pace hasn’t held much since the trade deadline and the Wild have been levelling off a touch. They’re 9-6-4 since February 26.
The Jets, conversely, are 14-4-1 since then.
In a game of momentum, that could give the ‘Peg an edge in the series. The Jets, after all, boast one of the best offensive players in the NHL in Patrik Laine and are second overall in goals-per-game. They have the fifth best power play in the league and are fifth overall in faceoffs. That means they can acquire the puck and, you know, score.
They also have the goaltending to cover the difference. Connor Hellebuyck has a .923 save percentage and a 2.38 goals against average. The 24-year-old could well be the secret to the Jets’ success.
Could Winnipeg become the first Canadian team to win the Cup in 25 years?
Not if Minnesota has anything to say about it.
The Wild can roll three offensive lines of their own and are in the top half of the league when it comes to goals-per-game numbers. Zach Parise, after missing bunches of time due to injury, is back on his game. And Eric Staal has been reclaiming his form, scoring at an alarming pace for the second half of the season. Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund are dangerous, too.
If there is a glaring issue for the Wild, it’s the absence of one Ryan Suter. This will hurt, no matter how you look at it. Without their top minute-muncher, Minnesota will push the likes of Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba and Jared Spurgeon to their proverbial limits. That could make things interesting on the blueline, to say the least.
At least the Wild have goaltending in Devan Dubnyk. He’s a workhorse who put together 59 starts this season. He has a 2.52 goals against average and a .918 save percentage with five shutouts. Those aren’t Hellebuyck numbers, but they’ll do.
In the end, this will be a tricky one for Minnesota. The State of Hockey will put together a valiant effort, but the Jets are ready to rock and boast one of the most exciting rosters (and buildings) in the league. They could well be a dark horse, especially after they push past the Wild in five games.