Archive for April, 2012

NHL playoffs: off to Round 2

- April 27th, 2012

Well, that didn’t exactly go according to the script.

But that’s the beauty of the Stanley Cup playoffs, where upsets happen and Stanley Cup favourites get bounced (this spring, with a little more regularity).

Not proud of the 2-6 record we posted in the opening round but understood going in that both of my Stanley Cup picks could be in serious danger of not making it out of Round 1.

We’re going with the premise that the predictions can only get better from here.

Thanks at least in part to the miserable goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury, the Pittsburgh Penguins were indeed bounced. As were the Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings.

At least, our Stanley Cup winning pick (the Predators) remains alive and we’ll stick with them going forward.

With that in mind, here we go with our Round 2 picks:

Western Conference

St. Louis Blues (2) vs Los Angeles Kings (8)

The Blues got solid goaltending from Brian Elliott (forced into the series after an injury to Jaroslav Halak), played stifling team defence and got timely scoring from guys like Patrik Berglund and Andy MacDonald in the opening round. They’ll figure to need that and then some additional production from captain David Backes in order to move on to the next round. Facing Jonathan Quick is sure to be a challenge (just ask the Canucks), but we figure the Blues are up for it. T.J. Oshie is a guy who could have a big series and will need to get in on forecheck to make life miserable for Drew Doughty and company. Both teams have big centre’s who can put the puck in the net. Kings boast more experience with guys like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Jarrett Stoll, Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi but we just have a feeling that the Blues’ defence corps, led by Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shatenkirk are going to come up big in what figures to be a low-scoring series. Take the Blues in seven.

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs Nashville Predators (4)

Mike Smith was brilliant in helping the Coyotes bounce the Blackhawks and move to the second round for the first time since the Winnipeg Jets moved to the desert. However, he might have met his match this round in Pekka Rinne, who was light’s-out against the Red Wings. The Coyotes are well-coached, check well and scored timely goals in tight games (five of which went to OT) but the defence corps of the Preds – led by captain Shea Weber and Ryan Suter – is going to be a lot for the Coyotes to handle. Alex Radulov got better as the first round went on and Mike Fisher looks poised for a big series. Take the Predators in five.

New York Rangers (1) vs Washington Capitals (7)

The inconsistency that plagued them during the regular season somehow vanished in the first round as the Caps eliminated the Boston Bruins in overtime of Game 7. They showed their mettle and head coach Dale Hunter did it his way, limiting the ice time of Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin at times, while leaning on grinders like Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks when the situation called for it. Meanwhile, the Sens gave the Rangers all they could handle (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just ask the Bruins, who were pushed to seven games in three of four rounds last spring). In the end, the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist is sure to give the Rangers the edge, despite the strong showing of Braden Holtby. He’s a great story, but the Rangers are so good at blocking shots and if they can ever get Marian Gaborik going, look out. The Capitals have enough going for them to win a couple of games, but take the Rangers in six.

Philadelphia Flyers (5) vs New Jersey Devils (6)

The Flyers won the battle of Pennsylvania despite some tough goaltending moments for Ilya Bryzgalov. Claude Giroux showed the world his superstar status, while the support staff also came up big. The Flyers get more out of their young forwards than most teams and the defence corps continued to withstand injuries. Braydon Coburn has been excellent so far and he’ll be key in trying to contain the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. Full marks to the Devils for coming through in double overtime of Game 7 against the Panthers, but we think they’ll be in tough against the high-powered Flyers. Look for Scott Hartnell to get involved a bit more offensively and make life difficult on the Devils’ defence. Adam Henrique made a big contribution in Game 7 with his first two playoff goals (including the series clincher) and if the Devils are to pull off the upset, he and linemate David Clarkson will need to be big contributors. Bryzgalov made 30 saves in Game 6 vs the Penguins and if he brings that form (as I suspect he will), you can take the Flyers in five.

Our look back at the Jets 10 Q review

- April 20th, 2012

Now that there’s been time for the dust to settle, we figured it was a good time to look back at the 10 questions we posed regarding the Winnipeg Jets going into the season (five prior to training camp and another five prior to the regular season) and see how things turned out:

1) Is Ondrej Pavelec ready to take the next step?

