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playoffs

Jets vs. Wild playoff preview

Laine leads explosive Winnipeg offense against experienced Minnesota

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild

Jets: 52-20-10, 114 points, second in Central

Wild: 45-26-11, 101 points, third in Central

Season series: WPG 3-1-0; MIN 1-3-0

 

[RELATED: Complete Jets vs. Wild series coverage]

 

The skinny

The Winnipeg Jets face the Minnesota Wild, their closest geographic rival, for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a series between exceptional home teams.

Winnipeg had the NHL's best home record (32-7-2) at Bell MTS Place. Minnesota had the fewest home regulation losses in the League, going 27-6-8 at Xcel Energy Center.

The Jets won three of the four games against the Wild during the regular season. But with nearly three months since the last game between them, head-to-head results may not be that meaningful. Since that game Jan. 13, the Jets went 26-7-3 and maintained a consistency that helped them set their records for wins, points and home wins. The Wild went 21-9-7 after that, never losing more than two in a row to secure a playoff berth for the sixth straight season.

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau was the coach of the Anaheim Ducks in 2015 when Anaheim swept Winnipeg and coach Paul Maurice in the Western Conference First Round. That was the Jets' only previous appearance in the playoffs since relocating from Atlanta. So it's no surprise Winnipeg's playoff experience (a combined 282 games) is substantially thinner than Minnesota's (748 games).

Video: The guys preview the Wild-Jets series

"The only way to get [experience] is to live it," Maurice said. "We've got a whole lot of guys who need to go through it, we want them to go through it and we're excited they're going to get that chance. It is important? It's probably more important in those momentum shifts that happen in every series.

"The veteran guys can explain that [they] don't remember anybody going 16-0 so you're going to have adversity in the playoffs and that's when the guys who have that experience can step up and have a big voice."

Experience may favor them, but the Wild have a major obstacle to overcome. Veteran defenseman Ryan Suter is out for the season with a broken ankle.

"[The Jets] come at you nine deep," Boudreau told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Their D are up the ice. You better be able to play good defense against them without giving anything away. You can't trade chance for chance with them. They're too good for that. We know we've got our work cut out for us."

 

Game breaker

Wild: Center Eric Staal, 33, had a remarkable season with 76 points (42 goals, 34 assists) in 82 games, leading Minnesota in goals and points. His 42 goals tied the Wild record set by Marian Gaborik in 2007-08. It was the second-best goal total of Staal's 14-season NHL career (45 in 2005-06). Staal's resurgence is a crucial part of Minnesota's offense.

Jets: Right wing Patrik Laine, 19, scored 44 goals to lead the Jets. His overpowering shot and deceptive release have confounded goalies in his first two NHL seasons, and he led the NHL with 20 power-play goals this season. He's the first Europe-born teenager to reach 70 points (44 goals, 26 assists) in an NHL season.

Video: WPG@MTL: Laine rings in PPG to open the scoring

 

X-factor

Wild: Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who injured his hamstring March 13 and missed the final 12 games of the regular season, has been skating and may be ready for the playoffs. Given that Spurgeon averages 24:32 of ice time per game and the fact that Suter is out, his inclusion in the series could be the difference.

Video: STL@MIN: Spurgeon nets slap shot off defender's leg

Jets: When center Adam Lowry missed 27 of 29 games with an upper-body injury between Jan. 7 and March 15, it got little attention. However, Lowry centers the fourth line, an effective checking line with Andrew Copp and Brandon Tanev that has been a key asset. Lowry had 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 45 games.

 

Goaltending

Wild: Devan Dubnyk, 31, has been a model of consistency for the Wild. He was 35-16-7 with a 2.52 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage in 59 starts this season. The Regina, Saskatchewan, native has made 21 starts (7-14, 2.59, .903) in the playoffs over the past three seasons and will be backed up by Alex Stalock.

