The Winnipeg Jets have made history this year, taking the city by storm. For the first time in new franchise history, they won a playoff game, but they did not stop there; the team went on to win 7 more on their way to the Western Conference Final.
The Jets finished 2nd in points this year in the regular season with 114 and a record of 52-20-11, trailing only the Predators, who they are currently facing.
Each player on the Jets has made his own contribution to the team; however, the undoubtedly most significant change from last season came in the form of Connor Hellebuyck. His stellar goaltending started in October, and he’s been red hot ever since. He’s even been nominated as a finalist for the Vezina trophy, the most prestigious award for goalies in the NHL. A former 5th round pick in the NHL draft, nobody -- not even the Jets’ management -- expected him to be this good, nevermind to retain the starting role. Hellebuyck posted career high numbers in between the goal posts, in addition to finishing tied for first in wins in the league with 44, as well as second in shutouts with 6. In these playoffs, he hasn’t been as consistent as he was in the regular season, but the Jets players are usually there to give him a helping hand on the other end of the rink.
The most significant addition to the team this year came when the Jets acquired Paul Stastny. On February 26th of this year, days before the trade deadline, the Jets fans finally received the message from the Jets front office -- they’re all in. In exchange for a 2019 first round pick, prospect Erik Foley, and condition 4th round pick, the Jets acquire the one last piece of the puzzle they needed to fill their lineup heading into the playoffs -- a playoff veteran. With 805 regular season and 55 playoff games played coming into the 2018 Playoffs, Stastny was a key to the Jets’ success throughout the end of their season, and their current playoff run. Stastny has proved himself to be a solid second line centre, with the speedy Dane, Nikolaj Ehlers and the Finn, Patrik Laine, at his sides.
After coming off the best seasons of their careers, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, with 44 and 31 goals respectively, both wingers, have been rather quiet so far in the playoffs. Along with some other players on the Jets’ roster, they have not truly been able to play to the calibre we are used to seeing them play.
In spite of this, we have seen other players rise to the occasion. Dustin Byfuglien has averaged almost 30 minutes a game and has been crucial to the Jets’ offensive and defensive success. In addition, Mark Scheifele currently has the most goals in the playoffs. When he gets the puck in his sweet spot, the opposing goalie has no chance.
Many have thought that these Jets aren’t the real deal, but time and time again they have proven the contrary. Commentators and opposing fans have doubted them, but this team cannot stop winning.
In the 2015-2016 season, the Jets finished 25th out of 30 teams. In the 2016-2017 season, they finished 20th, missing the playoffs for the second year in a row. To go from 20th to 2nd in one season is an incredible change, and one that not many teams could pull off. But, if anyone could do it, it’s this team.
Pictured above is the ‘Whiteout,’ a Jets playoff tradition. Starting back in the 1970s with the old Winnipeg Jets, the ‘Whiteout’ tradition continued the first time they made the playoffs as a new franchise and has stuck ever since. Source: sportsnet.ca
Much as with Toronto, this playoff, the Jets, in addition to the 16,345 seated inside arena, have gathered thousands more gather outside in their white Jets’ gear to cheer on their favourite team, in addition to the hundreds of thousands who are glued to their televisions at home.
The Winnipeg Jets have taken Winnipeg by storm this year, igniting a passion for the game and for this team that may never have been seen before at this magnitude.
Undoubtedly the best Canadian NHL team at the moment, and the last one remaining in the playoffs, Canada is behind them, and so am I.
GO, JETS, GO!