In looking back, you have to wonder if the question was meant to be rhetorical as he proved without a shadow of a doubt that he’s a bona fide No. 1 goalie. While there was a patch late in the season where Pavelec looked a tad overworked, he was the clear-cut MVP of this team and the biggest reason they stayed in the playoff race as long as they did. Pavelec played in a career-high 68 games and finished with 29 wins (also a career-high) while playing 3,932 minutes and 26 seconds and making 1,845 saves and posting four shutouts. His 2.91 goals against average and .906 save percentage were pedestrian but were largely impacted by a couple of rough outings, not a true indication of how he played. He’s a restricted free agent and due a substantial raise.

2) Which Dustin Byfuglien will we see?

Things didn’t start well for the hulking blue-liner as he struggled in his own zone and wasn’t producing much offence in the early going. But he settled his game down in both ends of the ice and ended up tied for second in the NHL among D-men with 53 points in just 66 games. While Byfuglien is prone to freelancing, getting caught up ice on occasion and needs to cut down on his shift length, he’s a great passer and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him post 20 goals next season, provided he can stay healthy.

3) Where will the goals come from?

The Jets ended up in the middle of the pack in terms of goals scored, finishing with 225 overall, but had only three guys who cracked 20 goals: Evander Kane (30), Andrew Ladd (28) and Bryan Little (24) and seven others in double digits: Kyle Wellwood (18), Blake Wheeler (17), Nik Antropov (15), Jim Slater (13), Alex Burmistrov (13), Dustin Byfuglien (12) and Tim Stapleton (11). The Jets need to add at least one Top-6 forward or two and will be looking to add a little more offence and depth to the forward group for next season.

4) Just how good is the defence corps?

That’s still a tough question to answer. This group was seen as a strength going into the campaign and did have to endure several significant injuries that forced them to dress 12 different blue-liners. There are some strong pieces in place and a nice collection of puck-movers and offensive weapons, but they need to defend better (in conjunction with the forwards) next season. The Jets had the fourth-most goals allowed (246) and that’s a stat that needs to change for this team to make a stronger playoff push. Assistant coach Charlie Huddy is a calming influence and deserves a lot of credit for helping Zach Bogosian have an outstanding bounce-back season. Bogosian had five goals and 30 points and improved his plus/minus to -3 after putting up a team-worst -27 in 2010-11.  The Jets have some depth in the organization on the back end and we wouldn’t be surprised if they move one of them to try and bring in a Top-6 forward.

5) Which young player will take the biggest leap forward?

There were several candidates going into the season and while you could make the case for Pavelec or Bogosian, it was third-year winger Evander Kane who made the biggest strides. Kane led the Jets with 30 goals, was second in points with 57 (both career highs) and finished plus-11 in 74 games. Sure, he missed time with a concussion, endured a few small droughts but improved his consistency. Kane has another level to get to, but he’s only going to be 21 next season and most believe the best is yet to come for the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He’s a restricted free agent and it will be interesting to see how those negotiations go this summer.

6) How big an advantage will home ice be?

The raucous atmosphere inside MTS Centre certainly helped the Jets notch a few extra wins, something that was evident during a brilliant stretch in December and a strong push in February and early March. However, when all was said and done, the Jets finished 23-13-5 on home ice, which is impressive considering they were 14-22-5 on the road. But for the sake of comparison, the top two teams at home this season were the St. Louis Blues (30-6-5) and the Detroit Red Wings (31-7-3). So the Jets still have some ground to make up on that front, but the crowd was remarkable in Season 1 and we expect they’ll continue to be fired up come the fall.

7) What impact will Eric Fehr have upon his return?

Let’s just say things didn’t go nearly as well as either the player or management hoped, finishing with two goals and three points in 35 games while averaging less than 10 minutes of ice time per game. Picked up for an ECHL prospect and a 4th round choice in 2012, the Winkler product was expected to play on one of the top two lines and have an impact on the power play. Instead, after off-season shoulder surgery, he never really looked fully comfortable until late in the season when he got a chance to play with Jim Slater and Tanner Glass. However, he suffered another shoulder injury and was done for the season. the pending restricted free agent isn’t expected to be back with the Jets. But after a full summer of training, don’t be surprised to see Fehr get a shot with another team. After all, he’s a former first-round draft pick that has scored 20 goals in the NHL and plenty of teams need offensive help.

