SCHEDULE: Game 1 Wednesday, Game 2 Friday, Game 3 Sunday, Game 4 April 17th
We move to the Central, where we have a supposed “rivalry.” At least it is according to the Wild broadcast. When it isn’t the Hawks, of course. Watch any game against the Jets from the Minnesota side, and you’ll hear the Jets only referred to as “our great rivals.” I’m sure the Jets have no idea what they’re talking about. Because like, you could drive it if you really wanted to? Because they’re both frozen hellscapes? Because they’ve both been irrelevant for their entire existence? Probably the last one. Anyway, one of those teams is probably going to change that this time. Hint: it’s not the ones who wear green.
Goalies: The Wild didn’t get the other-worldly goaltending from The Doobie Brother that they usually do when they’re this high in the standings. He was just about league average overall, which is probably what he is. The problem for the Wild is that he’s been pretty putrid in the playoffs, though last year he simply just got out-dueled by Jay Gallon. And we should thank him for that, because it caused the Blues to trust Allen for another season and look where it got them. Dubs isn’t going to win this series, there’s a chance he might lose it, but most likely in the middle.
We don’t know anything about Connor Hellebuyck in the playoffs, because this is his first foray. But he was excellent in the regular season, and the Jets have so much firepower up front that he might not be required to do more than simply not lose it. If he does better than that, and the Jets simply don’t freeze under the bright lights, then things could get awfully silly for a while up in the Frozen Tundra With No Airport That’s Not Green Bay.
Defense: The Wild took a major hit when Ryan Suter broke his leg. While he might not be what he was, he’s still the their anchor. Without him, some combo of Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, and Jared Spurgeon is going to have to do the heavy lifting. All of these guys are good, and Spurgeon is more than that, but with their depth eroded and the Jets having at least 10 forwards who can hurt you, the problems are farther down the lineup. And no, Nick Seeler and and Nate Prosser aren’t going to do anything other than get caved in when they’re on the ice.
This might have been a problem before, but with the return of Trouba it won’t be this series. Keeping Byfuglien away from the hard stuff is what he’s built for, and if Trouba is near his best he can nullify just about any top line. Josh Morrissey has been a surprise, and Toby Enstrom could return during the series though he’ll miss Game 1. It’s not the best blue line in the division but it’s hardly embarrassing.
Forwards: Another huge advantage for the Jets. While Eric Staal had a revival season, and Mikaeal Granlund is great, and Jason Zucker had a breakout season, there’s just not enough here. Mikko Koivu is going to have a hard time keeping up with Scheifele, Charlie Coyle is never going to be anything. Nino Neiderreiter couldn’t buy a bucket this year. The bottom six is going to be a real issue, even with Jordan Greenway now here.
Meanwhile, the Jets boast what might be the deepest crop of forwards around. Blake Wheeler is an under-the-radar Hart candidate. Scheifele is a monster. Kyle Connor could be rookie of the year. Ehlers and Laine are on the second line. Little and Perreault on the third. Adam Lowry is the egg-head’s case for Selke. There’s no let-up here. Every line they throw out should be better than whatever Gabby throws over the boards.
Prediction: Hockey can be strange. I don’t know if Paul Maurice remains an idiot or finally put it together this year, but he doesn’t have to do much to defeat Bruce Boudreau who manages every playoff series choking on a ham bone. Chase any sort of matchup or structure and you’re ahead of Gabby. Sure, Hellebuyck could lose it in his first playoff series. The sticks could go cold under actual expectations this time. Dubnyk I suppose could go nuts. But that’s a lot of motherfuckin’ ifs. Jets in five.