Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Winnipeg Jets are one of the most unlikely teams in this year's playoff tournament and they come into their series against the Anaheim Ducks with no pressure. If they can somehow win the series, they'll guarantee that at least one Canadian team makes it to a conference final.
In some ways, the most unlikely team in this year’s playoffs carries much of a country’s hopes on its back. The Winnipeg Jets, picked by this publication (ahem) and many other pundits to finish last in their division, are in the playoffs.
And there are some who believe the Jets have what it takes to defeat the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. This corner is not one of them, but there is a sentiment that the Jets are flying high and the playoff-underachieving Ducks are once again ripe to be upset.
If that were to happen, the Jets would be in large part responsible for buoying the hopes of a nation, not to mention the broadcasters whose ratings in the spring are, let’s say, enhanced by the participation of teams north of the 49th parallel. Because if the Jets can pull off the upset of the Ducks in Round 1, they would guarantee that at least one Canadian-based team would be playing in a conference final. The winner of this series goes on to face the winner of the Calgary-Vancouver set in the second round, thereby guaranteeing one of the Jets, Canucks or Flames would move on to Round 3.
It will be a tall order, to say the least. The Jets probable lineup for Game 1 of the series has, by my count, about 243 games of playoff experience and four Stanley Cups among three players – Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Michal Frolik. The lineup the Ducks will put out for Game 1 has a combined 496 games of playoff experience and one fewer Stanley Cup, but has a couple of Olympic double gold medalists in Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
The Ducks are embracing the experience and give the impression they’re happy just to be there. And a team playing with house money can be very dangerous in the playoffs, particularly when it goes up against the best team in the Western Conference. The Jets will be playing with absolutely no pressure and a fan base that will welcome them home from Anaheim as conquering heroes even if they’re down 2-0. That feeling of elation will lead to resignation and, probably satisfaction over what they accomplished, if the Jets get down early in the series. But if they get a little bit of confidence and find they can match up against the Ducks, watch out.
The guarantee of a Canadian team getting to the Western Conference final would enhance the chances of one getting to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 2011.
Canada has finally removed the piano from its back that was the World Junior Championship with its gold medal at home in January. That ended a five-year drought and much hand wringing. Canada has not won the World Championship in eight years, but the first 19 players named to Canada’s roster – a list that includes Matt Duchene, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Tyler Toffoli, Jordan Eberle, Claude Giroux and Nathan MacKinnon – simply should not lose that tournament.
The Olympics have been taken care of, as has the WJC and Canada has a team that, if it plays to its potential, should win the World Championship in a walk. Now it’s up to the five Canadian teams to sort themselves out and decide which one will make a run for the first Stanley Cup on Canadian soil in 22 years. And the Jets, depending upon how they perform against the Ducks, could have a lot of say in just how that plays out.