With the inaugural season winding down, the Winnipeg Jets find themselves in a fierce battle for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. In the Southeast division, the Jets were already neck and neck with the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers, and now the Tampa Bay Lightning have suddenly become relevant again, sitting well within striking distance. Barring any late collapses, four of the five Southeast teams have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, either as the Division Champions or as the eighth seed.
The fact that Jets fans are even talking playoffs at this time of the year is a testament to the hard work that has been put in by the coaches, players and organization as a whole. After handling relocation and a hectic off-season, the team has overcome injuries to key contributors and still found a way to stay on pace to make the playoffs.
The Jets have greatly benefited from playing in front of the crowds at the MTS Centre; True North’s marketing slogan, “Fuelled by Passion,” has rung true. The Jets are the best team in the league on the power play at home, and partial-credit has to be given to the fans that put on concerted efforts to be loud and intimidating, and get into the head of opposing goalies and star players.
Making the playoffs would be a dream come true for a city that has gone without playoff hockey — or NHL hockey of any sort — for the past 16 years. It’s hard to begin to imagine how this city would react during a playoff run. Will the legendary Winnipeg White-Out be brought back? Will it be as epic as it has been remembered after all these years? How much construction will be required when the crowd blows the roof off the MTS Centre after the first home playoff victory?
Its fun to dream, but if the Jets are forced into the eighth seed they will end up playing the top seed, currently the New York Rangers, in the first round. The Rangers specifically have had the Jets’ number all season long and the Jets would have to become warriors on the road overnight, which has not been their strength so far this year.
Recent history has proven that strange things can happen in the playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens entered the 2010 playoffs as the eighth seed and went on an incredible playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals, thanks in large part to Jaroslav Halak and Mike Cammalleri peaking at the perfect time.
Unfortunately, the Jets need to start peaking right now if they even want to make the playoffs.
Most of the nearby teams in the standings have played fewer games than the Jets so far this season. Until the results of those extra games are known, we can only speculate what the odds of the Jets making the playoffs are.
If they can continue to play anywhere near the level they did during the 7-0 beat down they handed to the division leading Panthers on March 1, they’ll have a good chance of clinching the division. They will have to match that effort in the 15 regular season games remaining.
Their remaining divisional match-ups will be crucial in deciding whether they’re destined for the playoffs or the golf course: they play the Capitals at home March 16 and on the road March 23, the Hurricanes at home on March 18, the Panthers on the road on April 3, and the Lightning on the road March 31 before hosting Tampa in their final game of the season on April 7.