Shortly after the Winnipeg Jets flew through their series against the Edmonton Oilers, achieving a shocking series sweep, the Montreal Canadiens came up with a first-round series win for the first time since 2015.
While Toronto Maple Leafs fans are once again let down by their team’s collapse in the first round, Habs fans are ecstatic. The Habs are advancing to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to face the Jets after coming up with a 3-1 win in Game 7.
Can Winnipeg continue to prove they’re a Cup-contending team? With Round 2 for this unlikely Scotiabank North Division matchup starting Wednesday, let’s take a look at how the teams compare.
Connor Hellebuyck vs. Carey Price
Two of the best goaltenders in the NHL will be going head-to-head and could easily be the difference makers in this series. Connor Hellebuyck was outstanding for the Jets in Round 1 and is certainly an X-factor for the team, facing 159 shots against (SA) and only allowing eight goals against (GA). That’s a 1.60 goals against average (GAA) and a .950 save percentage (SV%) – phenomenal if you ask me.
The Oilers’ weapons of choice were Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Round 1 and the Jets’ ability to hold McDavid, one of the best hockey players in the world, to one goal speaks to Hellebuyck’s ability to stop shots from just about anyone in the league.
The Jets’ series sweep couldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Hellebuyck’s consistency throughout the four-game stretch. The team needs a reliable goaltender to succeed and the reigning Vezina Trophy winner proved to be just that. Assuming Hellebuyck will continue playing with the same focus he had against the Oilers, goaltending shouldn’t be an issue for the Jets.
Carey Price maintained a .932 SV%, allowing 16 goals while facing a whopping 234 shots against, earning himself a 2.24 GAA when facing the Leafs. Despite Price’s playoff success, the stats favour Hellebuyck. While they both are talented goaltenders, Hellebuyck wins the numbers game and has great potential to win the Round 2 title as well.
Fresh Faces – Nikolaj Ehlers and Cole Caufield
Nikolaj Ehlers was smoking hot entering the Jets lineup in Game 3 after missing about a month of hockey due to an upper-body injury. Ehlers scored two goals in Game 3, one being the overtime winner, and had plenty of scoring chances in Game 4. Putting up an impressive 46 points in 47 games in the regular season, it’s no surprise that Ehlers performed so well in the playoffs.
With a healthy body and a stunning start to the playoffs for the right winger, the Habs should be wary when Ehlers steps foot onto the ice.
The Habs may have a rocket of their own: Cole Caufield. The 20-year-old forward was a new addition to their playoff roster when Game 3 came around. He played 15:50 on the ice and totaled three shots during that game. In his 10 regular-season games, he garnered four goals and an assist. In the playoffs, Caufield only has a point, so I wouldn’t exactly describe him as a blatant threat to the Jets, but I wouldn’t put it past him to put up some more points in Round 2 either.
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The Jets will likely put more of a focus on shutting down players like Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault, which could give Caufield the opportunity to squeak through the cracks and be an underdog in this series. The team should continue shutting down the big guys, but keeping an eye out for the newbies could be just as critical.
The Jets Are No Stranger to Overtime
The Habs and Jets faced each other nine times this season, with Winnipeg winning the regular-season series 6-3. Three of these games were determined in overtime and as their Round 1 sweep proved, the Jets don’t crack under the pressure of a one-goal playoff game. If overtime comes into play against the Habs, the Jets are well-seasoned, especially after playing into triple overtime in Game 4. The players surely won’t be fazed.
The Oilers were the clear favourites to take the crown in Round 1, but were knocked off their throne by the Jets. After getting a taste of victory, the Jets are bound to kick it into high gear as they face the Habs in Round 2 starting on Wednesday.
Do you think the Jets have the upper hand in Round 2? Who do you think will be the real difference-makers for Winnipeg? Let me know in the comments.