This will be the Minnesota Wild’s sixth-straight Stanley Cup playoff appearance, while the Winnipeg Jets are only making their second appearance in franchise history. Although Winnipeg has far less postseason experience, their combination of a high-powered offense and steady goaltending has them placed them among this year’s favorites.
For what it’s worth, the Jets defeated the Wild three out of their four contests during the regular season. Let’s take a closer look at both teams heading into this Western Conference first round match-up.
Winnipeg: The Jets possess one of the most potent offenses in the league, with five players that have over 20 goals on the season. Finnish sniper Patrik Laine leads the team with 44, while Kyle O’Connor, Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers round out the top five. The acquisition of Paul Statsny was invaluable not only because of his production level, but it also allowed the team to create a match-up nightmare by moving Brian Little to the third line. Most of Winnipeg’s forwards combine size, strength and speed to play an impressive heavy style.
Minnesota: The Wild have a formidable forward group as well, led by Eric Staal (42 goals) and Jason Zucker (33 goals). Minnesota has some solid scoring depth of their own with Mikael Grandlund, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle and Matt Cullen all having over 10 goals on the season. The Wild are going to need Parise, who missed half of the season due to injury, to be an impact player if they want to get past the first round.
Advantage: Winnipeg. The Jets forwards have been deadly all season. The Wild will have their hands full containing a dynamic offensive core.
Winnipeg: The Jets have steadily improved their defensive core over the past few seasons. Dustin Byfuglien can chip in offensively and help start the transition out of their own zone. Tyler Myers excels at forcing opposing forwards to the perimeter and disrupting the attack with his long reach. With Tobias Enstrom out for Game 1, Josh Morrissey, Jacob Trouba, Ben Chiarot and Tucker Poolman round out the defensive pairs.
Minnesota: The main story for the Wild is that they will be without the talents of Ryan Suter, who averaged the second-most minutes of any player in the NHL this season. Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon (once medically cleared) are all poised to have increased workloads with the absence of Suter. The bottom three defensemen, Nick Seeler, Carson Soucy and Nate Prosser, will also have to play more minutes against the bigger bodied lines of the Jets.
Advantage: Winnipeg. If Ryan Suter was healthy, Minnesota would have the advantage here. The lack of leadership and production will have a devastating effect in this series for the Wild.
Winnipeg: The Jets big offseason move last summer was bringing in Steve Mason to give them stability between the pipes. That did not happen as Mason struggled, which opened the door for Connor Hellebuyck, who was nothing short of spectacular. The young goaltender went 44-11-9 with a 2.34 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
Minnesota: Devan Dubnyk will be the goaltender of choice for the Wild. Dubnyk has struggled in the postseason in the past, but the Wild are going to need him at his absolute best if they want to have a chance in this series.
Advantage: Winnipeg. Hellebuyck will have to overcome some postseason jitters, but once he remembers how good his offense is, that should not be a problem.
Winnipeg: Led by Patrick Laine, the Jets ranked fifth in the NHL with a power play percentage of 23.4%. Even more impressive is that they are just as strong on the penalty kill with an 81.8% penalty kill percentage.
Minnesota: The Wild’s power play unit ranked in the middle of the pack with a 20.4% power play percentage during the regular season. Their penalty kill was successful (81.3%) during the regular season, but it will be interesting to see how the loss of Ryan Suter impacts their chemistry.
Advantage: Winnipeg. The numbers speak for themself.
Winnipeg: Adam Lowry. Lowry is the catalyst behind Winnipeg’s productive fourth line. He is an effective checker and accumulated 21 points in only 45 games this season.
Minnesota: Devan Dubnyk. He has a daunting task ahead of him, but the wild desperately need him to be fantastic in this series.
Winnipeg in five. The Jets have all the momentum working in their favor heading into the playoffs and will make quick work out of the injury-depleted Wild.