The Jets are now the Stanley Cup favorites, after dispatching Nashville in an occasionally disjointed seven-game series that saw the team alternate wins and where the road team generally ruled. In the end, Connor Hellebuyck was better than the increasingly erratic Pekka Rinne, and while that’s a fine topline summary of Game 7, it doesn’t tell the whole story: I’m not sure there’s anything another team does better than Winnipeg.
No, not even the Presidents’ Trophy–winning Predators. It’s a shame the playoff format paired these teams before the conference final—Rinne’s struggles aside, these were the NHL’s two best teams, meeting in the second round, and there was nothing but respect.
“Right now we are just thrilled and we’re pretty pleased to knock off a team like Nashville. That was every bit the series we expected it to be. What a great team they are,” said Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler. “There’s no doubt why they had the best regular-season record, they’re just tough from top to bottom and made our life miserable all series. That’s what we tried to do to them as well.
“It’s too bad one of us had to be knocked off here.”
“Balance” is the watchword of playoff success. Game 7 had very little of the high-flying, end-to-end action Winnipeg likes to draw opponents into (because they can do it better), but when the opportunities presented themselves—a timely dump putting Paul Stastny in against just one defender for the game’s second goal, or this one I’m about to show you—the Jets took advantage.
Winnipeg’s third goal, which pretty much sealed things up, was the top line at its best. All three forwards have impressive momentum upon entering the zone, so much so that when Kyle Connor loses the puck, the two Predators skaters are going the wrong way, and Blake Wheeler can collect it in what was effectively a drop pass. And then Wheeler feeds Mark Scheifele with a thing of beauty for the one-timer.
Hook that set-up to my veins:
If the Jets-Golden Knights series features teams relatively unfamiliar to you—because Winnipeg plays in Winnipeg and doesn’t get national broadcasts, or because Vegas didn’t exist until this year, or because both tend to play after you’ve gone to bed—the one thing you need to know is that Connor-Scheifele-Wheeler is the best line in hockey.
The second line ain’t bad either, especially since Paul Stastny came over from St. Louis at the trade deadline to center it. Stastny now has six goals and eight assists in 12 playoff games, and no Game 7 preview was more astute than Andrew Berkshire’s at Sportsnet.
Berkshire wrote about how Stastny brought the Jets something they didn’t really have outside of its finishers on the top line: a domineering slot presence, who crowds the net and makes his linemates’ lives easier while making a goalie’s miserable. It shows up in the numbers, where Stastny is excelling in high-percentage scoring chances. He’s physical and craft and if a goalie coughs up a rebound, he’s often in perfect position to pounce. That’s exactly what happened on Winnipeg’s fourth goal:
The one knock on the Jets entering the postseason was that they collectively didn’t have much playoff experience. They’re getting it as we speak. And after a team goes into Nashville for four games and doesn’t lose a single one in regulation, it’s hard to envision a scenario that intimidates them. The Las Vegas crowd is going to try—and the Golden Knights are well-equipped to get into a track meet—but god damn these Jets are good.