The last playoff game in Jets history was 6928 days ago.
long ago, it seems that time should have healed that
wound, leaving just a faint scar. But that playoff loss on home ice did not
come under normal circumstances, that was the day the Jets played their final
game in Winnipeg before leaving Manitoba to the Arizona desert.
The last playoff game in Jets history was one of the most painful memories in Canadian hockey history.
We did not know they would fly home again.
The odds were so heavily stacked against that it appeared impossible we
would ever see another regular season game in Winnipeg, let alone a playoff game. We should
have known the people of Winnipeg –who prove their resilience and the power of
their community every time the Red River swelled– would find a way to bring
their boys home. We should have known it. We did not.
But underestimated as they have been for as long as we can
remember, the city of Winnipeg stands together and proud again. The Jets are
about to take off again in the Stanley Cup Playoffs having earned that right on
the back of yeoman’s work, quiet confidence, and the attitude that nothing
would stop in their way.
I watch the Jets from the perspective of an outsider. My
experience watching the Jets comes through the lens of someone who watches
Winnipeg physically dominate the Oilers in almost every game. I will be adding
this perspective as we celebrate the Jets’ return to playoff glory. It will
also be the first Playoff coverage I will have had the pleasure of providing as
my Oilers have been out of the playoffs themselves for nine horrible, horrible
I am a semi-neutral observer, dropped into the fray to
report on what I see, so let’s talk about what I’m looking for.
Ondrej Pavelec’s history as an NHL goaltender is suspect.
There’s no dancing around this. He has a career .908 save percentage and before
this season the best he’s ever managed in a full season was .914 in 2010-2011. Those are numbers you might expect for a poor backup.
If I have any questions
about the Jets roster they revolve around this guy.
Here’s the great news: he is
playing the best hockey of his life right now. He is riding a career high .920
save percentage this year. His Even Strength save percentage is 15th
in the NHL among goalies who have played at least 1000 minutes 5v5. And, to top
it all off, he is riding a 3 game shutout streak into these playoffs.
That bodes well for the Jets as they prepare to take on a
Gibson-less Ducks team.
Andersen should be starting opposite Pavelec tonight. Andersen
factored into one game against the Ducks this season, allowing 4 goals on just
32 shots. The Playoffs are all about goaltending. Pavelec has never been tested
the way he will be during these playoffs. Now is his time to prove all the
ON THE EDGE
What I expect to see is the Jets leaving nothing in the
tank during these playoffs.
This is a team that plays on the edge at all times. In the playoffs the whistles tend to go away. The advantage falls to
the physical teams in the playoffs; the teams that do not always playing on the
right side of the rules enjoy this.
The Jets are that kind of team.
I fully expect the Jets to be lead by Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien in
the department of bone jarring hits.
The Jets are the highest ranked Western
Conference club in the playoffs for total hits. Right behind them in that 2nd
spot in the West are the Ducks. The series should be a battle for both of these
clubs. The Jets are generally smaller at centre than the Ducks who will boast Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler but they make up for it on defense and the wings.
Anaheim’s power play finished the season ranked 28th
in the league which should only give Winnipeg more incentive to play a nasty
game during the series. If the Ducks are unable to make the Jets pay when the
refs actually do call the penalties then they will have an extremely difficult
time matching Winnipeg.
The players on the Jets must feel it all the
way in Orange County, the emotion and energy that comes with making history.
When they step on that ice it will set a clock that has been counting for 6928
days down to 0 again. Back in the playoffs for the first time since being taken
away from Winnipeg.
Oh, there will be more to come when the series returns back
to the Forks, but even in the land of beaches, blondes, and sun tans, the
Winnipeg Jets will feel their fans pushing them on.
Difficult times are ahead for this Wild Card team who doesn’t come in as highly touted as the team they face. No matter where they finished the pressure of being the first Jets team to make the playoffs since their return will heap expectations on them nonetheless.
Despite their final position in the standings, they aren’t without a chance to make waves this spring.
Some people crumple under that much pressure. Some simply
can’t handle being the identity of a city on the rise again. Who among them
will stand up and emerge a hero tonight? Who among them will find the will to rise
to the occasion like the people they represent have done so many times?
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are about to start for the Winnipeg
Jets for the first time in almost 20 years. I was a child when they last played
and like a child I watch with brimming anticipation of tonight’s game.