A pair of major media websites made the call two weeks ago: The Winnipeg Jets are out in the chase for the Stanley Cup.
One outlet went as far as stating they were “artificially” in the chase for a playoff berth simply because of way too many overtime points.
Word reached Manitoba. The club was not thrilled. And suddenly the angry Jets are one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League.
No matter what your handicapping numbers might say, unlike the other major professional team sports, the “college football” type of emotional edge can affect your hockey plays.
So over the weekend, when Winnipeg took the ice with all the money going on visiting St. Louis, it didn’t really matter if the Jets were playing the Blues or the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens (60-8-12 record), they were going to win. After blanking the Blues, 3-0, they came back less than 24 hours later to bounce Colorado, 6-1, moving to 5-1-2 in their last eight (since declared out of it).
This week, Winnipeg caps a six-game homestand against San Jose (5-1-3 in the last 9), Pittsburgh (14-5-3 in last 22), then Calgary, one of the two teams holding a Western Conference wild card berth. The Jets might be a home dog in all three, yet it’s hard to go against them right now.
Second-year Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck posted 29 saves to blank St. Louis. He hasn’t lost a game in regulation in nearly a month.
Rookie right wing Patrik Laine, 18, the No. 2 overall draft pick out of Finland, isn’t showing signs of slowing down, still averaging a point per appearance and tied for second in overall goal scoring (behind Sidney Crosby).
Nine of Winnipeg’s top 18 skaters have each missed at least 10 games this season. With the medical list now shrinking, it’s no wonder why the Jets are rising in the standings.
Meanwhile, it’s Toronto with the most points (14) for losses in overtime. The Maple Leafs are 6-14 beyond regulation time, including a pathetic 1-8 mark in shootouts.
Expect Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard to return to the big club this week following a successful, two-game rehab stint with the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Griffins (AHL).
The Red Wings, the “best last-place team” in hockey, are still competitive with Petr Mrazek in net, but the streak of 25 straight playoff appearances is all but dead since they still need to climb past seven clubs to reach the postseason.
Sutter’s last stand?
Angry season ticket holders for “my” Los Angeles Kings were thinking out loud with me over the weekend, asking if head coach Darryl Sutter should get pink-slipped.
Why? Three recent Cup winning champions saw midseason replacements at head coach, including Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan just last season. The others were Dan Bylsma with the 2008-09 Penguins, and Sutter with the 2011-12 Kings.
Fans love L.A.’s great overtime record, yet complain if Sutter would just open the offense in regulation, there would no need to dump the strategy during the 3-on-3 overtime period.
With a pair of Cups this decade, Sutter earned the right to finish the season, but the fans do make a good point.
The trade deadline acquisition of Jarome Iginla should (hopefully) compliment the style of Anze Kopitar to get both out of their slumps.
Montreal remains six points ahead of Ottawa for the Atlantic Division lead, yet the Senators till own three games-in-hand.
Ottawa has won both meetings this season, with three more battles coming later this month, including a home-and-home series on March 18 and 19, when the Sens close the year with 9-of-12 on the road.