The Jets may be the darlings of Canada having built up a reputation as being 'the little team that could' but don't expect the Canucks to have any sentimental feelings heading into this afternoon's critical contest. After watching their five-game road win streak come to an end on Thursday with a 3-1 loss in Chicago, Vancouver will be looking to bounce back quickly and end their four-game road trip on a high note – even if that means dealing a deadly blow to the playoff aspirations of their Canadian brethren.
Vancouver, who will be looking to sweep the season series against Winnipeg after winning the first two head-to-head meetings, had a rather eventful practice yesterday with netminder Ryan Miller and AHL call-up Sven Baertschi joining the group. Miller, who hasn't played since February 22 when he injured his knee, isn't ready to return quite yet but Baertschi appears set to make his Canucks' debut. Baertschi is expected to take Ronalds Kenins' spot alongside Bo Horvat and Jannik Hansen. Eddie Lack, who starred locally for one season in Winnipeg as a member of the Manitoba Moose, is expected to get the start in net for Vancouver.
Puck drop at 12 pm PT – Live on Sportsnet Pacific, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2014.15 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
If the Jets come up short in their bid for a playoff berth, they may end up tracing their downfall back to a game in Vancouver on March 24. Heading into that game at Rogers Arena, the Jets had won five in a row riding the red hot netminding of Ondrej Pavelec. They opted to start Michael Hutchinson in net that night and things looked good early on when they jumped out to a 2-0 against the Canucks. But then the wheels fell off as the Jets gave up five unanswered goals in a 5-2 loss. Counting that game, the Jets have lost three of their last four outings and the previously red hot Pavelec is not so much these days. In his last two starts – both losses – he's given up a combined seven goals on just 48 shots faced. The numbers aren't pretty, but it's the timing of the goals that has been devastating for the Jets. Last Sunday against the Blackhawks, they surrendered the go-ahead and eventual game-winning goal with just 31 seconds left in regulation in a 4-3 loss. In their most recent outing on Tuesday against the Rangers, they gave up the go-ahead and eventual game-winning goal with less than four minutes to go in regulation in a 3-2 loss.
As concerned as the Jets may be about their goaltending, their biggest worry these days has to be the absence of Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien was handed a four-game suspension by the NHL for his cross-checking incident against the Rangers – a suspension that will keep him out of the lineup until their regular season finale. Byfuglien had actually just recently returned from a nine-game absence due to injury and was red hot scoring three goals in his last three outings prior to being suspended. The Jets will need someone else to step up offensively while he's unavailable. When the Jets rolled into Vancouver 11 days ago, we had been trumpeting here the strong play of the Wheeler-Scheifele-Stafford trio. Those three will need to continue their strong play if the Jets are to have any chance to keeping themselves in the playoff race.
Keys to the Game
Match Winnipeg's desperation level. The Jets may be struggling lately but they're desperate and the Canucks know it. Winnipeg will come out like there's no tomorrow because there might not be for them if they don't win today. Vancouver can't afford to be half a step behind.
Baertschi brings it. You know Sven Baerstchi will be jacked up to make his Canucks debut. He has been on a tear since joining the Canucks' organization netting 13 points (7-6-13) in 12 games with Utica (AHL) and he'll be itching to prove he can be just as productive at the NHL level.
Pavelec is there when it counts. After getting burned late in two straight games, Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec needs to find a way to turn back to the clock to just a couple of weeks ago when he was enjoying his best stretch of his career and find a way to come up with that big save when his team needs it the most.
By the Numbers
Win percentage for the Canucks on the road this season (24-13-3). Today is their final road game.
Win percentage for the Jets this season without Dustin Byfuglien in the lineup (6-3-0).
Time in franchise history the Canucks have recorded 25-or-more road wins (27 in 2010.11). They need to win today to reach that mark.
Straight home losses for the Jets. They have only lost three in a row at the MTS Centre once this season (0-2-1 from Dec. 21 to 31).
Straight games without a point for Henrik Sedin, tied for his longest point drought of the season.
Points needed for the Canucks to officially clinch a playoff spot, and second place in the Pacific Division, beginning action today.