October 22, 2019

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Opinion

Jets have displayed a potent blend of skill and brawn needed for playoff hockey

Winnipeg Jets' Brandon Tanev (13) celebrates his second goal of the game against the Boston Bruins during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p>

Winnipeg Jets' Brandon Tanev (13) celebrates his second goal of the game against the Boston Bruins during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/3/2018 (573 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler was speaking last week about the unheralded season the team’s rookie phenom Kyle Connor is having when he said this:

“Everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg.”

That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.

But, they’re noticing us now. Every team in the NHL is noticing us now.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/3/2018 (573 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler was speaking last week about the unheralded season the team’s rookie phenom Kyle Connor is having when he said this:

"Everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg."

That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.

But, they’re noticing us now. Every team in the NHL is noticing us now.

And it’s starting to seem like they don’t like what they see.

A chippy, testy affair against the Nashville Predators on Sunday, which the Jets won 5-4 in a shootout, was followed Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place by a chippy, testy affair against the Boston Bruins, which the Jets won 5-4 in a shootout.

If you’re starting to sense a pattern here, it’s not just that the Jets have now won four in a row in either a shootout or overtime, won seven in a row at home and, with playoffs looming, are consistently finding ways to prevail in exactly the kind of one-goal, hard-fought games that are the trademark of playoff hockey.

No, what is also clearly emerging is that the only thing visiting NHL teams now hate more than playing in Winnipeg is playing against Winnipeg.

And that’s what makes it so much fun right now to live in Winnipeg.

It wasn’t always this way, of course. As much as visiting NHL teams have always hated playing here — hello, San Jose Sharks — they always loved the easy two points the Jets represented for so many years.

The recipe for beating Winnipeg was as easy as it was well known: Jump all over a Jets team that were notoriously slow starters and they would quickly come apart — and start taking dumb penalties — at the first sign of adversity. From there, Winnipeg’s hopeless special teams would do your heavy lifting for you the rest of the night.

It was the same plan every visiting team used to beat the Jets for years. And it was a plan that worked, night after night.

Or at least it did until this season.

Mike Tyson once famously said that "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."

Well, these days a Jets team that was once everyone’s punching bag is now the one throwing — and landing — those punches.

Tuesday night, it was Jets centreman Mark Scheifele who added ‘teeth-rattling body checks’ to the list of reasons to hate coming to Winnipeg, splattering Boston’s David Pastrnak all over the northwest corner of the home rink in the first period.

It was a hit as devastating as it was clean and it accomplished two things the moment it occurred: it immediately disabused Boston of any lingering delusion they might have held that this visit to Winnipeg was going to be another easy two points; and it ensured the rest of the game would be played on Winnipeg’s terms, which is to say with teeth gritted and elbows up.

Winnipeg wins games like that, more often than not nowadays, with a lineup that carries a potent — and rare — combination of elite skill and alleyway toughness.

On some nights, a technician like Patrik Laine will deftly carve out your heart with almost scalpel-like precision. On other nights, a bruiser like Adam Lowry will drive a fist through your chest and take your heart out that way.

But either way, you’re in all likelihood leaving without it after a visit to Winnipeg this season.

With a record of 30-7-2 at home this season, the Jets have picked up an astounding 62 out of a possible 78 points on Portage Avenue so far.

That’s tops in the entire NHL, as is the 153 goals the Jets have scored at home this season. Talk about heartbreaking.

Nobody does it better, quite literally, than the Jets at home this season. And it’s never been more on display than the last two games against a Bruins team that still has a chance to win the President’s Trophy this season and a Predators team that Las Vegas bookmakers say is the favorite to win the Stanley Cup.

One has been one of the best teams this regular season; the other is expected to be the best team in the playoffs. And the Jets manhandled both of them, quite literally.

Down by scores of 2-0 and 3-1 against the Predators, Winnipeg simply overwhelmed Nashville with an audacious push-back they clearly weren’t expecting.

And then against Boston, it was the Jets surrendering a 3-1 lead, thanks to a couple of the kind of undisciplined penalties that used to be commonplace in these parts but which are now increasingly rare.

And yet once again, the Jets pushed back and once again, their opponent yielded.

There’s an old cliche in sports about "imposing your will" on an opponent. This Jets team is a lot of both right now — willful and imposing.

So yeah, maybe Winnipeg is cold, dark and has lousy wifi, as the Sharks players were only too willing to publicly point out earlier this season. In fact, yeah, we are definitely all those things.

But the real reason Winnipeg is a miserable place for visiting NHL teams to play is because we are also currently the home of an exceedingly miserable team to play against.

The Jets can beat you on the ice and they can beat you in the back lane — if the potholes don’t get you first.

And they can also beat you with players up and down their lineup, as fourth-liner Brandon Tanev and the most unlikely hat trick in franchise history established Tuesday night against the Bruins.

But mostly, the Jets will beat you up.

And that’s made them impossible for anyone to ignore any longer.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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