Round 1 Series Preview:
Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues
Jets: 47-30-5, 99 points, second in Central
Blues: 45-28-9, 99 points, third in Central
Season series: WPG 3-1-0; STL 1-2-1
The Western Conference First Round between the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues is about trending.
The Jets, who reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season, led the Central Division with 68 points on Feb. 1, but finished 14-14-3. They held onto second place by going 2-1-1 in a season-ending four-game road trip and a 45-42 advantage in regulation/overtime wins (ROW).
"It's going to be an absolute grinder, maybe even more so than last year, the way those wild-card teams ended up playing," said coach Paul Maurice, who guided the Jets to the Western Conference Final last season before a five-game loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Blues were last in the NHL (15-18-4) on Jan. 2 before winning 11 in a row from Jan. 23 to Feb. 19. St. Louis was 23-6-4 after Feb. 1, second to the Tampa Bay Lightning (25-5-2) in that stretch.
"Where we were and where we are now, those guys deserve a ton of credit for the turnaround," coach Craig Berube said. "They did a great job. Great leadership from our leaders. A lot of character in our dressing room, and it came through. ... We needed everybody, and everybody helped."
Video: Vitale, Pang preview Game 1 at Winnipeg
Jets: Kyle Connor scored 34 goals, second on the Jets behind Mark Scheifele (38). Connor returned to the left wing on the top line with Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. He played with them for most of last season, but wherever he is in the lineup, he is always dangerous near the net and catches opponents off guard with his speed and quick hands.
Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko led St. Louis with 33 goals (16 since Feb. 2) and 12 on the power play. His sharpness in the second half was in lockstep with the rising Blues. Tarasenko's powerful shot and quick release makes him a threat from about anywhere in the offensive zone. He's scored 22 goals in 44 postseason games.
Jets: Connor Hellebuyck's numbers (34-23-3, 2.90 goals-against average, .913 save percentage) are off from last season (44-11-9, 2.36 GAA, .924 save percentage) when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist. But he was sharp down the stretch by going 6-3-1 with a 2.36 GAA and .930 save percentage since March 14.
Blues: Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 save percentage) is a Calder Trophy contender. The Blues allowed 27.3 shots per game since the 25-year-old rookie took over as the No. 1 goalie Jan. 7, second fewest in the NHL behind the Boston Bruins (27.2).
Video: Berube before Game 1 in Winnipeg
Numbers to know
Jets: The power play was fifth in goals (62) and fourth in percentage (24.8). It will face a stiff test against the Blues' penalty kill, which finished ninth at 81.5 percent.
Blues: They allowed 2,345 shots on goal, fourth fewest in the NHL, and gave up 72 goals from Feb. 1 to the end of the regular season, fewest in the NHL. That tied the Dallas Stars during that span, but the Blues did it in 33 games, the Stars 32.
Jets: Defenseman Josh Morrissey (upper body) missed the final 20 games of the regular season. He has been skating with the Jets and could be ready for Game 1. Forward Brandon Tanev missed the final two games after being slashed on the hand by Minnesota Wild center Eric Staal on April 2. His status is unknown.
Blues: The Blues have no reported injuries, though defenseman Colton Parayko sat out the final two games for maintenance.
Video: Alex Pietrangelo comments on facing Jets in Game 1
They said it
"We've been playing playoff hockey for a long time now just to clinch and get in. This group has come a long way, come together. We're enjoying playing for one another right now. Obviously winning makes it a whole lot easier now. We feel like we've got a good team in here and hoping to go on a run in the playoffs here." -- Blues forward Brayden Schenn
"We've got a good feeling in our room. We feel a lot of excitement about what's going to be a great series. The biggest challenge is getting off to a good start, getting on a roll, getting confidence in your room and if you're able to do that, anything's possible." -- Jets captain Blake Wheeler
Will win if …
Jets: They can skate and disrupt the Blues' structure. Winnipeg's speed and up-tempo game has yielded strong results when it's in effect. If it can create odd-man rushes and offensive-zone pressure, there are plenty of finishers who can capitalize. This was the Jets' best look in the 2018 playoffs, where they won two rounds before losing to the Golden Knights.
Blues: Discipline and structure prevail. The Blues have been a tight, focused team in the second half, difficult to play against because they have few breakdowns, and it's been an impressive rehearsal for the postseason. If they can stick to that and pressure the Jets into more mistakes, their odds of winning the series increase.
Video: Blues, Jets ready for Game 1