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About "ken-wiebe"

Ken Wiebe is a sports writer with the Winnipeg Sun and has been since August of 2000. He's covered the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League for more than a decade, but is comfortable covering sports on any surface. Born in Brandon and raised in Altona, he now resides in St. Vital. He got his start in the newspaper business at the Red River Valley Echo and is a graduate of the University of Regina's journalism program.

Maurice locked up, Cheveldayoff provides state of union

- April 16th, 2014

NEW YORK — After getting the green light from his family after sitting down at the table with them to discuss the future, Paul Maurice is getting his wish.

As I was watching the New York Rangers go through the paces at their practice rink in Greenburgh, the Jets unveiled that Maurice had signed a four-year contract to remain as head coach.

I wrote a column back on Mar. 14 saying I expected Maurice to be back and that a four-year deal would probably get it done, so this doesn’t come as a surprise.

Neither is the timing of it. During his address on Sunday, Maurice hinted that something could happen after the organizational meetings were complete and he returned home to see his wife and kids.

“I actually flew home yesterday because I had made the promise to the family that we were doing it at the kitchen table. And I’d said that enough times in the media that I can’t now do this by phone,” said Cheveldayoff. “Kevin and I quickly agreed to what was fair for both sides…. got home and that took about three minutes, too. Said I wanted to go to Winnipeg and I wanted the family to be a part of it, and I thought it’d be great for the family. They all smiled and said, ‘Let’s go.’ I called Kevin and said we’re in, and put a (For Sale) sign on the front steps today.”

Why not wait to see if some other NHL teams might come calling?

“I looked around. That’s part of what you do as a coach, try to find the best place. There wasn’t in my mind another place like this, that fit for me. This was the team I wanted to coach,” said Maurice. “I don’t want to say I had my eye on this job. But I had my eye on this team for a while. I thought there was enough improvement that could be made with the personnel here, and because it was so young it could get better. It’s the place that best suits my strengths and what we can do in the short-term.”

There was plenty of talking about structure and continuing to push for the answer of what Jets’ hockey is going to look like.

Maurice showed me enough since taking over from Claude Noel on Jan. 12 and it will be interesting to see what he can do with the benefit of having a full training camp.

It’s going to be a tougher training camp, with an emphasis on increasing the conditioning levels, something players were warned about but are apparently on board with (not that they have much of a choice if they want to remain in the lineup).

“I’ve gotten fairly good over the years at knowing when a player’s saying what you want to hear and when they’re telling you what they mean and what they believe. And the core veteran guys want that direction. They like the focus of where we’re going, and they just want to win. They love playing for the Winnipeg Jets,” said Maurice. “What we’ve got to do is get this thing on track, so that those kind of leaders want to be here when the time comes for them to make the decision.”

Here’s what Cheveldayoff had to say about keeping Maurice in the fold.

“We’re extremely proud and looking forward to the future with Paul,” said Cheveldayoff. “It was a real pleasure to sit there and have discussions about the future and see his excitement with respect to what we have here today… and direction and plan we want to take this franchise in. We strongly believe in the plan. We are extremely excited about having a coach that believes in the plan that is excited to be here. He’s excited to get his family situated in Winnipeg. It’s an important day.

“He has the experience of being with different organizations at different cycles that they have been in. From the moment he got in here he talked about our size, he talked about our speed. But the thing that really intrigued him was the youth of our team, and the youth of our core. Until you get an opportunity to work with someone, you don’t truly appreciate what they bring to the table on a day-to-day basis. He’s an impressive hockey coach, but he’s a very impressive person, as well.”

Why not consider other alternatives, like Manitoba product Barry Trotz?

“(Maurice) is the right guy. He’s the fit for our organization. He knows this organization in and out,” said Cheveldayoff. “He had the opportunity to say no… to say, ‘You know what? I’ve been here, I’ve looked around, I don’t like it.’ He knows there’s going to be opportunities out there to potentially go to other places. But his enthusiasm and his excitement and genuine feel for this group was certainly something that pushed us. We’re extremely excited about Paul Maurice as our coach.”

The contracts of both men expire at the same time, so it’s obvious these two will sink or swim together.

Aside from getting his contract taken care of, Maurice was also confirmed as an assistant coach with Team Canada for next month’s IIHF world men’s championship in Minsk, Belarus, joining a staff that includes Peter DeBoer of the New Jersey Devils and head coach Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes.

One of the players Maurice and company will be coaching is Jets centre Mark Scheifele, who is recovering nicely from a knee injury he suffered on Mar. 4 against the New York Islanders.

“It’s coming long good. I feel stronger and I feel more comfortable with my knee, it’s been feeling good lately,” Scheifele said on Sunday before answering my question about the hit from Calvin de Haan that landed him on the shelf. “Obviously, I wasn’t happy about it. I know it’s hockey and I’ve probably taken a hit like that hundreds of times in my life. It just caught me at a split second that I was vulnerable. It’s a tough thing to deal with, but it was better than what it could have been and I’m happy with that.

“It’s tough to be out any time and to be out in the playoff push, it definitely sucked to not be with the guys at that time of the year. Every night, I wished I was out there and next year, I’m going to come back stronger and that much more hungry.”

Shifting gears, if you hadn’t already noticed, social media nearly exploded during Cheveldayoff’s press conference as he boldly announced that Ondrej Pavelec would be the Jets’ No. 1 goalie next season.

Pavelec’s struggles last season were well-documented, but this move doesn’t come as a big surprise either. There’s no way Maurice gives his vote of confidence like he did on Sunday if the Jets were considering a buyout for Pavelec.

Maurice went out of his way to say you won’t get a good read on Pavelec’s potential until the Jets play better in front of him, something I’ve been saying for a few years now.

Time will tell obviously, what we know for sure is that unless Cheveldayoff changes his minded or something unexpected happens, the Jets will take a pass on using one of their compliance buyouts on Pavelec and won’t pay the embattled netminder around $8 million to do nothing or to play for another team.

“He’s relatively a young goaltender when it comes to being a starting goaltender. When you give those young players those opportunities to excel, there’s going to be some bumps along the way,” said Cheveldayoff. “Like any professional athlete, the onus is on them to take care of all the things they need to do. The onus is on the coach and the org to put a plan in place to have players being able to succeed in the course of being a team.

