Playoff Preview – Game 1: Jets relish underdog role against top-ranked Ducks

It’s no secret the Winnipeg Jets will be heavy underdogs when they begin the Stanley Cup playoffs Thursday night against the Western Conference’s top-seeded Anaheim Ducks.

The Jets went down to the wire to grab the second and final wild-card spot in the West, while the Ducks dominated the regular season and topped the conference with 109 points.

It may be a battle of David and Goliath based on the standings, but if anyone is ready to write off these pesky Jets … well, think again.

“We’re a huge, decided underdog in this series,” Jets coach Paul Maurice admitted in an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press.

“But we have some confidence in our game.”

Let’s take a look at how Game One will break down.

Lines

Lines provided by DailyFaceoff.com.

Winnipeg

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Injuries have seemed to haunt the Jets all season long — especially down the stretch run. That’s the case once again heading into the playoffs as centre Mathieu Perreault, who is nursing a lower-body injury, will be a game time decision for Game On.

“He’s getting better and we don’t want to turn it into a bigger problem than it is,” Maurice, who expects Perreault to play sooner than later, told the Winnipeg Sun.

If Perreault is unable to play Game One, Matt Halischuk will draw into the lineup.

JetsD

The true test for the Jets will come on the blue-line as Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, and Mark Stuart are the only defencemen with any post-season experience. That’s right, Tobias Enstrom, Jacob Truba and Ben Chiarot are all green when it comes to the NHL playoffs. Even Stuart has just 22 playoff games under his belt.

Enstrom, who is recovering from an upper-body injury, did not practice on Wednesday but Maurice expects the Swedish blue-liner to be in the lineup for Game One.

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The Jets will roll with Ondrej Pavelec in Game 1. It’ll be Pavelec’s first taste of the playoffs but he’s been the reason the Jets are in this position in the first place.

You wouldn’t know this was Pavelec’s first post-season game.

“I mean, if we win, it’s going to be good. If we lose… it’s going to feel like another game,” he told CBC News.

Over the last 13 games, Pavelec has a 1.46 goals-against average, .949 save percentage with four shutouts.

Anaheim

It’s the second straight year the Ducks have locked up top seed in the West and third consecutive season they’ve been Pacific Division champs. Yet, the Ducks have lost a Game 7 to lower seeds in the the past two playoffs.

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The Ducks aren’t just a one line team, but the Jets will have to focus on Anaheim’s top unit if they plan to get out of this series on top. Ryan Getzlaf had his fifth career 20-goal season while linemate Corey Perry scored 30 or more goals for the fifth time in his career.

“I like what we’ve done. We’ve won in different ways. Showed we can play through injury. Those kinds of things,” Getzlaf told the Orange County Register. “And those are big things when you’re talking about making a long run in the playoffs.”

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Despite having one of the worst power-play percentages in the league, Sami Vatanen led all Ducks defencemen with seven goals on the man advantage. Vatanen finished the season with 12 goals and 25 assists.

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With John Gibson nursing an upper-body injury, Frederik Andersen in the clear-cut No. 1 goalie heading into the first-round series. Andersen boasts a 35-12-5 record with a 2.38 goals-against average and a save percentage of .914.

Predictions

Game One Prediction: Only nine of this current Jets team has had a taste of the NHL playoffs. This is also the first time the Jets have made the post-season since relocating from Atlanta three years ago. There will certainly be nerves in the air, but once the puck drops, the Jets will be in full playoff mode. Jets 3 Ducks 2.

Obvious Prediction: The Jets finished the season as the NHL’s most penalized team. Staying out of the box will be key if the Jets have any shot of getting past the first-place Ducks.

Not So Obvious Prediction: Jacob Trouba is going to have an offensive impact in this series. The second-year blue-liner has four points in five career games against the Ducks.

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