Most within the province of Manitoba have forgotten about the Winnipeg Jets altogether amid what was dubbed as the storm of the 21st century.
From an outsider’s standpoint, the Winnipeg Jets are done.
The season is over.
But from the perspective of a player, coach, trainer, media member or True North executive in and around Winnipeg, that narrative has yet to pierce the membrane surrounding Canada Life Centre.
As a matter of fact, most within the province of Manitoba have forgotten about the Jets altogether amid what was dubbed as the storm of the 21st century this past week.
Although just a paltry 30-50 centimetres covered Winnipeg and its surrounding areas, the Jets’ scheduled game against the Seattle Kraken this past Wednesday was moved to May 1st – two days after the NHL’s regular season was set to close.
This says two things: 1.) the NHL follows the postseason percentages very closely, and 2.) the league cares more about starting its upcoming playoff schedule on time than it may have shown during the past two COVID-19 shortened seasons.
With Seattle visiting Calgary on Tuesday and set to come to the blizzard that was Winnipeg in the wee morning hours, the league intervened and sent Seattle back home, while it directed the Jets to leave town prior to snowfall in order to make it to Florida with nearly three days to spare in advance of the team’s two-game stop within the state.
“The benefit of having the game postponed is that we were able to get out of Winnipeg,” Jets’ interim head coach Dave Lowry said on Thursday. “We were able to get into Florida. That would be benefit number one. And it gives us a couple days to reset, recharge in obviously a critical weekend for us.”
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Yes, coach Lowry called it a critical weekend.
Captain Blake Wheeler – who will make his return to the lineup on Friday following a knee injury – added to his coach’s comments with his version of what should be a very intense back-to-back.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a strange set of circumstances. Not every year do you have a snowstorm cancel a game. But this has been quite the year on a number of fronts. So, I think the motto of this year is ‘expect the unexpected’ and we have had to roll with the punches all year and just be flexible and just go with whatever situation has been thrown at us… I think the guys are just trying to embrace, you know, dodging the snowstorm and being in Florida, and getting ready for a big game tomorrow.”
While many may scoff at Lowry and Wheeler’s hopefulness, others may actually take their notions seriously – those who don’t follow advances statistics, odds, or play the percentages, that is.
Winnipeg currently sits a full eight points out of the final Western Conference wild card spot, as the Dallas Stars have finally caught up to the pack following their COVID schedule changes from an early-season setback.
Yes, eight points. And it’s not that the Jets are the only club chasing Dallas and the Nashville Predators (tied with 89 points) either.
Ahead of Winnipeg sits Vegas (87 points in 75 games) and Vancouver (84 points in 75 games), both of whom boast strong records of their past 10 games. In fact, the Canucks are on a five-game winning streak, while Vegas has gone 7-2-1 in its last 10.
The Jets, on the other hand, have also picked up wins in their last two games, but at this point, the chances of them superseding the Canucks, Golden Knights, as well as one of the Stars or Predators remains extremely unlikely.
In order for this to happen, the Jets would literally need to win every game, while their aforementioned competition would each need to lose over three-quarters of their remaining contests.
Highly unlikely, yes. Impossible? No.
“Obviously, the week that we had in front of us was going to be pretty daunting,” defenceman Josh Morrissey said of the team’s schedule that originally had Winnipeg playing five games in a seven-day span. “I think when you go to the east and then back home for one game and then again out here, it’s a lot of travel. It is what it is. We did have to go back to Winnipeg and recoup, I guess. And then fly down. But certainly five in seven is a pretty good stretch. Hopefully we can use a little bit of extra rest and practice time to be ready to go against obviously two very good teams.”
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First, the team will face the league’s second-place club in Florida on Friday night, before heading to Tampa Bay, where it will battle the back-to-back Stanley Cup champs and seventh-place Lightning.
No, the task at hand is not for the faint of heart. But for the Jets, every single goal will matter over the next eight games. With Wheeler back in the lineup and the team looking to build upon its recent winning ways, anything is possible, right?
“To have Blake back is certainly a nice boost,” Morrissey said. “I thought he looked great in practice today. Those things will be address by Dave or the staff. Just having him back and his leadership, he’s having a great year. He’s been really strong, especially in the last while. So to get him back now, we need our best guys and we need to be at our best in order to try and go on a run here and see if we can find a way.”
Morrissey, who has provided his club with a sizeable jump in production this season, had previously expressed his feelings on Winnipeg’s failure to win key games down the stretch run. However, in dodging the storm and soaking up some rays, the always passionate blueliner has seemingly lightened up, while darkening his complexion.
“Unfortunately missing the game at home, it is what it is,” he said of the altered travel arrangements. “But it’s nice to have some time down here for sure in the sun and not be in the blizzard at the same time. It is what it is. We’re all used to adjusting and working on the fly after the last two years. That’s just what we’ve got to do.”
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