“As far as statistical date, we could sit here and have debates all day about different percentages or goals against… at the end of the day, everyone gets judged on the results. If we sat there and broke it into 10-game segments, I’m sure there are some great segments there that Ondrej would have had. You take some other 10-game segments and there’s probably some that he’d like back.”

It’s obvious that this is a huge summer for Pavelec and it will be interesting to see what he’s going to do after getting the support of his head coach and GM in April and not having to wonder any longer if he’s on the trading block or a candidate to be bought out.

Getting into the best shape of his career seems like an obvious place to start and doing whatever it takes to repair his confidence should be high on the priority list as well.

Speaking of goalies, Cheveldayoff was noncommittal when asked about the backup position.

“There’s still some analysis that will go on there,”he said. “We’ve got some good young goaltenders within our system right now. We saw Hutch play at the end of the year, and played really well. No decisions have been made, yet.”

Michael Frolik, a pending RFA who put up 15 goals and 42 points, is a top priority this off-season and I expect the Jets to make him a multiyear offer.

“That’s someone we feel has grown into a big part of this organization and we’ll certainly look at reaching out to his representatives at an appropriate time,” said Cheveldayoff, who went on to say more internal discussions are required on several RFA and UFA fronts.

One UFA who is virtually guaranteed not to be back is Devin Setoguchi, who managed only 11 goals and 27 points in 76 games after arriving from the Minnesota Wild for a second round pick in 2014.

“It was going to be a good gamble to try and expand the core. It goes back to trying to expand the core all the time. Obviously, you have to take some chances,” said Cheveldayoff. “Some of them are going to work out, some of them aren’t. It’s something you certainly learn from. We’re extremely excited what Fro did for us. And obviously with Devin things didn’t quite work out as we had hoped or expected. But you’d say that both ways.

“You’re only given so many different tools to use to try and build (through the draft). If there’s an opportunity to use an asset that will continue to grow the core of our team, we’ll look at that again.”

That’s the attitude Cheveldayoff has to have. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see now that Setoguchi’s production wasn’t worth what turned into the 39th overall pick in 2014 but it probably would have been if he had scored 20 goals instead of 11.

With that in mind, are there some untouchables on the Jets’ roster right now?

“There’s guys we believe are going to be Winnipeg Jets for a long, long time,” said Cheveldayoff. “We hope the players that want to be here that we want to have part of his group will be there. It’s such an overused term. But there’s a lot of guys on this team that I wouldn’t be trading right now. Because I believe they’re going to be players that are going to help us achieve not only making the playoffs, but get beyond the playoffs, beyond rounds in the playoffs.”

Cheveldayoff also talked about working to expand the core and answered a question about the importance of not wasting the prime years of several of the Jets’ key pieces.

“The objective is to get in, certainly, to the playoffs. But the ultimate objective is to go far and deep into the playoffs,” said Cheveldayoff. “And in order to do that you have to establish a core and then build around the core. In the first couple of years we’ve spent the time in trying to establish the core. There’s numerous players that were part of the organization that have moved on. And now you’re seeing several players that have been signed, some of them long-term… it’s about establishing something and then building around it.

“These are experiences they’re going to grow from. The future can only come one day at a time. I can’t accelerate that aspect of things. We’re going to continue to look at different avenues to try and build the team and grow the team and grow people that fit around the core and expand the core. Ultimately what you want is your core to grow from four or five guys to six or seven or eight guys. And people that are on the same and people that are buying into the program Paul is going to put into place.”

So how far along are the Jets’ in their big-picture plan after missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons?

“I don’t know if you can really place a term on rebuilding or retooling. There’s lots of different terms out there. Again, there’s no time frame on development of a young player,” said Cheveldayoff. “And there’s no magic solution to say in X years we will be at this point. Because if anyone can predict the future they’re a better person than I am.

“You don’t sit there and say, ‘in three years we will be at X, or in five years we will be at X.’ You can’t think in those terms. You have to think in how can we grow, how can we build? Sometimes it takes longer than that. Sometimes things happen quicker.

“Certainly we’d love to have made the playoffs, because that is part of the growth of the team. Once you get to that point you learn not only what it takes but what it takes to excel. Everybody is certainly striving for that. And there’s 14 other teams saying the same message here at that point. So not making the playoffs is obviously disappointing for everybody. It’s why you play the game. But you can really lose sight of the long-range plans if you fall prey to the short-term disappointments. I’d love to find that magic cure to say, ‘If we just get this guy, we’re in.’  But the game doesn’t lend itself like that.”

Cheveldayoff spoke for nearly 50 minutes and columnist Paul Friesen handled all of the stories on Maurice, the Jets’ GM and a sidebar on Maurice and Scheifele heading to the worlds in Thursday’s paper and online at www.winnipegsun.com.

Be sure to check out my playoff picks on the blog and remember I’ll be covering the series between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers for the Sun Media chain and QMI Agency.

Enjoy the playoffs folks. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts in the comments section, on Twitter or by email to ken.wiebe@sunmedia.ca.

Playoff picks: Western Conference

- April 16th, 2014

NEW YORK — Perhaps the best part of the Stanley Cup picks is that you get an opportunity to make up for the failed predictions of the pre-season.

Well, they weren’t all failed but I’m sure not proud of my selection of the Colorado Avalanche to finish dead last in the Central Division. I figured the team would respond to new head coach Patrick Roy, but that it might take more than one season for the full impact to be felt.

Instead, they not only qualified for the playoffs but passed both the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues to finish first in the Central Division and earn home-ice advantage through the first two rounds (should they advance).

Anyway, there’s my crow-eating for the day. Feel free to share you pre-season prediction successes and failures in the comments section.

For what it’s worth, I had the Blues winning the President’s Trophy, which was looking like a safe bet until a six-game losing skid to end the regular season. The San Jose Sharks were my pick to come out of the Western Conference in the playoffs and I’m sticking by that selection, while realizing they could get bounced in the first round given how tough it will be to come out of the Pacific.