8) Can Mark Scheifele stick around?

The answer was yes and no. Scheifele’s outstanding pre-season earned a well-deserved spot on the opening-day roster, but it quickly became evident that he would be better served by another year of seasoning with the Barrie Colts. Scheifele scored his first NHL goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre with friends and family members in attendance, but that was one of the few offensive highlights. The seventh overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft worked on his all-around game, competed for Canada at the world junior hockey championship and has joined the St. John’s IceCaps for the Calder Cup playoffs. It will be interesting to see how much better he is come September. There’s no doubt he’s motivated to stick with the Jets this fall.

9) How will head coach Claude Noel handle the jump to the NHL?

Despite missing the playoffs, you’d be hard-pressed to suggest Noel didn’t do a good job with this group. He coaxed career seasons out of several players and set the foundation for the coming seasons. The Jets started slowly, but clearly bought in to the message Noel was trying to instill. Sure, there were growing pains but those were to be expected. Noel’s frankness might rub some people the wrong way but he’s engaging and refreshing. He’s vowed to make a few adjustments as the Jets work on building a winning culture.

10) Can Blake Wheeler reach his full potential?

The 25-year-old winger had his best season as a pro, leading the Jets in scoring with 64 points and managed to score 17 (which was four behind the 21 he put up as a rookie with the Boston Bruins), despite enduring a long drought to start the season and another to end the campaign. Wheeler went through a long stretch and showed he can be a point-per-game player and finding a way to move his career high in points around 80 next season isn’t out of the question.

 

Scheifele ready for next step with IceCaps

- April 19th, 2012

This is the next logical step in what has can only be called a whirlwind season for Mark Scheifele.

On Thursday afternoon, the Winnipeg Jets made official what had been widely speculated: that after his Barrie Colts were eliminated on Tuesday in a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Ottawa 67s, Scheifele would be joining the St. John’s IceCaps for the American Hockey League playoffs.

But not before taking a few days off to recharge his batteries.

Why would a 19-year-old need to take a few days off, you might ask?

Consider what Scheifele had on his plate during the past 12 months:

It all started with the skilled centre suiting up for Canada at the World Under-18 championship, where he was arguably the team’s best player and improved his draft stock dramatically.

Since that time, Scheifele took part in the NHL combine, was chosen seventh overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, attended Canada’s world junior summer evaluation camp, opened Ontario Hockey League training camp with the Colts, reported for Jets’ prospects camp in Penticton, B.C., led the Jets in scoring during the pre-season to earn a spot on the roster, inked his first NHL contract, appeared in seven NHL games with the Jets (scoring his first NHL goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs) near his hometown of Kitchner, Ont., returned to the Colts for further seasoning, suited up for Canada at the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship and then went back to finish off his season with the Colts, capping it with his first taste of the OHL playoffs and being part of a Round 1 victory before bowing out in overtime of Game 7 in the second round.

Just writing the words makes you want to take a deep breath. Imagine how he feels.

There was plenty of talk about how Scheifele needed to return to the OHL and dominate when he was reassigned by the Jets.

The numbers might not support that — Scheifele had 23 goals and 63 points in 47 games, compared to the 22 goals and 75 points in 66 games he produced as a rookie — but development goes deeper than what’s on the surface.

By all accounts, Scheifele made some important strides in his play away from the puck while working with head coach Dale Hawerchuk for a second season.

Granted, he played on a better team but it’s significant that Scheifele improved from a minus-22 rating to a plus-21.
Scheifelee added five goals and 12 points in 13 playoff games this spring, including an important goal in Game 7.

He also found some chemistry with fellow Jets’ prospect Ivan Telegin, who had a strong campaign of his own and is almost certainly ready for a taste of the pro game this fall, most likely with the IceCaps.

Were it not for a knee injury he sustained in Game 7, Telegin would be joining Scheifele for the Calder Cup playoff run and he still might, depending on further diagnosis of the injury.

The IceCaps already have a deep roster with championship aspirations and ample depth, so it only makes sense to give Scheifele a few days off to prepare for his next challenge.

