The Stanley Cup Playoffs are less than two weeks away and a bonafide Stanley Cup contender will be playing at the MTS Centre Friday night. Unfortunately, the Winnipeg Jets aren’t that team. Rather it is their opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks who are the playoff team and they hope to repeat as Stanley Cup champions come June.
The teams have met four times this season with the Blackhawks winning three of the previous four meetings. The last time they met was on March 18, with Chicago blanking the Jets 4-0 at the MTS Centre.
The Jets have been a one-line team lately but there was a change at the top. Drew Stafford replaced Nikolaj Ehlers on the first line Wednesday night as the Dashing Dane struggled against the Ottawa Senators. Whether that is temporary or a permanent move remains to be seen but Jet fans and the organization are hoping that Ehlers had a bad game and will bounce back.
The talk around the NHL (besides the leaked emails regarding concussions) was of Dustin Byfuglien’s devastating, yet clean hit on Ottawa’s Mark Stone Wednesday night. It was a hit you don’t see very often in today’s NHL but it served as a reminder to keep your head up, whenever Big Buff is on the ice.
Michael Hutchinson has had success against the Blackhawks in the past. Hutch recorded his first career shutout against the Blackhawks back in November of 2014 and was between the pipes when the Jets recorded their lone win against Chicago back on October 29. Is that good enough for him to get the call? Only Paul Maurice knows that answer.
Former Jets captain Andrew Ladd has a found a home on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. In 14 games, Ladd has recorded 9 points (6G, 3A) while providing some grit to a very skilled line. The Blackhawks are hoping that Ladd can continue to develop chemistry with Toews and Hossa in time for the playoffs.
Another player to keep an eye on is Tomas Fleischmann. The 31-year-old winger is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and the Jets may pursue him. He would bring some much-needed depth to the bottom six. Stay tuned.
Noticeable in absence is Duncan Keith who as of this writing is waiting to hear from the NHL what his punishment will be after his vicious slash cut Charlie Coyle’s face on Tuesday night. While there is no denying that Keith is one of the premier defencemen in the NHL, there is no justification for his actions on Tuesday. With the NHL on notice following the leaked emails regarding player safety as well as the playoffs just around the corner, it will be very interesting how long the 2015 Conn Smythe trophy winner will be suspended.
Scott Darling recorded his first shutout of the season on March 18 against the Jets, making 28 saves in the process. His best save came in the second period when he came across the crease to thwart Drew Stafford with a spectacular blocker save.
With Corey Crawford on IR, it will be up to Darling to hold the fort for the time being.
Game Prediction: The Jets are in tank mode. The Blackhawks need a win as they pursue home-ice advantage in the first round, which they don’t have if the playoffs were to start tonight. Chicago wins 4-1.
Obvious Prediction: The MTS Centre will have plenty of red Blackhawk sweaters in the stands with Jonathan Toews being from Winnipeg and the Blackhawks are good while the Jets are not.
Not So Obvious Prediction: Someone other than Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and NIkolaj Ehlers/Drew Stafford will score for the Jets.