Here we go:

Central Division semis

Colorado Avalanche (1) 52-22-8, 112 points vs Minnesota Wild (first wild card) 43-27-12, 98 pointsThe Avalanche go in as the favourite and you’d think that I learned my lesson after underestimating the Avalanche going into the campaign. However, not having Matt Duchene to start the series is a big factor. To me, he drives the offence for the Avalanche. There’s still depth up front with Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and company, but I’m not sold on Colorado’s defence and the Wild have some weapons that could cause some commotion in Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle and Matt Moulson to name a few. Matt Cooke is a guy who could get under the skin of the Avalanche in this series. Ryan Suter is going to need to play 30 or more minutes nightly and while unpredicatable, Ilya Bryzgalov has been outstanding for the Wild since arriving from the Edmonton Oilers, going 7-1-3 with a .911 save percentage and 2.11 goals against average. Provided Bryzgalov is steady, the Wild could pull off the upset special in Round 1. I’m taking the Wild in seven games.

St. Louis Blues (2) 52-23-7, 111 points vs Chicago Blackhawks (3) 46-21-5, 107 points

Going into this season, I was convinced that the Blues were going to be able to put the playoff disappointment of the past two springs behind them and would break through after consecutive defeats to the Los Angeles Kings. But as hard as it is to believe, the Blues actually found themselves with a tougher first-round opponent than those two previous springs. And while I like a lot of what the Blues bring to the table — including what I think is among the top defence corps’ in the entire NHL and the forward group of Alex Steen, David Backes, T.J. Oshie and company, it’s tough to bet against the defending champions in the opening round. Ryan Miller gives the Blues an edge in goal and while Steve Ott hasn’t chipped in much offensively since his arrival from Buffalo, he’s the type of disruptive force that could help St. Louis push through. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane should be rested after skipping some games at the end of the regular season to get healthy. Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa should be key contributors and this is the type of series where Bryan Bickell might be able to find his playoff form that earned him a big raise. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Nicklas Hjalmarsson. Provided Corey Crawford supplies adequate netminding, the Blues could be in for a third straight spring of discontent. Blackhawks in seven.

Pacific Division semis

Anaheim Ducks (1) 54-20-8, 116 points vs Dallas Stars (second wild card) 40-31-11, 91 points

The Ducks are so deep in goal that their starter for much of the season, Jonas Hiller, is unlikely to dress for the series opener as rookie Frederik Andersson gets the call and John Gibson moves into the backup role. Ryan Getzlaf had an MVP-type season (he was second on my ballot) and Corey Perry remains one of the purest goal scorers in the NHL. Teemu Selanne is hoping his fond farewell season includes a Stanley Cup to go along with the bronze medal he earned at the Olympics. Mathieu Perreault, Andrew Cogliano, Patrick Maroon, Nick Bonino, Matt Beleskey, Jakob Silfverberg and Kyle Palmieri must provide secondary scoring, while the defence corps of Francois Beauchemin, Bryan Allen, rookie Hapus Lindholm and late addition Stephane Robidas must be on their game to withstand the push that is sure to be coming from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. The Stars should be loose in this one as their retooling under GM Jim Nill and head coach Lindy Ruff is ahead of schedule. Kari Lehtonen might steal a couple games in this series, but the lack of depth on the back end could prove to be the Stars’ undoing as the Ducks win the series in six.

San Jose Sharks (2) 51-22-9, 111 points vs Los Angeles Kings (3) 46-28-8, 100 points

The Kings are that team that nobody wanted to match up with in the opening round of the playoffs, thanks to the goaltending of Jonathan Quick, the defensive wizardry of Drew Doughty and the underrated two-way play of Anze Kopitar. Although the Kings are the lowest scoring team in the post-season, Marian Gaborik has given the offensive attack another weapon, Tyler Toffoli should benefit from the taste of the playoffs he enjoyed last spring. Mike Richards had only 11 goals and 41 points this season but this is his time to shine and if the Kings are to advance, he’ll be right in the middle of things. Ultimately, I think the Sharks are ready to learn from their playoff disappointments of year’s past and have the horses to not only outlast their California rival but to make a lengthy playoff run. Marc-Edourd Vlasic is an unheralded force on the blue line and the offensive depth includes the likes of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Tommy Wingels and rookie Tomas Hertl, who is ready to return from a knee injury. The Sharks have a nice safety net in Alex Stalock, but Antti Niemi must do his part to help his team advance and it says here that he will. Sharks in seven.

Playoff picks: Eastern Conference preview

- April 16th, 2014

NEW YORK — Bring on the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s that time of the year, which means the predictions are pouring in.

Going back in my notebook, I was happy to report that I chose to Boston Bruins to win the Eastern Conference in our Sun Media season preview and I’m going to stick with that pick, though the rest of the road could be interesting this spring, with plenty of interesting storylines to follow.

Remember the 1 through 8 seeding has been replaced by divisional playoffs with two wild-cards.

Let’s break down the four match-ups:

Atlantic Division semis

Boston Bruins (1) 54-19-9, 117 points vs Detroit Red Wings (2nd wild card) 39-28-15, 93 points

The Red Wings had to scratch and claw just to get into the post-season party and extend an impressive run of 23 consecutive playoff appearances, but their reward is running into the President’s Trophy winner and the team I picked to win the Stanley Cup. Dan DeKeyser and Niklas Kronwall must have a strong series on the back end, while Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar must help Pavel Datsyuk with the Red Wings’ offensive attack. Mike Babcock is one of the best coaches in the NHL and is sure to come up with an insightful game plan. But Tuukka Rask is one of the best goalies in the NHL, Zdeno Chara is playing at an elite level once again and the Bruins four-line depth — led by the two-way talent of Patrice Bergeron and fellow 30-goal scorer Jarome Iginla — should be enough to help Boston win this series in six games.

Tampa Bay Lightning (2) 46-27-9, 101 points vs Montreal Canadiens (3rd) 46-28-8, 100 points

A shootout was required to see which team would have home-ice advantage in this series but not having goalie Ben Bishop at least to start the series could be a tough thing for the Lightning to overcome. Head coach Jon Cooper did an outstanding job with a group that only had sniper Steven Stamkos for 36 games this season and traded its captain (Marty St. Louis) at the deadline for Ryan Callahan. The Lightning got great contributions from rookies Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, while Victor Hedman (13 goals, 55 points) is really coming into his own on the back end. Hard-hitting blue-liner Radko Gudas is another guy to watch in this series. If Bishop was at full health, I’d give the edge to the Lightning. However, relying on Anders Lindback is an awfully tough task for a team that is going to be forced to try and shut down the likes of Max Pacioretty (39 goals) and Thomas Vanek, who was an excellent addition at the trade deadline. Feisty Brendan Gallagher could play a big role as well. Look for P.K. Subban to be a force on the blue line for the Habs, who take the series in six games.

