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GLENDALE — The Winnipeg Jets no longer control their own fate in the quest to bring home the first division title in franchise history. That went down the drain with Thursday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
But Winnipeg-born Jonathan Toews could do his hometown a real solid Saturday night if he and his Chicago Blackhawks teammates could find a way to beat the Nashville Predators, who are currently one point up on the Jets.
Hey, they’ve named a hockey rink and even a lake for him around these parts, it’s the least he could do, right?
A Chicago win is the only path to the top for the Jets, who would then need to come out here at the Gila River Arena and take care of the Arizona Coyotes shortly after the final buzzer sounds in Nashville; otherwise, Nashville clinches first place for a second straight year and the Jets can finish no higher than second.
And they’ll no doubt have their eyes on what the St. Louis Blues do in their Saturday afternoon game against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Jets and Blues are currently tied for second spot, with Winnipeg owning the tiebreaker by having two more combined regulation and overtime wins.
In a nutshell, that means Winnipeg will have to at least mirror what St. Louis does in order to avoid potentially falling to third place and starting the playoffs on the road next week instead of the cosy confines of Bell MTS Place.
So Saturday night’s game could mean a lot — or absolutely nothing.
A St. Louis loss in regulation and a Nashville victory earlier in the evening would have the Jets locked in second, regardless of what they do. That would mean playing the surging Blues in the first round with home-ice advantage.
But if the game does have meaning, you would expect the Jets to up the urgency that’s been missing from their game for quite some time, especially considering Arizona was eliminated Thursday when Colorado rallied to send the game against Winnipeg to overtime.
Come to think of it, you wonder if the Coyotes might just want to say “thanks for nothing” to the Jets and try to make their lives miserable, just for kicks.
The Jets could also still play Nashville, if both they and the Predators lose and the Blues win. Or they could play Dallas or even Colorado if they manage to finish first and take on the first wild-card team. The Stars would secure the first wild-card spot if they beat the Blackhawks Friday, relegating Colorado to the second wild-card spot — eighth overall in the Western Conference — and a date with the Calgary Flames.
It’s pretty incredible that on the final day of the regular season, the Jets could finish first, second or third, could start the playoffs at home or away, and still have as many as four different potential opponents.
Of course, all of this could have been avoided if they had found a way to squeeze just three extra points out of their season. Had that occurred, they would be able to put their feet up and prepare for the playoffs with the Central Division title already secured.
And there’s been no shortage of recent games where they allowed points to slip away, including Thursday’s in Denver, where a 2-0 lead turned into the 3-2 overtime loss.
There were also recent late-game collapses against the New York Islanders, the San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota Wild, which are now proving to be costly.
All told, the Jets have lost nine times this season — 25-5-4 — where they led after two periods. That’s tied for the NHL lead with Florida, and is three more losses than any other club in the league.
Considering the Jets went 42-1-1 last year when ahead after 40 minutes, the ability to lock down a game in the final stages may ultimately come back to bite them.
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.