How Winnipeg’s Drew Stafford re-invented himself

Ryan Kennedy
Drew Stafford (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Stanley Cup playoff hockey has returned to Winnipeg and if the Jets are going to upset the potent Anaheim Ducks, they’ll do it with depth, not through one line or one superstar. One of Winnipeg’s most dangerous players since the trade deadline is right winger Drew Stafford, who came over from Buffalo in the Evander Kane deal. Stafford, a 30-goal scorer with the Sabres in 2010-11, had fallen on hard times offensively in more recent days. But thanks to a couple of high-profile friends, he has rediscovered his game.

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Prospect Hot List: Vande Sompel charging from the back in Oshawa

Mitch Vande Sompel (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The Frozen Four is in the books and it was a classic, with Providence College winning its first-ever hockey title over Boston University. But the season still might not be over for Terriers frosh Jack Eichel, as he and Nashville pick Jimmy Vesey of Harvard were expected to play for Team USA at the World Championship in Switzerland. Meanwhile, we’re getting very close to the world under-18s as well in the Czech Republic. With CHL playoffs still going strong, let’s cruise around the prospect world once again.

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Why it’s time to give Ondrej Pavelec the credit he deserves in Winnipeg

Jared Clinton
Ondrej Pavelec (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)

At points in the last four seasons, it’s seemed as though the Winnipeg Jets faithful would have rallied around anyone who gathered up pitchforks and torches to run Ondrej Pavelec out of town. Now, it wouldn’t be so strange if some of those same fans were thinking about making a purchase of a Pavelec sweater.

Things were at their low point for Pavelec and the Jets when, in a March 10 game, a shot from center ice by St. Louis Blues defenseman Barret Jackman beat Pavelec in the midst of a miraculous comeback by the Jets. Myself a Winnipegger, the game was on at a local spot I was at that evening. When Jackman’s shot found net – and I solemnly swear this is true – a man wearing a Pavelec jersey immediately took it off, got up and left.

That goal, one that had Jets fans crying for Michael Hutchinson to get back between the pipes, was exactly one month ago. Funny what three straight shutouts will do for the perception of a goaltender, isn’t it? Read more

NHL’s SnapChamp Era begins: Flames, Jets make playoffs; defending-champ Kings – & maybe, Bruins or Pens – are out

Flames players celebrate a 3-1 home win over L.A. – and making the playoffs this year – in front of a raucous home crowd in Calgary. (Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

Watching the NHL’s action play out Thursday night was kind of like covering a political election and seeing the polls come in and herald a new leader for a new era. In one polling station, you had the Boston Bruins – the league’s top regular-season team last year – falling to the Florida Panthers and putting their playoff fate in the hands of the surging Ottawa Senators and wobbly Pittsburgh Penguins (who, like the Bruins, won a Stanley Cup not too long ago); In another station, you saw the Calgary Flames hold off the desperate Los Angeles Kings and register a 3-1 win, eliminating the defending Cup champions from the post-season and securing a playoff berth for the Winnipeg Jets.

Change was everywhere, and more change could be coming. Depending on what happens Friday and Saturday, the Eastern Conference playoff picture could have three teams (the Sens, Capitals and Islanders) who weren’t in the 2014 post-season, and the Western Conference will have four teams (Vancouver, Nashville, Calgary and Winnipeg) in this year’s playoffs who weren’t there last year. A 43.75 percent playoff turnover rate is one thing, but it’s not just the fact there are potentially seven new post-season teams this year that’s so intriguing; it’s the great distance teams are falling that has NHL executives clenching their teeth and always worrying about what’s ahead. Read more

Playoff scenarios: who makes it, who misses and why the Kings still have a chance

Raphael Diaz celebrates his wraparound goal (Glenn James/Getty Images)

With only two games remaining in the season for every team save the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets, one would have expected playoff matchups to be set and the post-season-bound teams separated from those who are heading towards early summers.

However, the Western Conference still boasts three teams who have yet to formally lock up their ticket to the dance, with Los Angeles on the brink of elimination. And in the Eastern Conference, there are five teams within three points of each other and it appears that no one’s playoff berth is safe just yet due to the never-say-die attitude of the Ottawa Senators.

The frantic finish of the regular season will include teams scoreboard watching and clinching playoff berths with opposition losses, playoff atmospheres in final-day tilts and a couple of fan bases devastated because they came this close to their shot at playoff glory. Read more

Dear Hockey Gods: please give us an all-Canadian team Stanley Cup Final this year

Calgary Flames fans. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Before I say what I’m about to say, let me be clear: I’m not, in any way shape or form, a jingoistic Canadian hockey fan who thinks it’s a tragedy when one of my country’s teams fails to win at the elite international level, or who believes the number of Canadians on any NHL roster is an accurate metric for their capability to win. Good hockey is good hockey, and hockey fans ought to be happy with any display of the sport that is highly-skilled and passionately-contested.

With that out of the way, this is a plea to the Hockey Gods: it’s been 26 years since the last Cup Final between two Canadian teams. We’re long past due for another. And this year would be as great a year as any for it to come to pass. Read more

Suspend him or not: David Backes cross-checks Mark Stuart’s neck

Matt Larkin
David Backes (Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)

Winnipeg Jets fans, please sit down and take a deep breath. Have a sip of tea or beer. Chase it with a Xanax if need be. Bask in Tuesday night’s victory over the St. Louis Blues.

And try not to think about St. Louis captain David Backes’ cross-check on Jets D-man Mark Stuart. It probably reminds you a lot of the cross-check that earned Dustin Byfuglien a four-game suspension last week. But a few crucial differences likely have Backes escaping supplemental discipline.

First, let’s look at the GIF of Backes cross-checking Stuart:

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Ondrej Pavelec’s split-legged stick save robs Jaden Schwartz, puts Jets closer to playoffs

Jared Clinton
Ondrej Pavelec (Scott Rovak/Getty Images)

Less than a month ago, Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was the victim of one of the worst flubs of the season, allowing a goal from nearly center ice to St. Louis Blues defenseman Barret Jackman that resulted in a Jets loss and led many to believe the post-season dream was over. Over the past two nights, Pavelec has more than made up for it.

Monday night in Minnesota, Pavelec blanked the Wild by turning aside all 32 shots he faced. Tuesday, it was more of the same from one of the most maligned starting netminders in the league, as Pavelec got a measure of revenge on the Blues, shutting out St. Louis at home by stopping 30 shots. No stop he made, however, was as incredible as his first period stick save on Jaden Schwartz.

With less than ten minutes remaining in the first period, Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo uncorked a blast from the point which resulted in a rebound Pavelec was unable to control. The puck ended up right in front of Schwartz who fired a quick wrister that was absolutely robbed by the stick of Pavelec: Read more