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In a way, the Winnipeg Jets left Las Vegas not unlike a lot of visitors: Tired. Beaten. Perhaps a bit embarrassed. Not really wanting to talk about what went down.
We get it. Stuff happens. And Thursday night’s uninspired 5-0 loss in Sin City is one they’ll want to wipe from the memory banks as soon as possible, hoping there’s no hangover effect. I mean, it could have been worse, right? As far as we know, nobody went missing or woke up in a hotel room with a baby or a tiger or an unexplained face tattoo.
It was just the fourth loss in 11 games this month and certainly no reason to panic for the first-place Jets, who were playing for a second straight night in enemy territory against perhaps the league’s hottest team outside of Tampa Bay.
Sure, the result will leave a bit of a bad taste in the mouth, but the overall body of work has been mostly solid of late, and Winnipeg is still standing tall with a 44-26-4 record that has them on pace for the second-best regular-season in franchise history.
It’s easy to forget that sometimes, isn’t it?
Onwards and upwards. There’s no time to wallow, not with the Nashville Predators in town for a juicy Saturday-night matchup at Bell MTS Place. As late-season games go, this one has several noteworthy storylines going for it.
The Jets lead the Predators by two points with eight games left; Nashville has seven. A win and the Jets not only clinch a playoff spot, but would also be in the driver’s seat of the Central Division race and the guaranteed home-ice advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs that comes with raising a banner.
That’s no small thing, considering Winnipeg has one of the NHL’s best home records at 24-9-4 (and one of those home losses was a defeat to Florida in Finland), but are just 20-17-0 on the road. If it comes down to a winner-take-all Game 7 in a series, where do you think the Jets would like to play it?
A loss Saturday and you might want to buckle up, with the quest for first likely coming down to the final days of the season.
Aside from that, there may be a few scores to settle in their final meeting of the regular-season. Not exactly breaking news here, but these two teams genuinely dislike each other, no doubt a product of last spring’s epic seven-game playoff series.
I’m talking about Ottawa-owner-Eugene-Melnyk-towards-the-media level of contempt. Or Edmonton-CEO-Bob-Nicholson-towards-Tobias-Rieder level of disdain. (Two things: first, if you’re not sure what I’m talking about here, grab some popcorn and Google it; and second, what is going on in those two markets? Are the Oilers and Senators trying to outduel each other in a bizarre game to see who can be the most incompetent?)
You’ll recall the last time Winnipeg and Nashville faced off on March 1, Adam Lowry was trying to re-arrange Filip Forsberg’s face with his stick. The Jets’ shut-down centre got a pair of games for that reckless infraction, and I’m guessing the Predators might have a thing or two to say about it. Winnipeg also got its pound of flesh on the scoreboard, winning 5-3 before a raucous hometown crowd.
In their previous meeting before that one on Jan. 17 in “Smashville,” Ryan Johansen basically pitch-forked Mark Scheifele in the mug, also earning himself a two-game banishment to the press box to think about what he did wrong. The Jets also got the last laugh that night, playing maybe their most complete road game of the season in a 5-1 victory.
And in their first meeting of the year way back on Oct. 11, all heck broke loose as the Jets lost their collective minds in a parade to the penalty box, giving the Predators eight straight power plays in the first 40 minutes of the game in what turned into a 3-0 defeat.
Sense a theme here?
Coaches and players on the Jets have been talking for a few weeks now about getting their game playoff-ready, and there’s no better way to whet the appetite than a meeting with your arch enemy. Especially when there’s a good chance they may together for a few laughs in the sequel to last-year’s post-season warfare.
And while Winnipeg didn’t have any luck on the Vegas strip, they’ll hope their fortunes can quickly turn on the injury front. Both Dustin Byfuglien (ankle) and Josh Morrissey (shoulder) should soon join teammates on the ice, with coach Paul Maurice hopeful that his two top defencemen could get in a couple regular-season games as a pre-playoff tuneup.
That would be welcome news, indeed, for a battered blue line that has at least managed to stay above water in their extended absences.
However, it may be a case of two steps forward, one step back, as goalie Laurent Brossoit came up lame in the second period Thursday in Vegas and took himself out of the game with a lower-body injury. With the Jets travelling back from the desert Friday, there was no media availability on his status; however, the team recalled goalie Eric Comrie from the Manitoba Moose on an emergency basis, a sign they’ll be without Brossoit for a time.
Considering goalie Connor Hellebuyck has been one of the busiest netminders in the league and was likely due for a bit of rest down the stretch — I figured he’d start five of these last eight games — any time without the reliable Brossoit could prove costly. Perhaps the silver lining is they’ll get another chance to see what they have in Comrie, who’s been one of the top goalies in the AHL this season but only has four NHL games on his pro resumé so far.
Regardless, overcoming adversity is the name of the game in pro sports, and the Jets have done a solid job so far stickhandling their way around various obstacles.
There’s every reason to believe that what happened in Vegas is likely to stay there.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.