Metropolitan Division semis

Pittsburgh Penguins (1) 51-24-7, 109 points vs Columbus Blue Jackets (1st wild card) 43-32-7, 93 points

The Penguins are finally getting closer to full health after losing more than 500 man games due to injury this season. Captain Sidney Crosby won the Art Ross Trophy in a landslide (104 points) and led the way in all aspects while Chris Kunitz provided consistent production (35 goals, 67 points) after linemate Pascal Dupuis went down with a knee injury. James Neal needs to be a force, while Brandon Sutter will be tasked with shutting down Blue Jackets centre Ryan Johansen, who enjoyed a breakout season. Many are picking goalie Sergei Bobrovski and the Jackets as their Cinderella team in Round 1. But not having Nathan Horton is a big loss for Columbus, as his playoff experience would have given the team a big boosts. From where I sit, the return of Kris Letang from a stroke and the emergence of rookie Olli Maata on the back end, coupled with a return to form from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after last spring’s meltdown means the Penguins win this series in five games.

New York Rangers (2) 45-31-6, 96 points vs Philadelphia Flyers (3) 42-30-10, 94 points

The Flyers open the series with Ray Emery in goal and while he’s had success against the Rangers in the past and boasts playoff experience, he didn’t have a great season. Henrik Lundqvist was going to give the Rangers the edge in the crease whether Steve Mason was healthy or not, as he really came on strong in mid-December and later led Sweden to a silver medal at the Olympics. It will be interesting to see how the Flyers’ defence corps holds up in this series, but forwards like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell, Brayden Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier and Sean Couturier could keep things interesting. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi are going to log a lot of shutdown minutes, while a healthy Marc Staal should go a long way in containing the Flyers’ attack. At the end of the day, I think Marty St. Louis finds his scoring touch and Rick Nash puts last season’s playoff disappointment behind him as the Rangers win this series in six games.

My NHL awards ballot is complete

- April 15th, 2014

NEW YORK — One is the great things about being a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association is having the responsibility to vote for some of the NHL awards that get handed out at the end of the season.

After my third season on the Winnipeg Jets’ beat, I’ve filled out my ballot and in the spirit of transparency, here are my selections.

Although I don’t get to vote for the Jack Adams Award (chosen by the NHL broadcasters’ association) or the Vezina Trophy (picked by NHL general managers), I will include my picks for those two as well.

There were many tough decisions and I’m sure you won’t agree with all of them, but feel free to get the debate going.

Let me know which choices you liked and which one’s you didn’t.

Enjoy the playoffs, I’ll have my previews for the East and the West done in the morning.

The envelopes please:

Hart Trophy
(“to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team”)

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
4. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
5. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

Norris Trophy
(“to the defence player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position”)

1. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
2. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
3. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
4. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
5. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

Calder Trophy
(“to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition”)

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
2. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning
4. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins
5. Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets

Lady Byng Trophy
(“to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”)

1. Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado Avalanche
2. Marcus Johansson, Washington Capitals
3. Frans Nielsen, New York Islanders
4. Daniel Alfredsson, Detroit Red Wings
5. Ben Smith, Chicago Blackhawks

Selke Trophy
(“to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game”)

1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. David Backes, St. Louis Blues
3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
4. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
5. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

NHL All-star teams

C Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks, Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
RW Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks, Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals, Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
LW Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks, Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars, Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks
D Shea Weber, Nashville Predators, Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks, Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues, Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild, Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators, Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins, Semyon Varlmaov, Colorado Avalanche, Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

All-rookie team
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
F Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning
D Torey Krug, Boston Bruins
D Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets
G Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks

—-

Vezina Trophy

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
2. Sergei Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
3. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
4. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
5. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins

Jack Adams Trophy

1. Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche
2. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings
4. Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

1. Dominic Moore, New York Rangers
2. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild
4. Manny Malhotra, Carolina Hurricanes
5. Rich Peverley, Dallas Stars

Jets ready for curtain call against Flames

- April 11th, 2014

CALGARY — Paul Maurice confirmed this afternoon that goalie Michael Hutchinson will make his third consecutive start for the Winnipeg Jets in their season finale against the Calgary Flames.

Hutchinson earned his first NHL win on Thursday night against the Boston Bruins and is about to be thrown into a back-to-back situation, something he’s familiar with from his time in both the ECHL and American Hockey League this season.

“He felt good after the game, confident and I want to see him in a back-to-back,” said Maurice. “He deserved to go back in.”

Maurice said he was even more impressed with Hutchinson’s 32-save performance against the Bruins after watching it on video.

“Clearly, that game last night was impressive but you need to watch it on video and slow it down because there’s a lot of things you don’t see,” said Maurice. “Some pucks hit a goalie and some pucks he moves on and reads. His game was even better on video than I thought it was from the bench. And I had a pretty high opinion of it from the bench.

“I really liked that.”

Maurice isn’t planning any other lineup changes, though he said there could be a game-time decision and that opens the door for the possibility that Ben Chiarot could draw into his second NHL game.

The Jets enter the contest 36-35-10, so I asked Maurice how significant finishing over .500?

“If it held anything to do with what we do next year, I would say yes. I want to see us play hard and play well,” said Maurice. “This one will be emotionally tougher for us and Calgary works hard. This is not going to be an easy flow game.”

The Flames are 35-38-7 and have two games remaining.

Flames head coach Bob Hartley talked this morning about raising expectations for next season and how he was happy about establishing a hard-working identity with his new group.

A lot of the talk around the Flames revolved around whether or not Boston College forward John Gaudreau (fourth round pick in 2011 who won the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in the NCAA) was going to sign his entry-level contract and turn pro.

Here’s how I expect both teams to start on Friday night:

Jets

Evander Kane-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik
Eric Tangradi-Olli Jokinen-Blake Wheeler
Matt Halischuk-Jim Slater-Eric O’Dell
Carl Klingberg-Patrice Cormier-Anthony Peluso

Toby Enstrom-Paul Postma
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy-Zach Redmond
Ben Chiarot

Michael Hutchinson (Ondrej Pavelec)

FLAMES

LW
Paul Byron-Ben Hankowski-Jiri Hudler
Curtis Glencross-Sean Monahan-Joe Colborne
Lance Bouma-Matt Stajan-Brian McGrattan
Bryce Van Brabant-Lance Bouma-Kevin Westgarth

Mark Giordano-TJ Brodie
Kris Russell-Chris Butler
Mark Cundari-Chad Billins

Karri Ramo (Joey MacDonald)

Jets set for home finale against Bruins

- April 10th, 2014

Michael Hutchinson is getting a shot to face the organization that drafted him in the third round in 2008.

