Why the continued angst? Why the hand-wringing? Why the gnashing of teeth? Why so many fretsome furrows on so many foreheads?
Oh ye of little faith.
It is no longer a matter of “will” the Winnipeg Jets qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. It has become an issue of “who.” As in: Who will serve as their first-round foe?
Yes, I realize there remains some heavy lifting before the curtain drops on the National Hockey League’s regular-season exercises and the Jets are officially invited to the big dance, but, as I scribbled on March 3, “You can make book that meaningful matches shall be staged at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie post-April 11.”
“Surely, the Jets will finish no worse than fifth in the Central Division,” I wrote. “That will qualify them for the tournament, because it would take too much smoke and too many mirrors for either the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks to overhaul good, ol’ Home Team for a Western Conference wild-card spot.
“The Flames, of course, have been a feel-good story this season, but it’s been hockey hocus pocus. An illusion. Reality is about to bite. The Sharks, meanwhile…they’re chronic underachievers.
“The Jets are in. Trust me.”
The focus of discussion, therefore, should shift to their foe and, at this precise moment in time, the likelihood is that the Jets shall face off versus one of three outfits: The Disney Ducks of Anaheim, the St. Louis Blues or the Nashville Predators.
Pick your poison, right? Not necessarily.
I would submit that a first-round throw-down with the Blues is to be avoided at all costs. Not that Team St. Loo can’t be beaten. It’s just that the Blues are a playoff-hardened outfit that comes at you with a punishing, relentless, unflinching merger of talent and resolve. Taking them out in a seven-game series would be a highly taxing and burdensome bit of business. A Herculean task, if you will.
A date with the Blues surely would carry the greatest risk of a dash-away, one-and-done special for the Jets.
Not so with the Ducks or Predators.
Were the stars to align favorably for the Winnipegs, they would commence playoff proceedings in Kornfield Kounty, otherwise known as Music City or, officially, Nashville, where a song don’t mean a thang if it ain’t got that twang. Can you say “Hee Haw!” kids?
Although the Predators have hit the century mark and enter weekend activity as the No. 2 seed for all NHL points west of the Grand Ole Opry, I’m not convinced of their bona fides. Certainly they have a stud backliner in Shea Weber, a stud goaltender in Pekka Rinne and a fab freshman in Filip Forsberg. That’s considerable oomph down the middle. The Jets have no one to match Weber or Rinne, but, by the same token, the Predators have no match for the hybrid beast that Dustin Byfuglien has become. And surely Bryan Little is a superior centre-ice man to Forsberg.
Goaltender is, and always will be, the X factor for the Jets. If Ondrej Pavelec can replicate in mid-to-late April what he’s produced in March, the Jets move on. If not…fore!
The same would apply in a joust with the Disney Ducks.
The point is, I can see the locals getting past the Ducks or Predators in an opening-round skirmish, but I believe the Blues to be of too-tall timber.
Thus, if you’re a card-carrying member of Jets Nation, hope for either Nashville or Anaheim, but buckle up for a real rough ride if it’s St. Louis.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.