Depending on how things go for the IceCaps against the Syracuse Crunch in the first two games, head coach Keith McCambridge will be in charge of deciding when Scheifele gets inserted to the lineup.

Having the familiarity of playing for McCambridge at the YoungStars tournament in Penticton, B.C. and knowing some of the players on the IceCaps roster should serve Scheifele well as he makes the transition to the AHL game.

Adding high-profile players at this time of year has become somewhat commonplace at this time of the year, to varying degrees of success.

Not long ago the Manitoba Moose gave Cody Hodgson a taste of the pro game as they marched to the Calder Cup final against the Hershey Bears.

Just like in that situation, Scheifele won’t be asked to carry the offensive load, but rather to fit in and contribute what he can when given the opportunity.

On the flip side, if Scheifele can find the magic he produced during the NHL pre-season, he could be an impact player and help offset the loss of IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray, who had successful neck surgery on Thursday and is out for the playoffs.

Scheifele still has plenty to learn before becoming an NHL regular and a lengthy run with the IceCaps is sure to provide a couple of valuable lessons about the pro game.

My NHL Playoff primer: Eastern Conference picks

- April 11th, 2012

Our fearless forecast in the regular season brought five out of eight successful selections for the playoffs.

We had the Bruins, Rangers, Penguins, Flyers and the Capitals to make it, missing the Devils, Panthers (who didn’t) and Senators (see Panthers).

Teams we overvalued were the Sabres (who didn’t?), Jets (so I was wrong, but they missed plenty of opportunities to get into the Top-8) and the Lightning (who I had second, but expected much better goaltending from Dwayne Roloson after reaching Game 7 of the East final last season before bowing out to eventual champs).

We had the Caps as the East rep in the Stanley Cup final and unlike the San Jose Sharks, we’re totally abandoning Alex Ovechkin and company. Although I think Braden Holtby will hold up fine – he’s unflappable from his day with the Hershey Bears – I have no faith in this collection and think they’re on the verge of blowing up the core. They’ve already fired one coach this season and there are strong rumblings that Dale Hunter might be heading back to the London Knights next season.

With that in mind, here are our Round 1 picks in the East:

(1) New York Rangers (51-24-7, 109 points) vs (8) Ottawa Senators (41-31-10, 92 points)

Full marks to head coach Paul MacLean for leading the Sens into the playoffs when most pundits had them dead last (we had them 14th in the East, just ahead of the Panthers). Norris candidate Erik Karlsson is dynamic with the puck and can dictate the pace of the game. Jason Spezza found a new level to play at, producing 34 goals and leading the forwards. Craig Anderson should hold them in games, but the Rangers counter with one of the best goalies in the NHL in Henrik Lundqvist (who is more rested than previous seasons thanks to the strong play of backup Marty Biron) and have a group of fearless shot-blockers both on defence (led by Dan Girardi) and up front (with captain Ryan Callahan). Marian Garborik is playing inspired hockey once again, rookie Carl Hagelin has been a great find and the Rangers have a former Conn Smythe winner in Brad Richards to help with the production. Perhaps most importantly, the Rangers are a physical team that can wear you down. The Sens played them tough during the regular season and might steal a game, but that’s it. Rangers in five.

(2) Boston Bruins (49-29-4, 102 points) vs (7) Washington Capitals (42-32-8, 92 points)

Yes, the Bruins have dealt with some injuries and will be without Nathan Horton (concussion) for the entire playoffs and don’t have as much depth as they did when they captured Lord Stanley’s mug in Game 7 at Rogers Arena. However, Tyler Seguin took a huge step forward in terms of offensive production, two-way play and overall maturity, while guys like Brad Marchand plays the gritty game that’s required to have success. Alex Ovechkin had a strong second half and should benefit from the return of Nicklas Backstrom. Heart-and-soul guys like Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera will have chip in offensively and Joel Ward will have to find his playoff form (which was missing in action for most of the regular season after signing a big free agent deal) for this team to have a chance. Although Tim Thomas hasn’t played as well as he did last season, he’s a winner and will help the Bruins move on with relative ease. This could be a clean sweep, but we’ll give Ovie and company the benefit of one home-ice win. Bruins in five.