Jets: It was not the plan at the start of the season, but the Jets rode the goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck to the finish. The 24-year-old was 44-11-9 with a 2.36 GAA and a .924 save percentage. His win total is a record for U.S.-born goalies. Hellebuyck has never played in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. Veteran Steve Mason, who missed time because of two concussions, is the backup.

Video: CGY@WPG: Hellebuyck gloves Frolik's breakaway wrister

 

Numbers to know

Wild: Keeping the games at 5-on-5 will suit the Wild. Minnesota (81.3 percent) and Winnipeg (81.8 percent) had essentially the same success killing penalties, but there was a difference between the Wild's power play (49 goals, 20.4 percent, ranked 18th) and the Jets' power play (64 goals, 23.4 percent, fifth).

Jets: Much of their offense goes through forward Blake Wheeler, who finished the season with a Winnipeg-best 91 points (23 goals, 68 assists) and tied for the NHL lead in assists with Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers. Wheeler's 40 power-play points were second in the League behind Phil Kessel of the Pittsburgh Penguins (42).

 

They said it

"It's going to be fun. It's going to be a great challenge. They've had a great year, they have got a good team. We've had a good year, we have a great team. It's going to be competitive. Pretty good rival right there north of the border. It's something we should all be excited about." -- Wild center Eric Staal

 

"We know they're a very good team. It's got a really good atmosphere in their barn and we know their fans are going to be behind them. We're going to have the same exact thing in ours and we know they've been a really good team, especially in the second half of the season. Anything can happen in playoffs and we're going to have to be at our best." -- Jets defenseman Tyler Myers

 


Will win if …

Wild: Their strength in the middle comes to bear. Minnesota has a distinct advantage in experience at center. Staal, Mikko Koivu and Matt Cullen have played 226 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Dubnyk is entering his fourth NHL postseason and has felt the pressure before.

Video: BOS@MIN: Koivu capitalizes on lucky bounce to tie it

Jets: Their balance and their goaltending hold up. Winnipeg has run three lines able to score for much of the season and has a fourth line that has limited the chances of top opponents. Coming off his NHL career-best season, Hellebuyck enters his first Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

How they look

 

Wild projected lineup

Zach Parise -- Mikko Koivu -- Mikael Granlund

Jason Zucker -- Eric Staal -- Nino Niederreiter

Tyler Ennis -- Matt Cullen -- Charlie Coyle

Daniel Winnik -- Joel Eriksson Ek -- Marcus Foligno

Jonas Brodin -- Matt Dumba

Nick Seeler -- Ryan Murphy

Carson Soucy -- Nate Prosser

Devan Dubnyk

Alex Stalock

Scratched: Jordan Greenway, Louie Belpedio

Injured: Luke Kunin (knee), Jared Spurgeon (hamstring), Ryan Suter (ankle), Gustav Olofsson (concussion)

 

Jets projected lineup

Kyle Connor -- Mark Scheifele -- Blake Wheeler

Nikolaj Ehlers -- Paul Stastny -- Patrik Laine

Mathieu Perreault -- Bryan Little -- Joel Armia

Andrew Copp -- Adam Lowry -- Brandon Tanev

Josh Morrissey -- Jacob Trouba

Toby Enstrom -- Dustin Byfuglien

Ben Chiarot -- Tyler Myers

Connor Hellebuyck

Steve Mason

Scratched: Shawn Matthias, Marco Dano, Jack Roslovic, Tucker Poolman, Joe Morrow

Injured: Matt Hendricks (lower body), Dmitry Kulikov (back)

 

Status report

Spurgeon missed the final 12 games of the regular season but could return. ... Ennis was scratched for five of the past eight games, but played the final two games on the third line with Cullen and Coyle. ... The Wild had 150 man-games lost to injury during the regular season. The Jets had 285. ... Winnipeg will start the series without Hendricks, who missed the final 13 games. ... Enstrom missed the final eight games with a lower-body injury but may play in the series. ... Kulikov is out indefinitely.

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