The man who started the campaign as the No. 5 guy on the Winnipeg Jets depth chart will be in goal against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night at MTS Centre.

Hutchinson kept his pre-game thoughts to himself – something he also did before making his NHL debut on Monday – but several players in the Jets’ dressing room expressed their excitement for getting another look at the netminder who made 16 saves against the Minnesota Wild but wasn’t overworked.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice expects Hutchinson to be a little busier than he was against the Wild and he’s interested to see how the youngster responds.

Jets forward Blake Wheeler gave a brutally honest answer when asked if the team is focused on having fun as they play the final two games of the regular season.

“It’s been a really disappointing season on pretty much every account. There’s always something to play for, there’s really no excuse for me for (anyone) to dog it the last two games. You have plenty of time starting on Saturday to do whatever you want. You should be able to bring it for two more games and I hope that from top to bottom, we can put two solid performances in,” said Wheeler. “You earn the right to have fun and we haven’t earned that right. I don’t have a whole lot of fun coming to the rink right now and I don’t believe you should either. You look across the building and that team has earned the right to have fun, they’ve paid their dues.

“They come to the rink every day and it’s fun for them because they know what they’re going to get from everyone and they get results doing it. We’ll get there one day, but we’re not there yet. To answer your question, I don’t want to see a whole lot of smiles right now. It shouldn’t be fun. This (being out of the playoffs again) isn’t fun.”

Maurice put it this way.

“You want your team to compete at an exceptionally high level and then learn how to have fun doing that,” said Maurice. “So it should be fun, but we haven’t got the first (part) of that down yet. We’ve got to learn how to enjoy the game, enjoy the pressure.

“Yesterday makes enjoyment very difficult today and you can’t shower off the feeling of being in a spoiler role. (The Bruins) have got the Presidents’ Trophy locked up and you’re done in two days. Nobody is having here.”

Although the Bruins don’t have much to play for in terms of the standings, they’re a group that doesn’t take many nights off and are looking to keep sharp during their final three games of the regular season.

“It doesn’t matter who is in or out of the lineup, we have a system and if we execute it, we have a good chance of winning the hockey game,” said Bruins defenceman Torey Krug, who has 14 goals and 38 points in 76 games this season. “It’s just about fine-tuning everything and making sure we’re ready for the playoffs. We’ve got to make sure we protect the puck and do the things that are the strengths of our team, like getting in on the forecheck and playing solid defence. That’s just what we try to do.”

Krug wasn’t about to pump his own tires when I asked him what it was like to be involved in the Calder Trophy discussion.

“I don’t even focus on that really, I’m focused on the team,” he said. “We have a good team here, we can make a lot of good things happen. I’m just focusing on what we can do to put ourselves in a good position for the playoffs.”

Krug might be a rookie, but he’s already well-versed in The Bruin Way, where the team comes before everything else.

Speaking of rookies, since I had the day off yesterday, this is my first chance to mention that 2013 7th round pick (190th overall) Brenden Kichton was named to the American Hockey League’s All-rookie team.

The skilled blue-liner has 10 goals and 45 points in 72 games for the St. John’s IceCaps this season.

“He’s a great guy. We knew he was a great offensive player, but we didn’t expect the year that he had. He’s been awesome for us,” said Jets forward Eric O’Dell, who spent the bulk of the season with the IceCaps and will return for the Calder Cup playoffs. “It couldn’t happen to a better guy. He deserves it. I’m happy for him.”

As for O’Dell, he’s moving to the wing this evening in a chance to continue to showcase his versatility during his audition to see if he can earn a full-time spot with the Jets next season.

“I know I’ve played the wing before and I’m looking to have a big game tonight,” said O’Dell, who has three goals and seven points in 28 NHL games this season. “It’s good to show them I can play two positions.”

On a programming note, I’ll be joining a special panel discussion on the TSN Jets pre-game show where a number of topics about the current season and the future of the Jets will be discussed. That should air right around 6:50 p.m.

I will also be on the CJOB Jets’ pre-game show for the final time this season, beginning just after 6 p.m.

Chris Kelly (back) is out and it’s likely Patrice Bergeron (who didn’t skate) might also sit out for the Bruins, Jarome Iginla should be in and Chad Johnson is in goal (even thought Tuukka Rask left the ice first), but there are some unanswered questions with the lineup that remain on defence, so here’s my best guess at how the two teams will start:

UPDATE: No Bergeron or D Zdeno Chara during pre-game warm-up, so it looks like they’re out.

JETS

Evander Kane-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik
Eric Tangradi-Olli Jokinen-Blake Wheeler
Matt Halischuk-Jim Slater-Eric O’Dell
Carl Klingberg-Patrice Cormier-Anthony Peluso

Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Toby Enstrom-Paul Postma
Adam Pardy-Zach Redmond

Michael Hutchinson (Ondrej Pavelec)

BRUINS

Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Jarome Iginla
Brad Marchand-Ryan Spooner-Reilly Smith
Daniel Paille-Carl Soderberg-Loui Eriksson
Jordan Caron-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton

Matt Bartkowski-Dougie Hamilton
Andrej Meszaros-Johnny Boychuk
Torey Krug-Kevan Miller

Chad Johnson (Tuukka Rask)

Hutchinson set for NHL debut with Jets vs Wild

- April 7th, 2014

There was plenty of discussion about Evander Kane again this morning about Saturday’s mysterious healthy scratch in what turned out to be a 4-2 win for the Winnipeg Jets over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Neither Kane or head coach Paul Maurice were interested in shedding much more light on the actual reason for the move, a topic that the media in Toronto, myself included, already tried to uncover during the post-game address on Saturday.

It was mostly a subdued and measured Kane during the scrum — nothing like the defiant guy who publicly disagreed with the assessment of Claude Noel earlier this season that he was actually a healthy scratch against the Chicago Blackhawks after declaring himself fit to play after the morning skate that day back in November.

As I wrote in my column today, I thought Kane might be ready to sound off about what happened. Instead he stayed with the script and mostly bit his tongue.