(3) Florida Panthers (38-26-18, 94 points) vs (6) New Jersey Devils (48-28-6, 102 points)

Most folks believe the Devils are going to knock out the Southeast Division champions with relative ease. Not so fast. We understand the Devils have high-end talent in Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and Zach Parise, along with solid rookie Adam Henrique and David Clarkson had a breakout season with 30 goals, but we’re not entirely sold by their depth or defence corps. Martin Brodeur put up pretty good numbers (31 wins, 2.41 GAA, .908 save %) and has proven he can get it done, but if Jose Theodore can elevate his game (or Scott Clemmensen fills in admirably), we think the Panthers might just pull off an unlikely outset. Stephen Weiss is getting his first taste of the playoffs, Tomas Fleischmann had a great season after a serious health scare last season and Kris Versteeg knows what it takes to get to the top of the mountain. The defence is rather unheralded, but Brian Campbell is a strong puck mover and plays big minutes. Jason Garrison has a big shot from the point, while Ed Jovanovski, Erik Gudbranson, Mike Weaver and Dmitry Kulikov might have what it takes to keep Kovalchuk under wraps. The Devils could easily win in five, but we see Kevin Dineen’s first foray into the Stanley Cup playoffs to include a big upset. Panthers in seven.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins (51-25-6, 108 points) vs (5) Philadelphia Flyers (47-26-9, 103 points)

The marquee match-up of the first round is much better suited to be the Eastern Conference final, but one of these teams (both legit Stanley Cup contenders) will be going home prematurely. The Flyers boast plenty of firepower in Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr, Danny Briere and play with a serious edge (Scott Hartnell had an unbelievable season and is a physical force). The defence corps improved with the addition of Nicklas Grossman but this is the time of the year when being without Chris Pronger (concussion) will really hurt them. Ilya Bryzgalov is the ultimate wild card in this series. If he plays like he did down the stretch, the Flyers could easily win. If he plays like he did for the Coyotes last spring against the Red Wings, they could be swept (unlikely, but possible). Evgeni Malkin is the clear-cut MVP this season and getting Sidney Crosby back adds another layer. James Neal has a potent shot and Pascal Dupuis has proven to be more than just a versatile guy, he’s a point producer now. Chris Kunitz shines at this time of season, Jordan Staal must play big and Mattt Cooke needs to be feisty. Kris Letang is key for the Pens defence corps, especially running the power play and Marc-Andre Fleury enjoys these type of tests. That’s why I’m taking the Penguins in seven riveting games.

NHL Playoff primer: Western Conference picks

- April 11th, 2012

So, the Stanley Cup playoffs are finally upon us. Thank goodness.

Before we delve into the annual post-season picks, here’s a quick thought on looking into the old crystal ball back in October, when I managed to predict six of the eight teams to earn invites in the Western Conference.

Other than missing the St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes, we had the other six.

The two incorrect choices?

None other than the last-overall-but-not-drafting-first-after-the-lottery Columbus Blue Jackets (who lost out to the Edmonton Oilers) and Anaheim Ducks, who started slow, made a nice run and then faltered down the stretch.

It was a rough up-and-down season for our pick for my Stanley Cup pick as the San Jose Sharks needed a strong finish just to get into the dance as the seventh seed.

We’re not going to abandon them completely and we think there’s a chance they could still win it all, but we’re moving over to the Nashville Predators as not only the West rep but the ultimate Stanley Cup champions in an exciting seven-game series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pekka Rinne claims the Conn Smythe Trophy, earning a slight edge over captain Shea Weber, who will be a force at both ends of the ice.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, here’s a closer look at the first-round match-ups in the West:

(1) Vancouver Canucks (51-22-9, 111 points) vs (8) Los Angeles Kings (40-27-15, 95 points)

After making it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final last spring and despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy this season, some folks are pegging the Canucks for a first-round playoff exit. We’ve always loved the way Mike Richards plays the game and he might give the Sedin Twins some trouble this round and Jonathan Quick led the NHL with 10 shutouts, but this team struggles to score goals and that’s never a good thing in the playoffs. Drew Doughty had a down season and even if Jeff Carter’s ankle holds up, we just don’t think it will be enough. Sure, there’s the potential for a goaltending controversy with the continued emergence of Cory Schneider but look for Roberto Luongo to hold up, at least in Round 1. Ryan Kesler, David Booth and Chris Higgins chip in with the secondary scoring and the Canucks get the job down. Canucks in six.

