So, I am 20 something years old and sitting with my buddies outside the Riverside Roxy, waiting to get into the greatest party in town. Little did I know that the place is so packed we are not getting in until the end of the night. We are bored and definitely missing out on all the fun but at least we will be well rested when we get in…sound familiar? Finally the clock strikes midnight and the big mean looking dudes at the front doors let us in. The patrons are dancing up a storm, drinking their faces off and having the time of their life. So what do we do? Time to catch up? It’s late and we are tired but we just need a little time to get things going. We start drinking! Drink after drink but can’t seem to rev up to the same intensity as the crowd. As usual we are going to end up at my mom’s house drinking espresso at 3 in the morning, exhausted and wondering what could have been. Why do I bring this up? The NHL playoffs are revving up and the Winnipeg Jets are waiting patiently and sipping espresso in what we call the NHL playoffs line up. Of course this is actually a reward from dispatching the McDavid’s and his band of merry men before the nightclub had even barely opened, but it is what it is.
Okay enough about my depressing young adulthood. The point is, while the Jets have been getting healthy and well rested for the next round, the Habs are in full playoff grab a partner dance mode. If there is anything wrong with dispatching a team quicker than you can smoke a Glen Sather cigar this would be it. Don’t get me wrong. You can’t wait to beat a team but while one team is resting. The other team is fighting for their playoff lives, this can cause problems, especially early in the series. It’s the same theory at the end of the season as the Habs were playing meaningful games down the stretch just to get into the playoffs. You are generally somewhat seasoned for the first round, simply because you are used to it. Hey I’ll be the first one to say, I’m not complaining. You can argue rest is a good thing especially in the long run. If are sneaky Jets some how manage to win this round and smoulder the tired Canadiens du Montreal, they will need all their energy for the winner of the Avs & Knights series. But first things first.
A few tequila shots and perhaps a pile of 25 cent draft can get things moving but may take a game or two. The biggest challenge the Jets will have in this playoff year so far stands in front of them. Can the team rival the intensity of the Habs especially early in the series? Can coach Paul Maurice have his dance team…agghh…stop it…hockey players ready to match the intensity of a hungry opponent. Everyone gets hungry after some drinks but the Jets need to walk into their own barn, be ready, sharp and provide no mercy and shut down a very hungry Habs team or before you know it they will be down a game before the dance has even started.
Here is what we see as the keys to the series:
Hellebuyck vs Price
Of course this is number one. Goaltending always is. If anyone can intimidate a roster it is the ever so cool, olympic champion coming off a game 7 flawless performance win, Carey Price. Often ridiculed for his big contract but there is no better time to prove his value. Meanwhile talking about calmness, isn’t Connor Hellebuyck the mirror and younger version of this Carey Price. It also doesn’t hurt that his initials are carved into the Canadiens logo. Nontheless the Habs are going to take a million shots on Helle and the Jets as per usual will not shoot on Price unless it’s the perfect shot. Oddly this may work in the Jets favour as both goalies play better with plenty of work. I would also be remiss not to mention that Hellebuyck was not nominated for the Vezina trophy. Are you kidding me? Who is voting on this thing? Did you look at who shoots on him in this division? It’s like he’s playing in the Quebec Major Junior League (this is kind of funny if you think about it). Another chip on the shoulder of a self motivated man never hurts a team’s destiny.
Habs D vs Jets D
If this series gets physical, we like the Habs D. Big strong and smart. These adjectives also spell slow. Weber, Chiarot, Edmundson & Petry do provide a degree of difficulty but not overwhelming. We also like Romanov but he did not play in round one and thought he played well against the Jets in the past. The Jets up tempo game is the key to neutralizing the effectiveness of the Habs D who at times has looked awful this year. But the Habs big four have been around and can be extremely difficult to play against. The smaller fast skating D men of the Jets will need to be on their toes against the slippery, smaller Habs forwards. Throw in a Logan Stanley hit and a Tucker Poolman rush and this should counter balance that attack. Coach Ducharme at some point in round one realized or maybe got lucky that it may be a good idea to play his younger faster forwards that can fling a puck into a net. This in turn gave the Leafs D all kinds of fits. Mainly they couldn’t handle the different variety of lines that the Habs could send out. The Jets D lucked out in the first round mainly due to the stubbornness of coach Tippett deciding after game one to put McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line. Even though they clearly outplayed the Jets after the first 60 minutes of the series when they were apart, and somehow lost (see the guy with the initials in the Canadiens crest). This will not happen with Montreal’s forward group. Mainly because no one including the Habs organization knows who their best forwards are. So a balanced attack is coming. In particular we see Forbort – Pionk pairing as key to this series on the Jets side.
Veterans vs Veterans
As we said in our first round preview of the Jets vs Oilers the Jets core has been there before. Experience on how to win is learned by losing normally or more importantly winning. Jets have lost and have gained valuable experience. Plus they added the likes of Trevor Lewis and Nate Thompson who have both won in the past. Meanwhile Marc Bergevin knew what he was doing picking up Corey Perry, Joel Edmundson, Tyler Toffoli and Eric Staal as true playoff guys. Guys that have won and have been through the wars. The Habs have a nice mix with the young guns of Suzuki, Kotkaniemi & Caufield. This match up heavily favours the Jets as their bottom 6 are tops in the division. We believe the Habs have to win this match up in order to win this series.
The Jets power play woke up in the Oiler series but let’s face it. If you want to beat Carey Price this is where you do it. The series can can hang in the balance in this category. The Habs power play has struggled and will need to get going against this very good (especially the last half of the season) Winnipeg Jets penalty killing unit. In particular PP1 for the Jets need to be able to score in this series. 5 on 5 Carey Price will be difficult to beat. Not impossible just difficult.
Rested vs Not Rested
If you are going to dispatch a team in 4 games, you should be well rested and ready to play. You must take advantage of this. If not what’s the point of sitting back and watching the other two teams you are waiting to play against kill each other. Unlike the “late to the party” argument in my opening paragraph, if the Jets want to win the series this has to be one of the reasons. Montreal will end up playing 12 games in 19 days following the first four games of this series. The Jets should be rested, healthy and practiced. I realize that Pierre Luc Dubois won’t be playing against the Leafs to pad his stats so he and his teammates will need to take advantage of a worn out Habs team.
So there it is. The Riverside Roxy is happening. The Habs are getting ready for the drunk tank and dancing up a storm. The Jets are sober and in a serious position to inflict damage to this already beat up Habs line up. So here is some advice for our home town Winnipeg Jets. Great teams overcome great circumstances, eye of the tiger, never give up, blah, blah, blah…How about go out and play your game. Don’t over think this series. You are the better team. You have nothing to lose. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You will be drinking espresso at 3 in the morning with my mom.
Jets in 6
Avs in 7
Bruins in 7
Tampa in 6
Have any comments. @spinohockey or @frankzappia1