Near the end of the scrum, colleague Paul Friesen asked Kane if he wanted to be traded?

“I’m here to answer hockey questions, in terms of the game tonight,” was Kane’s response.

Not exactly a vehement denial by Kane, but I don’t think he’s reached the point where he might take that step and ask to be moved.

On the ice, Kane was in good spirits and looks to be drawing back into the lineup against the Minnesota Wild and will be skating on a line with Bryan Little and Michael Frolik.

Part of the reason for the move is that Jets captain Andrew Ladd won’t be available, thanks to an undisclosed injury he suffered on Saturday.

Ladd is officially day-to-day but Maurice raised the possibility he could be lost for the final three games.

Dustin Byfuglien has already been ruled out of the remainder of the regular season after tearing a muscle on Saturday, presumably in the second period against the Maple Leafs.

Speaking of injuries, I should have mentioned this the other day but rookie centre Mark Scheifele has also been ruled out of the final three games, despite the fact he started skating as he continues to rehabilitate his knee.

In other lineup news, Carl Klingberg will draw into the lineup for Byfuglien after being recalled from the St. John’s IceCaps on Monday morning.

Klingberg, a second round pick (34th overall) of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, has posted career highs in goals (20) and points (38) in 62 games this season but will see his first action with the Jets since appearing in six games in 2011-12 — despite being called up on a couple other occasions as insurance.

Klingberg will play on the fourth line with Jim Slater and Anthony Peluso while Eric Tangradi gets the first shot with Blake Wheeler and Olli Jokinen.

Slater is excited about appearing in his 500th game, a notable achievement that I’ll go into more in a sidebar that will appear in Tuesday’s paper and be available online later tonight at www.winnipegsun.com.

The other news, which would have otherwise taken centre stage, is that Michael Hutchinson will make his NHL debut tonight against the Wild.

Maurice had a quick chat with Hutchinson before he left the ice and gave him a tap on the pads.

Klingberg is among those excited for Hutchinson, who started the season with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL but solidified the goalie position after his promotion to the IceCaps.

“He deserves it,” said Klingberg.

Hutchinson has already turned heads this season and worked his way up the organizational depth chart, but this is his chance to show what he can do at the highest level, even if the Jets are no longer fighting for a playoff berth.

With two games left after tonight, a strong showing could earn the pending restricted free agent another start before the season is out.

As I wrote in Saturday’s paper, it’s hard to envision a scenario that doesn’t involve Hutchinson staying in the organization, either as the No. 3 guy to share the crease with youngster Connor Hellebuyck in St. John’s or is given the opportunity to battle for the backup spot with the Jets.

That issue will work itself out in due time.

While Hutchinson needs to focus on the game against the Wild, you can be sure he’d love to face the Boston Bruins, the team that drafted him, in the home finale for the Jets on Thursday.

Hutchinson chose to adopt the policy of fellow goalie Al Montoya (and more recently Ondrej Pavelec), the age-old practice many netminders abide by that includes not talking to reporters on days they start following the a.m. skate.

I’ll be sure to get some reaction to what figures to be an exciting moment following the game as the Jets try to build on their strong effort on Saturday that moved them to 35-34-10 for the season.

The Wild (40-26-12) is in good position to claim the first wild-card berth in the Western Conference standings, entering tonight’s action with a five point lead on the Dallas Stars with three games left on their schedule.

Ilya Bryzgalov is in goal for the Wild and is coming off a 4-0 shutout of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Since being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers, Bryzgalov is 5-0-3 with a 1.97 GAA and .920 save % in nine games, outstanding numbers for a guy who was brought on board as insurance. That policy is proving valuable as Darcy Kuemper joined Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom on the injured list.

The Wild have plenty of players that are fun to watch — Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville, Matt Moulson, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin immediately come to mind — even if they’re still more of a defensive-minded team.

Here’s how I expect both teams to start tonight;

Jets

Evander Kane-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik
Eric Tangradi-Olli Jokinen-Blake Wheeler
Matt Halischuk-Eric O’Dell-Devin Setoguchi
Carl Klingberg-Jim Slater-Anthony Peluso

Toby Enstrom-Paul Postma
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy-Zach Redmond

Michael Hutchinson (Ondrej Pavelec)

Wilds

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Matt Moulson-Erik Haula-Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine
Stephane Veilleux-Cody McCormick-Nino Niederreiter

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin-Nate Prosser
Marco Scandella-Jonathon Blum

Ilya Bryzgalov (John Curry)

Jets aim for motivation against Maple Leafs

- April 5th, 2014

The Winnipeg Jets will face a Toronto Maple Leafs team on Saturday that is hungry to try and keep its playoff hopes alive.

And based on what members of the media saw this morning, it looks like the Jets will be without left-winger Evander Kane, who stayed out extra long after the morning skate — something he doesn’t normally do when he’s in the lineup.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice gave a cryptic answer when asked about potential lineup changes, so it’s likely that Kane could be taking a seat and Devin Setoguchi could return to action after being a healthy scratch for five of the past six games.

UPDATE: Kane didn’t take the warm-up, so he looks like a healthy scratch.

Earlier this summer, Kane made a bit of a fuss by saying he was a healthy scratch for a November game against the Chicago Blackhawks, though he had been dealing with an injury in the days leading up to that contest.

This appears to be different, though the answer remains a mystery for now.

Kane was spotted at the Toronto Raptors game on Friday night at Air Canada Centre, but I’m not about to speculate about whether that has anything to do with the fact he could be out of the lineup.

Maurice will be asked about the decision after the game and we’ll do our best to see what we can find out.

Other than the potential for Kane to be replaced, it looked like the rest of the lineup for the Jets was going to be the same.

Although Bryan Little skipped the morning skate, the Jets’ top centre will be in the lineup.

It’s Ondrej Pavelec in goal tonight, so my hunch about this being a good chance for Michael Hutchinson to make his NHL debut was a tad premature.

As  I wrote in the pre-game web story, Maurice said that because of the playoff race, he owes it to his own team and to those in the hunt, to ice his best lineup, adding the caveat whenever possible.

That explanation makes sense to me and Maurice did say he expects to get Hutchinson some game action before the season is over.

Any of the games against the Minnesota Wild, Boston Bruins or Calgary Flames makes sense and I personally wouldn’t be all that surprised if Hutchinson started more than one game.

