© Chuck Duboff
When does this Series start already? It’s not Wednesday or Thursday…so in all likelihood we have to wait until Friday to get this Heavyweight bout underway.
These two teams have seemingly been on this path the whole season. Every game played felt like a playoff battle…each team trying to prove their mettle for the other. When other games in January seemed like a good practice, Jets vs Preds was intense hockey and whet the appetite for all hockey fans. There is not point in dwelling upon the ridiculous playoff format…it is what it is. If our Jets were planning on a long run in the playoffs, they would have eventually had to meet Nashville…well, they are here a little sooner than it really should be…but…that being said…Lets Get Ready To Rumble!!!!!
This time between the first and second round has been beneficial for the Jets; they may be able to go into the second round with a completely healthy team. According to the Corsi experts, getting Toby Enstrom back for the Jets is huge. He makes smart plays in the corner, quick outlet passes and when he’s out there, opposition teams get fewer quality scoring chances. I’m not sure who would come out, but it will come down to Morrow or Chairot. Benny gives us a more physical presence, but is prone to taking bad penalties; whereas, Morrow has developed into a smooth skating d-man who makes solid passes. I’ll leave it to the coaches to make the tough decisions, but, all the advanced stats say that getting the Buff and Enstrom pairing back together is a huge advantage for Winnipeg.
Come playoff time, playing in front of your own fans is, to state the obvious, really important!! Both teams were outstanding during the regular season on home ice…fans in both rinks bring the noise, the taunting, the chants, the singing and the cheering; the Jets are going to have to find a way to win one in Nashville…and to do that they are going to have to focus on keeping their composure. Late hits, quick goals, can’t shake the team…they have to stay within themselves and play their game…speed, forechecking, small gaps and quick passes. Letting Nashville’s fans get control of the games will spell trouble for the Jets.
Both teams have great goaltending, with Conner Hellebucyk and Pekka Rinne likely finishing one, two in the Vezina trophy voting. Hellebucyk was outstanding in the first round vs the Wild, recording back to back shutouts, while Rinne was also at his best, leading the Preds to their series win. This is a toss up; if both goalies are in the zone, we could have several games going to OT.
On defence, once again, you see two very similar teams; talented puck movers who do not hesitate to rush the puck deep into enemy territory; you’ve got big shots from the point and a classic matchup of P.K Suban and big Dustin Byfuglien. Both have the potential to be difference makers in this series…Suban has a penchant for getting under the opponents skin, while Buff, when he’s in the zone, can lay out hits that send players into another time zone.
Up front, there is little to choose from. Both teams have high octane offences and if they get it rolling, this could turn into a track meet, with high scoring games being the ultimate result. The Preds added Kyle Turris and Mike Fisher during the season, while the Jets pulled the trigger and brought in Paul Stastny….this could be an epic battle up front, with there really being no way to predict the outcome.
Given how tight the games were during the season, how close they were in the standings, the great fan support in both cities…I think it is going to come down to goaltending. If either Hellebucyk or Rinne is slightly better, that could be the difference in the series. Like pitching in baseball and quarterbacking in football…having a great goalie going into a much anticipated playoff series is crucial.
It really doesn’t get much better than this…two great teams, two great goalies, two great fan bases…what more could you ask for!!
My prediction: Winnipeg Jets in 6.