It’s D-Day for the Winnipeg Jets. Tonight will be the first post season game the Jets have been a part of in 19 years. The only thing bigger for the Jets and the city of Winnipeg will be game three of the Jets’ opening series against the Anaheim Ducks, when Winnipeg will host an NHL playoff game for the first time since 1996.
The Jets entered the playoffs as the Western Conference’s second wild card team but most people are giving the Jets more consideration than a wild card team should get against the Western Conference’s number one team. I am one of those people who is calling a first round upset with Winnipeg getting past Anaheim.
Here are three reasons why the Jets will fly past the Ducks into the second round.
1. The MTS Centre
There may not be a louder arena in the NHL than the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. The MTS Centre was originally an AHL arena for the Manitoba Moose, because of this the arena is much smaller and compact than any other arena in the league. The size makes it feel as if the 15,016 hockey crazy fans, that have sold out every home game since the Jets’ return in 2011, are right on top of you at every point of the ice.
There may not be a harder place to play. The fans in Winnipeg are creative and will get on any away team that is trying to beat their home town boys. Just ask Dwayne Roloson.
The Jets players seem to thrive off of these hockey crazed fans. The Jets have already put together big wins in front of their hometown crowd, beating the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Montreal Canadiens this season. Those wins helped the Jets get within one win of tying their franchise record for regular season wins at 23 wins on home ice this season.
Yes, the Ducks did win two games in Winnipeg this season but those were two games way back in early December.
If the Jets can be dominant and handle their business on home ice, all they will have to do is steal one game in Anaheim and they’re into the next round.
2. A New Sense Of Depth
The Jets added several key pieces to the puzzle before this year’s trade deadline, however the biggest was bringing forward Drew Stafford and defenseman Tyler Myers in from the Buffalo Sabres and at the same time getting rid of Evander Kane and the baggage that has followed him around.
Along with the additions of Stafford and Myers, Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty were brought into Winnipeg and have rounded out a complete four line rotation for the Jets. Since being added to the roster, theses four players have combined for a total of 19 goals and a plus/minus of plus 15.
These moves brought in support for the Jets’ top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler who finished as the team’s top three scorers this season. Ladd led the way with 24 goals and 62 points, while Wheeler led the team with 26 goals on his way to 61 points and Wheeler rounded out the top three with 24 goals and 52 points.
Outside of those mentioned, the Jets have four other players who scored at least 15 goals; forwards Michael Frolik (19), Mathieu Perreault (18), Mark Scheifele (15) and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (18). That amount of depth can carry a team deep into the playoffs.
3. Veteran Leadership
For some reason, whether it be people looked over it or people forgot, people do not give the leadership present in the locker room for the Jets the credit it deserves.
In the Jets’ locker room are four Stanley Cup rings, Frolik and Byfuglien have both lifted the Cup once and Ladd has lifted the Cup over his head twice. These three guys are the leaders of this team, they have been through the grind of a Stanley Cup winning post season, and will be looked at to carry the younger guys and get their team ready for what lies ahead of them.
Cups are a good thing but there is also a lot of playoff experience on this team. A total of 14 players on the Jets have played playoff hockey in the past. Those 14 players combine for 301 playoff games under their belt, nine of those players have played more than 20 playoff games in their career. Looking back at the added depth we talked about earlier 57 games of experience were brought in with Stempniak, Myers and Stafford.