The Maple Leafs enter tonight’s game one point behind the Columbus Blues Jackets and they have four games to go. The Blue Jackets have six and hold the tie-breaker so the Maple Leafs need to win at least three of their games and possibly four to even have a chance to advance to the post-season for the second straight spring.

Toronto has James Reimer in goal and has some lineup decisions of their own to work through. Joffrey Lupul (lower-body) was part of an optional skate but is a game-time decision, while Dave Bolland (ankle) is a game-time decision as well.

It will be interesting to see how the Jets play during these final four games. Several players went out of their way to point out that being eliminated from playoff contention should have no impact on preparation or effort level.

“Absolutely not. We’re professional hockey players and this is what we do,” said Jets winger Blake Wheeler. “If it does, it shouldn’t. You should come here with the focus every day to try to get better. That’s the only way we’re going to get better as a group.

“If guys aren’t doing that, then hopefully we can find some guys that do that.”

Wheeler received a compliment from Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle in his morning address as well.

“Wheeler, watching the tape, can skate as well as any big man in the game right now,” said Carlyle. “He seems to be flying.”

Here’s how I expect both teams to start on Saturday, though the game-time decisions make things a little foggy:

Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik
Dustin Byfuglien-Olli Jokinen-Blake Wheeler
Devin Setoguchi-Eric O’Dell-Matt Halischuk
Eric Tangradi-Jim Slater-Anthony Peluso

Toby Enstrom-Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy-Paul Postma

Ondrej Pavelec (Michael Hutchinson)

Maple Leafs

James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond-Dave Bolland-David Clarkson
Jerry D’Amigo-Nazem Kadri-Joffrey Lupul
Nikolai Kulemin-Jay McClement-Troy Bodie

Carl Gunnarsson-Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner-Cody Franson
Tim Gleason-Morgan Rielly

Paul Ranger

James Reimer (Drew MacIntyre)

 

Jets set for final meeting with Penguins

- April 3rd, 2014

The Winnipeg Jets will attempt to stay mathematically alive on Thursday as they face the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As has been the case for some time, it remains a stiff uphill climb for the Jets, who trail the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars by seven points with five games left to play, in the battle for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Penguins rallied for a 6-5 win at Consol Energy Center back in early January in the lone meeting this season.

“They’re obviously one of the top teams in the league and have some of the top players in the league,” said Jets winger Blake Wheeler, who leads his team with 27 goals and 64 points in 77 games. “The key for us is to not give them too much time and space. That’s what gives us success, when we play hard and try to limit our opposition’s ability to move the puck up the ice.”

Jets centre Bryan Little is riding a seven-game point streak going into this one, though his primary responsibility will be trying to help limit the effectiveness of Sidney Crosby, who leads the NHL with 100 points.

Jets rookie Jacob Trouba embraces the challenge of lining up opposite guys like Crosby.

“It’s fun. It’s a challenge and it’s something I enjoy,” said Trouba. “I want to play against those guys and show what I can do against them.”

As far as the lineup goes, Paul Maurice will make one change, inserting Anthony Peluso back in on the fourth line for Devin Setoguchi, who will be a healthy scratch for the fourth time in five games.

Since the NHL trade deadline passed, Setoguchi has picked up one assist in 11 games — not exactly the production the Jets had in mind when they decided to hold onto the streaky winger instead of moving him elsewhere to try and recoup something for the second pick in 2014 that they gave up to acquire Setoguchi from the Minnesota Wild.

Ondrej Pavelec will make a third consecutive start since returning from a lower-body injury, while the Pens counter with Marc-Andre Fleury in goal.

Fleury has been excellent this season, going 36-18-4 with a 2.36 GAA and .916 save percentage in 60 games. He’s done a good job to put some of the doubters at rest after last year’s playoff debacle, but Fleury will need to be sharp in the post-season in 2014 if the Penguins hope to advance to the Stanley Cup final.

It’s the first visit by Crosby to a Canadian city since helping his country capture a gold medal in Sochi, so he’ll probably get a warm reception. Not sure if the fans will have a chant in store for him today.

Crosby is always a treat to watch and I’ll also be keeping a close eye on rookie Olli Maata, who is having an outstanding season (nine goals, 29 points in 74 games). Also watch youngster Jayson Megna, a forward that was a college free agent signing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, putting up 13 goals and 31 points in 38 games as a freshman before turning pro last season. He has five goals and nine points in 31 games this season in his first taste of NHL action this season and the Jets were apparently one of the suitors who were in the running to secure his services.

Former Jets forward Tanner Glass is excited to be back in Winnipeg and needed 20-plus tickets for friends and family members.

He’s been enjoying the season, with four goals and 12 points and 83 penalty minutes in 61 games and looking forward to the post-season.

The Jets and Penguins have been involved in several high-scoring affairs during the past few seasons, which is something Pens’ head coach Dan Bylsma hopes is a thing of the past.

“I’m hoping we can do away with those,” said Bylsma, noting he has noticed some differences in how the Jets are playing since Maurice took over. “One of the things we want to be comfortable in (with the playoffs approaching) is being in a 0-0, 1-1, tied hockey game.

“(The Jets) are playing with a lot of speed. We have to be ready. It’s not just going to be a mail-in (effort).”

As for the Jets, there was plenty of talk about finishing the season off strong, playing the right way and continuing to lay the foundation for future success.

“We have five games left and going back to the game in Phoenix (where the Jets won 2-1 in a shootout), the mindset was that we have to finish off strong and establish a base for the future,” said Jets winger Evander Kane.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice talked about the challenge of trying to contain Crosby, a subject colleague Paul Friesen dealt with in the pre-game web story.

Maurice also said all of his injured players are progressing, but didn’t provide much in terms of details (it’s that time of the year), though he did say it looks like Mark Scheifele (knee) and James Wright (ankle) could start skating this week.

Goalie Al Montoya remains sidelined with a lower-body injury, as does D Keaton Ellerby.

Speaking of injuries, Penguins D Paul Martin returns to the lineup today, which likely means that Simon Depres and Deryk Engelland (or Robert Bortuzzo) could be healthy scratches. Evgeni Malkin is out with a foot problem, while D Kris Letang (stroke) and G Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) were on the ice for some work on Thursday morning.

Just a reminder, I’ll be joining Kelly Moore and Jim Toth on the CJOB pre-game show from 6:07 to 7 p.m.

