Roll the Dice: Eighth-seeded Jets ready for Vegas challenge against Golden Knights

The Winnipeg Jets can forget about their inconsistent regular season, a middling road mark and their winless record against the Vegas Golden Knights.

A clean post-season slate starts Tuesday night. And despite being a No. 8 seed, there was no shortage of confidence emanating from the hallways of T-Mobile Arena after the Jets practiced Monday.

“We’re capable of winning, there is no question,” said Winnipeg coach Rick Bowness. “We’re here to win. We’re not here to give these guys a little workout (so they can) move on to the next round.

“We’re here to win.”

The top-seeded Golden Knights (51-22-9) finished first in the Pacific Division with a 111-point campaign. The Jets (46-33-3) had 95 points, good for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Both teams have plenty of firepower. Kyle Connor (80 points), Josh Morrissey (76) and Mark Scheifele (68) enjoyed productive seasons for the Jets.

Vegas has a well-rounded attack with 10 players recording 30 points or more with Jack Eichel (66) and Chandler Stephenson (65) leading the way.

The Golden Knights will also get a boost with the return of captain Mark Stone, who has been activated off long-term injured reserve and will be in the lineup for the series opener.

Vegas is also coming in hot, losing just once in regulation over its last 10 games and locking up the No. 1 seed in the West with a win in Game 82.

“I like where we’re at,” said Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We’ve played well. This is a different season with different experiences.

“But we do have a lot of guys that have been there and done it.”

The teams have some history. Vegas beat Winnipeg in five games in the Western Conference final in 2018 before falling to the Washington Capitals.

The Golden Knights are 6-6-2 against the Jets since making their NHL debut in 2017 and won all three matchups against Winnipeg this season.

The Jets had a solid first half before falling off with just seven points over nine games in February. A late push helped get Winnipeg back to the post-season for the first time since a second-round exit in 2021.

“We’re capable of anything,” Scheifele said. “You’ve seen in this league time and time again, it doesn’t matter if you’re a one seed or an eight seed, anyone can win. That has to be our focus.

“We know we have a good team. We know we were in first (place) for a good chunk of the year. So we know we’re a good team and we just have to stick to that.”

Winnipeg had a 20-20-1 road record this season while Vegas was 25-15-1 at home.

The guessing game on the status of Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers continued for another day. He said he’s feeling “very good” and was practising with the top power-play unit Monday.

Bowness said Ehlers remained day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

“He’s skating great, he’s shooting well,” he said. “The concern would be getting hit or getting caught in the wrong position.”

The Golden Knights used a goaltender by committee approach to great success this season. Jonathan Quick had 41 appearances but Adin Hill (27 games played), Logan Thompson (37) and Laurent Brossoit (11) all posted solid numbers.

There’s no doubt who the Jets’ No. 1 option is between the pipes. Connor Hellebuyck went 37-25-2 this season with a 2.49 goals-against average.

“Whoever is going to win the Stanley Cup is going to get outstanding goaltending from the first playoff game on,” Bowness said. “We know Connor is going to give us that.”

Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is set for Thursday night at Las Vegas. The series shifts to Winnipeg for Game 3 on Saturday.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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