The Winnipeg Jets are headed back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and their opponent is the Vegas Golden Knights. These teams have faced each other once in the playoffs before, in the 2018 Western Conference Final. That is a series that Jets fans may have attempted to forget, as the Golden Knights took it in five games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
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The series begins on Tuesday night at 9:30 PM ET, as the top-seeded Golden Knights will begin the series on home ice, where they posted a record in the regular season of 25-15-1. The Jets struggled on the road, with a 20-20-1 record away from Canada Life Centre.
Jets & Golden Knights Return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs
Both teams took wildly different paths to the playoffs, but they both come in playing some of their best hockey of the season. On the Golden Knights’ side of things, they come in scorching hot, with a 16-3-3 record since the beginning of March. That is third-best in the entire NHL behind the Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins. After missing the playoffs a year ago, the Golden Knights are looking for revenge.
The Jets were battling for the top spot in the conference for the majority of the season before a two-month skid saw them drop to the playoff line. Having gone on a five-of-six winning streak near the end of the season, in a home stand that saw them score 21 goals over the span of five games, there’s reason to believe that the Jets have what it takes to return to their early-season form and take down the Golden Knights in Round 1.
Connor Hellebuyck – Laurent Brossoit in Net Makes for a Jets Advantage
By far the biggest advantage for the Jets going into this series is between the pipes. Connor Hellebuyck had a remarkable season, posting a 37-25-2 record, a .920 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.49 goals-against average (GAA). According to Money Puck, he also finished fourth in the NHL in goals saved above expected (GSAx) as he saved 30.8 goals more than expected over the course of the 2022-23 season.
Laurent Brossoit has been fantastic for the Golden Knights in his limited action, and it is yet to be seen if he will be able to carry that momentum into the playoffs. He has started one playoff game in his entire career, so this is a new experience for him. He finished the regular season without losing a game in regulation, with a record of 7-0-3, to go along with a 2.17 GAA and a .927 SV%. On a per 60-minute basis, he finished with more goals saved above expected than Hellebuyck did.
Despite Brossoit’s 11-game heater, this is still the Jets’ biggest advantage going into the series. Luckily for the Golden Knights, if Brossoit struggles early in the series, they can turn to Stanley Cup-winner Jonathan Quick to tend the goal. They have a defence core that is phenomenal and should make life easy on whoever is in the net, led by Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, and Alec Martinez.
The Health of Key Players on Both Sides Remains Paramount
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are all about being healthy and staying healthy. Mark Stone has not played in many months and has been on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) in the meantime after back surgery. Recently, he has resumed skating with the team as a full participant, meaning he has shed his non-contact jersey and seems to be ready to go for Game 1.
For the Jets, Nikolaj Ehlers left the game against the Minnesota Wild after Ryan Hartman laid a hit on him that later got him suspended for a game. Ehlers was evaluated, and he says that he is good to go for Game 1, but head coach Rick Bowness has listed him as day-to-day. His status remains up in the air, and as a key part of the Jets’ top-six, they will need him in order to break through the Golden Knights’ stingy defence.
There is also the wildcard of Cole Perfetti, who has missed a bunch of games due to an upper-body injury but has resumed skating in a non-contact fashion. If the Jets can add him back into this lineup, given the way they are scoring, that will provide matchup issues for Vegas throughout the series. His return during the series is still a long shot, but on the off chance he does make his way back into the lineup, that would be a huge advantage for the Jets.
Not only do these organizations need their players back in the lineup, but they need them to stay healthy throughout the series. The outcome of the series can swing in an instant if one of the top players goes down, as this is projected to be one of the closest first-round matchups across the NHL.
Key to a Jets Series Victory is a Hot Start
If the Jets are to win the series, they need to get to Brossoit quickly and steal a game on the road. As the eighth seed, they cannot afford to come back to Winnipeg down 2-0 in the series. With how prominent and electric the “Winnipeg Whiteout” atmosphere is, the Canadian franchise will have a good chance of taking care of business on home ice.
With Vegas getting healthy at the right time, they will be a tough out in the first round of the playoffs. Hellebuyck will have to steal a few games and the Jets’ offence will have to remain hot. For the Golden Knights, their depth is key to victory as they have three lines that can do damage both offensively and defensively. If they can manage the inexperience of Brossoit, they will cruise to victory and move on to the second round.
This is not your typical David vs Goliath series, as the Jets have shown the capability to go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the league. They have not played that way for the better part of two months, but they are seemingly heating up at the right time. Vegas is consistently good, while the Jets are inconsistently good. Between the goaltending advantage and the potential of a long series, this has the makings of an intense first-round series.