Sagging Central Division puts Winnipeg in favourable playoff position

Connor Hellebuyck and the Winnipeg Jets limited the Calgary Flames to only one goal as the Jets held on for a 2-1 victory at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.

In a season full of sky high expectations, low points create panic and that has been the case for Winnipeg Jets fans.

Many will tell you they’ve been waiting for this team to take a step forward heading into the playoffs. Lately, the Jets look to be fulfilling that destiny with six wins in their past nine games, including impressive victories over the likes of Boston, Calgary and Carolina. Winnipeg seems to be turning the corner at the right time and strengthening their hold as a division leader in the process.

Central slipping
Speaking of the Central, it’s not that long ago the division was the NHL’s equivalent of the Thunder Dome. Lately, it looks be be a shadow of its former self. The Jets’ hold on first has been ripe for the picking since the all-star break with the team playing just over .500 hockey in that stretch. Back in late January, the Jets and Nashville Predators were tied in points, but rather than capitalizing on Winnipeg’s mediocre string of play, the Predators have actually lost ground.

With the Colorado Avalanche struggling to stay in the playoff race and the St. Louis Blues cooling off from their hot run (2-2-2 in their past six games) the Central is heading into the playoffs looking like the least competitive of the NHL’s four divisions.

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Clear path?
That’s not to say the Jets don’t have competition within their division, but they have to like what they are seeing heading into the post-season. Their path to the conference final looks as light as any top team in the league.

Just take on look around the league. Even though the Tampa Bay Lightning have dominated the whole season, they will have to carve a path through either Boston or Toronto. In the Metro, it’s expected Washington and Pittsburgh will meet at some point. Out west Calgary, San Jose and Vegas will be in tough against each other as they try to come out of the Pacific.

The Jets, meanwhile, look like they will not meet a team in the top-third of the league standings until the conference final.

Maybe it’s the hockey gods offering a little payback. After all, the Jets were on the wrong side of the league playoff format last season when they finished with the NHL’s second-best record, only to meet up with the Presidents’ Trophy winners in the second round.

Regardless, opportunity is knocking.

He’s back
After the Jets topped the Calgary Flames 2-1 on Hockey Night in Canada this past weekend Connor Hellebuyck was our guest for the post-game interview (you can see it at the top of this page).

Hellebuyck made his way out of the dressing room and down the players’ tunnel with a big smile on his face and greeted me by saying: “It’s about time. What, did you forget about me?”

To provide some context, hosts usually ask for the best player on the ice for the post-game interview and that made Hellebuyck a regular on our national broadcasts last season. This was especially true on Sundays where he was dominant during Hometown Hockey games. He posted a perfect 7-0-0 record on those days including a sparkling .962 save percentage and three shutouts.

Hellebuyck is a guy who enjoys the trappings of success and that includes recognition during national broadcasts. From what I know of him, he very well sees those interviews as his spots. You have to admire that level of confidence.

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