Winnipeg muscling up for playoffs
March 27, 2018 3:03 AM
by Nick Pellegrino
A concern expressed about how the Vegas Golden Knights could fail in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is their lack of physical play. Such a concern no longer exists in Winnipeg.
On Saturday, Jets captain Blake Wheeler got into a fight in front of the net… but it was in practice against teammate Ben Chiarot!
Head coach Paul Maurice called it “boys being boys,” then the club came out Sunday and nipped the Central Division leading Nashville Predators, 5-4, in a shootout for franchise records of its 46th victory and 100th point of the season.
It should be noted Preds goalie Pekka Rinne was given the day off, yet the decision could set the stage for an exciting division final series should both get through the first round of the playoffs.
Greater intensity and physical play in the postseason isn’t new, but if the Knights meet, say, the Los Angeles Kings – a team noted for their size and muscle to win two Stanley Cups earlier in the decade, it could be a quick exit for Vegas.
With so many ex-New Yorkers living in Vegas, it seems only fair – call it “equal time” – to note why the New Jersey Devils will survive a late push by the Florida Panthers, as I recently noted in this column.
Several readers pointed out Florida still needs to play the Boston Bruins three times in the closing weeks – twice in Beantown (one is the makeup of the Jan. 4 postponement). And the B’s would simply love to eliminate their Atlantic Division rivals to stress their superiority for this year and seasons to come.
Meanwhile, should Florida vault over the Devils for the second wild card berth, they would get a meeting with in-state rival Tampa Bay – a travel advantage Boston would rather not allow the Lightning to possess to set up their potential clash with the Bolts in the division final.
New Jersey also closes with just two road contests – in Washington and lowly Montreal – with four of their next five against non-playoff squads. The Devils held a cushion of three points, but Florida holds two games in hand.
Just plain Bob
Also surging up the Eastern Conference standings are the Columbus Blue Jackets, who won eight straight games without No. 1 goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. “Bob,” last season’s Vezina Trophy winner, has won his last seven starts while posting a stellar 1.86 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage.
When Bobrovsky returned late last week, the Jackets’ win streak hit 10 – equaling the second longest in franchise history – via a 4-0 blanking of Florida. Columbus could overtake both Washington and Pittsburgh to gain home-ice in the Metropolitan Division playoffs.
Then again, the Jackets are just a point ahead of Philadelphia for a wild card slot.
They’re in: San Jose showed heart to probably gain home ice in the first round, although the Sharks’ fight to reel-in Vegas is extremely tough. Will they have enough fuel in the tank for the playoffs?
Also, Minnesota should meet Winnipeg in Round One.
Border: Three playoff berths will go among four teams – Los Angeles, Anaheim, Colorado and St. Louis. I give the “out” to the Avalanche after a horrible 7-1 loss to “my” Kings in Denver. St. Louis looks strong after winning five straight and 6-of-7. The Blues close the season in Colorado.
Out: Dallas (blew a 2-0, third-period lead at home to Boston, then lost to Vancouver); and Calgary (too many overtime/shootout losses over last 30 games).
Way out: Congratulation to the Arizona Coyotes (a good bet of late) for overcoming their horrible 0-10-1 start to finally escape the cellar for two days. Nice going, Coyotes! Nice going, Vancouver – not!
Thanks to Washington state Governor Jay Inslee for a slip of the tongue, unintentionally announcing the name of Seattle’s new NHL club – the Totems.