BUFFALO — The game that everyone has been looking at for the last couple of weeks has finally arrived.
Winnipeg at Washington. Verizon Center. Tuesday, April 23. 7 p.m.
The Washington Capitals can lock up a playoff spot with a victory over the Jets, because they would be three points up and Winnipeg would have only one game left. The Jets would still have avenues to the playoffs ahead of the Senators, Rangers and Islanders even if they lose, but a win would put the Caps in chase mode.
“What we’ve done these last five or six games means nothing,” Evander Kane said. “We gotta get ready for (Tuesday).”
With that in mind, here are a few thoughts from Monday’s game against the Sabres and the huge clash with the Caps:
• Kyle Wellwood suffered a hand injury that will keep him out “long term,” according to head coach Claude Noel. Wellwood blocked a Thomas Vanek shot with his right hand in the second period, and you can only assume there’s a broken bone in there somewhere. Oddly, it’s the second straight year he’s suffered a season-ending injury in the last week of the season.
• As for the Sabres game, the Jets deserve credit for sticking to it. Jhonas Enroth was stubborn all night long, but Antti Miettinen, who had been scratched from the last six games, scored the winner with seven and a half minutes to go.
• The Jets needed to win the game, and they should have won the game, and they did the game. That being said, they need to be much better on Tuesday night. “It wasn’t the easiest game for us,” Miettinen said. “To be able to win that is great. We just gotta be a little better when we go into Washington.”
• Blake Wheeler probably could have had a few goals on Monday night, but he was foiled by Enroth. Wheeler also took a lazy hooking penalty that led to Buffalo’s only goal on the power play.
• Evander Kane admitted he’s not 100%, which is obvious considering he has stopped participating in morning skates. “I don’t think anybody this time of the year,” he said. “You gotta play through some injuries and through some pain. This is the time of the season where you gotta step up and play for your teammates.”
• The Jets had a little fun with rookie defenceman Jacob Trouba on Monday. They apparently took his helmet from him and then made him lead the team out for the pre-game skate. And of course they stopped behind him and let him step onto the ice and skate for a while before joining him. Trouba took the skate but didn’t play in the game.
• Ondrej Pavelec’s best save of the night was his glove hand robbery of Vanek with five minutes to go. Pavelec admitted he just put his glove there and Vanek hit it. He’s being modest. He was in pretty good position and showed plenty of patience.
• Here’s a look at the Eastern Conference playoff race. I still think Ottawa is the best path to the playoffs for the Jets.
*3. Washington Capitals (52 pts, 3 GR) — HOME (3): Winnipeg, Ottawa, Boston; AWAY (0)
6. New York Islanders (53 pts, 3 GR) — HOME (0); AWAY (3): Carolina, Philadelphia, Buffalo
7. New York Rangers (52 pts, 3 GR) — HOME (1): New Jersey; AWAY (2): Florida, Carolina
8. Ottawa Senators (52 points, 3 GR) — HOME (1): Philadelphia. AWAY (2): Boston, Washington
*9. Winnipeg (51 pts, 2 GR) — HOME (1): Montreal; AWAY (1): Washington
• Noel made it sound like Nik Antropov will be returning to the lineup in place of Wellwood on Tuesday night. It would probably be best to have him in there, considering he’s probably been in similar, pressure-packed situations a few times. Jim Slater is not yet ready to go as he recovers from a broken hand.
• I’ll be flying to Washington on Tuesday morning, so stay tuned to my Twitter feed for updates leading up to the big game.