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Photo Credit: © James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

WTWF: Huge Central Division Battle Against Nashville

It’s a big Central Division matchup tonight as the Nasvhille Predators come to town. With only one point separating Nashville and Winnipeg, this is an ultra-important game as teams are starting to pick up their intensity with the playoff push on the horizon. These two clubs will play each other only one more time as Winnipeg heads into Nashville on March 24. After snapping a five game losing skid against the Blues on Saturday, Winnipeg is hoping to keep up the momentum get a winning streak going.

Here’s what you need to watch for in tonight’s game.

1) Standing implications

As mentioned above, these two clubs are only separated by one point in the standings. Heading into the game, Winnipeg sits tied with Chicago for the first spot outside of the playoffs as they both have 56 points. Nashville is sitting with 55 points but have played two fewer games than Winnipeg has.

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Essentially, if Nashville beats Winnipeg tonight, they pull ahead of the Jets by a point and continue to have two games in hand on Winnipeg. Not a good situation for the Jets.

On the other hand, if Winnipeg wins, they move three points ahead of the Predators which gives them a little breathing room even though they’ve played two more games.

Bottom line, this is a huge game in terms of the wildcard race.

2) Boring hockey?

It doesn’t seem that long ago when Nashville and Winnipeg met and there were fireworks galore. In previous years we have seen some crazy games against Nashville with plenty of goals, fights, and penalty minutes. Every time these teams played each other it seemed like something new and exciting was going to happen. It was “can’t miss” hockey.

Those days might now be behind us as the Jets and Predators have played two of their most boring games ever this season. The first game was a 2-1 win in November where the Jets got on the board just 18 seconds into the game. The rest of the game wasn’t nearly as exciting as there were two goals in the second period and not much else going on. That game wasn’t too bad, but the other meeting was as the Jets got shutout on January 12 at home. It was a poor effort all around in the 1-0 loss to the Predators. I’m quite certain that most fans turned off the TV during that one, that is, if they didn’t fall asleep first. Just look at this riveting detail from the game.

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So what will we see tonight? The boring, low scoring, hockey from this season? Or the fireworks, goals, and penalties from the year’s before? Let’s hope it’s the latter for everyone watching the game.

3) Lineup adjustment

There’s been rumours that some healthy bodies will be returning to the lineup shortly, but the recent line rushes and pairings see the same lineup as against the Blues.

Beaulieu is almost ready to go, but it appears that Poolman is slightly further away from returning.

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We will have to wait and see if Beaulieu is an option on the third pairing.

In terms of the forward group, Appleton continues to work his way up the lineup as he gets his shot with Ehlers and Wheeler in the top six. He’s looked refreshed since coming back from injury and his speed up the ice is a great fit alongside Ehlers on the other wing. This also gives a new look to the third line with Harkins playing with Copp and Roslovic since Perreault went down. Again, Harkins works his way up the lineup and seems to be doing well. His tenacity on the forecheck is a great asset as he takes away the space from the opposition. This line was also the primary producers against St. Louis as Roslovic and Copp were the only goal scorers of the game.

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Hopefully the line combinations continue to thrive against the Predators.

4) Hellebuyck’s refreshed

After heading to the All-Star festivities last weekend, Hellebuyck looks refreshed and ready to roll as the Jets push towards the playoffs. He was excellent against the Blues as he faced fourty shots on net in the game. That marks the seventh time this season that Hellebuyck has faced fourty or more shots in one game which puts him second in the entire NHL. The most impressive part of the numbers is that Hellebuyck’s thriving under the workload with an astonishing .947 SV% and a 2.29 GAA.

It’s not the best practice to get into, but Hellebuyck’s been great when getting shelled in the crease.

Bold Prediction

With the standings so close, these teams definitely aren’t going to have a mild game. Look for the intensity from both sides in a hard fought battle. The Jets will continue to roll and Laine will continue his goal scoring streak as the Jets win 4-2.