(2) St. Louis Blues (49-22-11, 109 points) vs (7) San Jose Sharks (43-29-10, 96 points)

It’s tough to argue with what Ken Hitchcock did after taking over a Blues team that was 6-7 to start the season and finished tied for second overall in the league. They play a stifling defensive system and have two outstanding goalies in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott (Halak starts Game 1 as Elliott is day-to-day). As an aside, the Sharks would probably love to have either, but while the embattled Antti Niemi has struggled with consistency, he’s also won a Stanley Cup (with Chicago in 2010), so that has to count for something. When we saw the Sharks in Winnipeg earlier this season, I was thoroughly impressed by the dynamic inside their dressing room and with the talent assembled by Doug Wilson and his staff. After getting to the conference final last spring, look for Joe Thornton to help lead the Sharks to an upset over a young Blues team that took a huge step forward and has a bright future. Part of a bright future occasionally includes a heartbreaking first-round exit. A healthy Marty Havlat is the wild card in this series, while Logan Couture is going to shine. Take the Sharks in six.

(3) Phoenix Coyotes (42-27-13, 97 points) vs (6) Chicago Blackhawks (45-26-11, 101 points)

You have to wonder if this might finally be the year the Coyotes win their first playoff series since moving to the desert. They don’t have to face the Detroit Red Wings this spring, but that doesn’t mean it gets much easier as the Blackhawks serve as the opponent. There is still some uncertainty surrounding the future of the Coyotes’ franchise, but the whispers of an imminent move aren’t nearly as loud this time around. The Coyotes are led by ageless winger Ray Whitney (24 goals, 77 points), Radim Vrbata (35 goals, including 12 GWGs and 62 points), captain Shane Doan (22 goals, 50 points) and emerging blue-liner Keith Yandle. Between the pipes, all Mike Smith did in replacing Ilya Bryzgalov was record 38 wins in 67 games, posting a 2.21 GAA, .930 save % and eight shutouts. Pretty darn good numbers all around. The biggest question surrounding the ‘Hawks is the status of captain Jonathan Toews, who missed the final 22 games with a concussion. He’s been skating but not sure if he’s good to go for the series opener. Corey Crawford didn’t perform the way he did in the playoffs last season, but the experience should serve him well here. We see the Coyotes putting up a great fight, but Toews pushes the Hawks in a series that goes the distance. Blackhawks in seven.

(4) Nashville Predators (48-26-8, 104 points) vs (5) Detroit Red Wings (48-28-6, 102 points)

Just two points separate these two teams and this series should be one of the most entertaining to watch during the entire playoffs. The Red Wings were the best team in the NHL at Joe Louis, but struggled on the road. There are plenty of folks who believe the playoff-tested Red Wings just might have one more run in them, but we think it’s the Preds time to shine. After finally getting over the hump and winning a playoff series last spring, we’re banking on the netminding of Pekka Rinne, the two-way play of All-World D-men Shea Weber and Ryan Suter and the balanced-but-sometimes-sputtering offensive attack. The Predators take scoring-by-committee to a new level, but the addition of Alex Radulov from the KHL is a major X-factor. The size of Paul Gaustad and the speed of Mike Fisher will help combat the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, while Marty Erat is going to lead the way offensively. This could be the year in Music City and having to knock out an old foe who inflicted some of the growing pains for the franchise seems fitting. Predators in seven.

 

Jets set for season finale

- April 7th, 2012

Game 82 is nearly upon us and for the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning, what’s up for grabs this evening is 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

No, it’s not the playoffs and not a huge carrot to chase, but for the Jets a win would ensure they stay out of the basement in the Southeast Division and that’s got to count for something.

A Lightning win, coupled by a win by the Carolina Hurricanes over the Florida Panthers on Saturday could bump the Jets all the way down to 12th in the East.

Considering the Jets were only eliminated last Saturday with an OT loss to the Lightning, it’s hard to imagine they could fall that low but it’s another reminder of how hard it is to win in the NHL and just how close the standings really are.

