WASHINGTON, D.C. — As far as their franchise history goes, they probably don’t come much bigger than this one for the Winnipeg Jets.
Going back a few years to their days in Atlanta, the current Jets usually put up a good fight but were never really this close to the post-season — aside from the ones who made the playoffs in 2007. The Jets can get really serious about making the playoffs tonight with a win over the Capitals at Verizon Center.
The Caps can wrap up the Southeast with a regulation or overtime win. The Jets can’t clinch anything, but they can certainly scare them with a victory of their own and maybe even pull out the division title. Winnipeg plays against Montreal on Thursday, while Washington finishes against Ottawa and Boston. Those aren’t slam dunks for the Capitals.
Here are a few more pre-game thoughts …
• There were 16 Jets on the ice for the optional morning skate. They probably wouldn’t admit it, but I’m thinking some of them had to burn off some nervous energy.
• Nik Antropov wasn’t talking after the skate because he didn’t know if he was going to be playing or not. I’d put money on Antropov getting the nod in place of the injured Kyle Wellwood, who broke his hand on Monday night in Buffalo.
• According to my calculations, first place in the Southeast (also known as the Washington route) is the second best way into the playoffs for the Jets. The Ottawa route is still the best.
• The Jets have recorded at least one point in seven straight games, which ties them for the second best mark in franchise history. If they can pick up a point tonight, it would be one game shy of the franchise record of nine straight without a regulation loss.
• Verizon Center promises to be a madhouse tonight. Caps fans will come dressed in red and ready to make some noise. It’s a large building, though, so the Jets might be able to suck the life out of the place with a couple of quick goals early.
• Alex Ovechkin, who is the hottest player on the planet right now, is hoping the Caps get a boost from their fans. “We’re going to use it to the maximum that we can,” he said after his team’s morning skate in Arlington, Va. “It’s always nice to play at home in that kind of position and the situation as well. I hope the fans are going to be the best tonight.”
• Ovechkin is red hot, but Troy Brouwer isn’t far behind. He has six goals in his last five games.
• Winnipeg has to watch out for Washington’s power play, for obvious reasons. Ovechkin and Co. have seven PP tallies in their last five games.
• If the Capitals win in regulation or overtime tonight, they will snag their fifth Southeast Division title in six years.
• Tonight is the last regular-season Southeast Division game for the Jets. I’m thinking the Jets are going to miss the Southeast next year because of the teams, and the people who cover the team are going to miss the Southeast next year, too, but only because of the weather.
• Adam Oates didn’t mince words when asked about the Jets playing on back-to-back nights. He hopes and thinks it’s going to hurt them. “We’ve had the benefit of a little bit of rest that they haven’t, so hopefully it’ll show itself.”
• If you’re ever looking for the Capitals practice facility, it’s on the eighth floor of a mall in Arlington, Va.
• Here are my guesses for tonight’s line combinations and defence pairings. Not sure what the Jets are going to do up front assuming Antropov goes in:
Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane, Nik Antropov, James Wright
Eric Tangradi, Alex Burmistrov, Mike Santorelli
Antti Miettinen, Aaron Gagnon, Chris Thorburn
Derek Meech, Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey, Grant Clitsome
Mark Stuart, Paul Postma
Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin
Martin Erat, Mike Ribeiro, Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera, Mathieu Perreault, Eric Fehr
Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, Aaron Volpatti
Mike Green, Karl Alzner
John Carlson, John Erskine
Jack Hillen, Steve Olesky