Here’s how we expect both teams to start tonight:

Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik
Dustin Byfuglien-Olli Jokinen-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Eric O’Dell-Matt Halischuk
Eric Tangradi-Jim Slater-Anthony Peluso

Toby Enstrom-Paul Postma
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy-Zach Redmond

Ondrej Pavelec (Michael Hutchinson)

Penguins

Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Beau Bennett
Brian Gibbons-Jussi Jokinen-James Neal
Lee Stempniak-Brandon Sutter-Jayson Megna
Taylor Pyatt-Craig Adams-Tanner Glass

Brooks Orpik-Paul Martin
Olli Maata-Matt Niskanen
Rob Scuderi-Robert Bortuzzo

Marc-Andre Fleury (Jeff Zatkoff)

Jets pull out OT win over Avalanche

- March 20th, 2014

If the Winnipeg Jets were going to go quietly into the night after a crushing loss on Monday night against the St. Louis Blues, they had plenty of opportunities to do so as they faced the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday at MTS Centre.

Matt Duchene found Ryan O’Reilly for a shot that banked in off the skate off Jets centre Bryan Little and slipped between the pads of Al Montoya just 20 seconds into this one.

Twenty seconds was all it took for a team that was playing on back-to-back nights to find some life and a team that was ready to surrender would have folded like a cheap suit.

Instead, the Jets’ shutdown unit scored on its next shift to tie the game at 3:15, as captain Andrew Ladd took a pass from Bryan Little and blasted a shot off the far post and past Reto Berra, who was making his first start for the Avalanche since the trade with the Calgary Flames.

At 12:06 Blake Wheeler made a remarkable pass to Eric Tangradi for a backdoor tap-in. Tangradi has been hard-pressed to stay in the lineup and seen limited ice time in most of his games under head coach Paul Maurice but he got the tap on the shoulder when Dustin Byfuglien was unable to play because of a lingering lower-body injury.

This was Tangradi’s first goal in 30 games that he dressed for, dating back to Nov. 8 against the Nashville Predators.

Tangradi had a solid outing overall, finishing with two shots on goal, four hits and a blocked shot in just over 17 minutes of ice time, which was easily his heaviest workload of the campaign. Just twice under Claude Noel had he even been over 15 minutes and his season-high was 15:58 in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 6.

Gabriel Landeskog tied it up late in the second, converting a rebound after a point shot by Andre Benoit but the Jets went back on top again as Evander Kane finished off a nice passing play from Devin Setoguchi and Paul Postma just past the midway point of the second period.

It was Kane’s 17th of the season and second in three games after being mired in an 11-game drought.

But this lead wasn’t safe either as Avalanche defenceman Nick Holden crept down from the left point and caught Montoya cheating as he was anticipated a pass, and lifted his shot over a sliding Toby Enstrom to even the scoring with 30.5 seconds to go in the middle frame.

This too had the potential to be a let-the-air-out-of-the-balloon type of moment for the Jets — who have given up several back-breakers late in periods — but they got a power-play goal from Ladd at 4:58 of the third that made it 4-3.

Ladd started the play by carrying the puck into the zone, then dished it to Wheeler, drove toward the net and found a quiet space in the slot before accepting the pass and ripping it past Berra for his 21st of the season.

But Binscarth product Cody McLeod took advantage of a pinch in the neutral zone by Adam Pardy and elected to shoot through the five-hole on a 2-on-1 rush to make it 4-4 midway through the third and force overtime.

That’s where Wheeler showed off his soft hands and patience, leading the rush but waiting and waiting and waiting until the opportune moment to rip his shot past Berra, giving the Jets a 5-4 victory and keeping their slim playoff hopes alive for another day.

This was definitely a gut-check win for the Jets, who realize they will to be close to running the table during the past 11 games just to have a shot at a wild card berth in the Western Conference.

As it stands right now, the Jets are four points behind the Phoenix Coyotes, who hold two games in hand.

Here’s the condensed version: Wild (82), Coyotes (77), Stars (75), Canucks (74), Jets (73), Predators (68).

This game probably had a little too much run-and-goal for the liking of Maurice, but he liked the way his group fought through some more adversity.

It wasn’t the sharpest outing for Montoya, who gave up four goals on 27 shots but battled once again and found a way to get it done.

The Jets were also without defenceman Zach Bogosian, who came down with a mystery upper-body injury midway through the pre-game warm-up, which caused some minor commotion as trainer Brad Shaw had to try and track down Paul Postma, who wasn’t on the ice for the warm-up.

Postma, who was scheduled to be a healthy scratch and was on his way to the rink for an off-ice workout when his phone rang at 6:45 p.m. It was Shaw on the line letting him know his services were required for the 7:05 p.m. puck drop.

Postma didn’t think Shaw was serious at first, but he got to the rink as quickly as he could and may have set a record for the shortest amount of time to put on his gear. He even had a couple of quick minutes to stretch before the anthems were sung.

I wrote about Postma’s interesting call to action in my sidebar in Thursday’s paper and available online at www.winnipegsun.com.

My game analysis column focused on the Jets’ ability to hang tough with a tough that had gone 3-0-1 against them going into the contest.

Columnist Paul Friesen handled the Snapshots column.

Not surprising, this was the fifth consecutive game between the two teams this season and by all accounts, this will be a fun rivalry to watch in the years to come.

The Avalanche play an up-tempo style and they’re even better when starting goalie Semyon Varlamov is between the pipes.

The Jets expended a lot of energy in this one, so they canceled their Thursday practice. There won’t be any availability either, so don’t expect any updates on the blog until after Friday’s skate.

The Jets host the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night in their final game before a pivotal five-game road trip against Western Conference clubs, all of whom are either jockeying for position (Ducks, Sharks, Kings) or battling for a playoff spot (Stars and Coyotes).

Winnipeg improved to 4-4 on the season when hosting a team that played the night before and that’s the exact situation the Hurricanes will be in after facing the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on Friday.

Many folks will be keeping their eyes open for the out-of-town scoreboard on Thursday for the following games:

Stars at Philadelphia Flyers and the Coyotes hosting Roberto Luongo and the Florida Panthers.

Just a quick programming note, I’ll be joining the folks on Sirius/XM Home Ice at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday to talk Jets.

Tune in. Otherwise, I’ll talk to you on Friday.