As for the game itself, the biggest storyline will be the atmosphere. The general sense is that it’s an opportunity for fans to celebrate the return of the Jets one last time in what has been an interesting campaign on a lot of levels.

It’s not going to be the same buzz as the home opener, but you get the feeling it’s going to be awfully loud.

The Jets have been strong on home ice this season and they’d like to go out on a positive note.

“It’s too bad because you want to keep playing hockey and all of a sudden after tonight, you don’t get too anymore,” said Jets winger Blake Wheeler. “It’s one of those things where you want to come out and have a good finish. Hopefully, having a better finishing game than the opening game.”

That opening game saw the Jets drop a 5-1 decision to the Montreal Canadiens.

One thing you can count on is that there will be several standing ovations, just like Oct. 9 when the crowd rose during the final minute to salute the NHLs return.

“(A win) would show our gratitude for the support that they’ve shown us all year and that’s the biggest thing. We can’t guarantee a win but we can guarantee we can play our best game,” said Wheeler. “It’s a crowd that truly cares about what’s going on on the ice and they care about us as players, as people. The community has embraced from Day 1 and for all of those reasons, it’s been a lot of fun to be a part of. We took steps in the right direction and hopefully we take more steps so that come this time next year, we’re not going to talk about our last game being (the final game of the regular season).”

Jets head coach Claude Noel has a simple request for the finale, then will hold year-end meetings and begin the lengthy evaluation process throughout the summer.

“I just want us to play well,” said Noel. “I just want us to play well, play hard for the fans and play for the right reasons, for each other. The last couple of games have been a little bit difficult to coach, but at least our guys have played. I’ve been in situations and seen situations at the end of the year where nothing matters, it’s tough to watch the games. But for the most part, our guys have been pretty good. I’m thankful of that and just want us to finish on a good note.”

A lot of eyes will be on Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, who is attempting to become the first player since Alex Ovechkin (who did it twice) to reach 60 goals. Stamkos has 59 going into the regular-season finale.

As for the Jets lineup, winger Eric Fehr, still bothered by a shoulder issue, and defenceman Ron Hainsey, who came out for the morning skate but was in plenty of discomfort due to a nagging foot injury, are out while defenceman Randy Jones was “game-time decision” but it’s going to be Mark Flood instead.

Here’s how we expect both teams to start:

Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Alex Burmistrov-Nik Antropov
Antti Miettinen-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton-Patrice Cormier-Spencer Machacek

Toby Enstrom-Dustin Byfuglien
Grant Clitsome-Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart-Mark Flood

Ondrej Pavelec (Chris Mason)

Lightning

Martin St. Louis-Steven Stamkos-Ryan Malone
J.T. Brown-Vincent Lecavalier-Teddy Purcell
Nate Thompson-Tom Pyatt-Brett Connolly
J.T. Wyman-Adam Hall

Eric Brewer-Victor Hedman
Brett Clark-Brian Lee
Keith Aulie-Brendan Mikkelson/Mike Commodore

Dwayne Roloson (Sebastien Caron)

Jets vs. Islanders

- April 5th, 2012

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Instead of chatting with the players about a meaningless game, we mixed it up a bit on Thursday morning.

The following video features Travis Hamonic and his broken beak, Evander Kane “interviewing” Chris Thorburn, Steve Staois discussing his 1,000th game, and Claude Noel revealing whether or not he likes old buildings like Nassau Coliseum.

Jets 5, Panthers 4 (OT)

- April 4th, 2012

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Jets roared back from a three-goal deficit on Tuesday night to beat the Florida Panthers 5-4 in overtime and spoil what was supposed to be a big hockey party in South Florida.

Apparently even A-Rod himself showed up to watch the game and celebrate Florida’s first playoff spot in 12 years, but Andrew Ladd spoiled the party with his overtime tally.

Here’s what the Jets had to say after the victory:

Jets vs. Panthers

- April 3rd, 2012

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night will try to prevent the Florida Panthers from clinching their first playoff berth in 12 years and their first division title in franchise history.

Here are some pre-game interviews:

Monday morning Jets report

- April 2nd, 2012

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Jets were officially eliminated from the playoff race on Saturday night after their 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Here are a few clips from the dressing room following the contest: