The Winnipeg Jets are the Western Conference version of the Toronto Maple Leafs this March — solidly entrenched in their playoff position, and simply honing their game while waiting for a first-round opponent to declare itself.
For the Jets, it is second place in the Central Division where their regular season will end. And as they welcomed Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry and Tobias Enstrom back into their lineup Sunday, Winnipeg showed a post-season resolve in beating the Dallas Stars 4-2, tying a franchise record with win No. 43 in the process.
Remember all those regular season games where no one hits anybody? Where the players all skate around carefully, like a bunch of union brothers trying not to mess up anyone’s hair?
Yeah, this wasn’t one of those.
There were blow-up hits all over the ice Sunday, and it was the star players who were throwing them. Scheifele lit up John Klingberg as he came out from behind the Dallas net, while Jacob Trouba, who left the game for good after he stepped up on Stars captain Jamie Benn, took the worse of the wreck.
This was one team fighting for its playoff life against another that wanted to leave Dallas with the distinct perception that — playoffs or not — there’s a reason the Stars are 12 points back in the standings. The Jets won all four meetings between the teams this season, and are the better team — have no doubt about that.
Here are some takeaways from a fantastic night of Hometown Hockey, and a Jets club that you might take a close look at for your playoff pool.
1. Laine Rolling
After a generation where the East got Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid and Patrik Laine will be more than just a reasonable facsimile out West for the next dozen years or more.
On Sunday, Laine notched goals No. 42 and 43 to tie Ovechkin for the league lead, while extending his point streak to 15 games. That’s the longest scoring streak ever posted by a teenager in the NHL, with 18 goals and 26 points in that span.
This kid, in this barn, is going to be a blast come April.
2. All In For Paul
Not so quietly, the deal to bring Paul Stastny to Winnipeg may just have won the trade deadline for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. The conservative, draft-and-develop GM always said that he’d be ready to make the big deals when his team was ready to win, and it’s hard to criticize now.
Stastny’s assist on Sunday was his tenth point in nine games as a Jet since coming from St. Louis for a conditional first-round pick in 2018, a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020, and prospect Erik Foley.
Tampa landed Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller at the deadline, though the Bolts haven’t seen the residuals in the win-loss column as much as they would have liked thus far. The Boston Bruins have been on fire since acquiring Rick Nash, and he has six points in 11 games for a team that’s knocking on Tampa’s door in the Atlantic.
But watching Stastny operate between Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers Sunday, the 32-year-old appears to be the perfect centre for a pair of prodigal young talents on the wing. It’s as good a second line as anyone has, anywhere.
3. Trouba Trouble
Trouba returned on Thursday after being on I.R. since Jan. 25. That’s the good news.
The bad news? He wobbled to the bench and never returned after his collision with Benn on the opening shift of the third period. There’s no doubt Trouba simply could not pass concussion protocol, and on a team that is just beginning to get healthy again, the question mark goes right back up beside one of their premier defencemen in Trouba.
4. Check Mate on Bishop
Speaking of players who just recently returned from the injury list…
The Stars’ No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop recently missed five games with a left knee injury, and in his second game back Sunday, he had to leave midway through with what possibly might be a recurrence of the same malady. The Stars later announced that he won’t be re-evaluated for two weeks, which means this is likely a regular season-ending injury.
Bishop limped off after making a wicked glove stop on Bryan Little, and was relieved by Kari Lehtonen. In another good news-bad news scenario, Lehtonen was fabulous in relief.
But the bad news? Lehtonen can always give you two good periods. It’s the next three where he tends to fade, and the Stars just fell out of the final wild card spot, with just nine games remaining.