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ANALYSIS: Five storylines for Jets and Canadiens

No more hypotheticals, no emotional scar tissue and not much more waiting.

The Winnipeg Jets finally know who their second-round opponent is going to be in the Stanley Cup playoffs after the Montreal Canadiens ruined a few playoff pools of their own by bouncing the Toronto Maple Leafs with a stirring Game 7 victory on Monday night.

So instead of a highly anticipated date with the first-place Maple Leafs, the Jets will host the Canadiens on Wednesday night at Bell MTS Place.

There’s little doubt which team will be well-rested, but the Canadiens should be riding high after winning the final three games against the Maple Leafs to erase a 3-1 series deficit — including overtime victories in Games 5 and 6.

While the 1.0 version of the Jets had lost six consecutive playoff matchups with the Oilers, this is the first post-season meeting with the fabled Canadiens.

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Both teams stumbled a bit down the stretch, with the race for third place ultimately belonging to the Jets, who finished with a four-point edge in the standings.

The Jets won six of the nine meetings during the regular season, but three of those victories came in three-on-three overtime, so the Canadiens were 3-3-3 in the head-to-head competition.

But much like the season series didn’t hold much weight in the opening round against the Oilers, the same is true for Round 2.

“By the time you get to the playoffs, your mentality is completely different. I’ve never put a whole lot of stock into momentum,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice.

“I don’t think you necessarily carry anything with you. The puck drops and it’s a new opportunity.

“I don’t think you can look at anything in the past and think that’s going to give you a predictability for what’s going to happen in the future.”

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything to learn from those prior meetings.

The Jets know exactly what they were able to do well against the Canadiens and what areas they occasionally struggled with.

While the Oilers were a top-heavy team in terms of offensive generation, the Canadiens are more of a balanced group that gets contributions throughout the lineup.

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They’re a team that has a nice blend of skill and sandpaper, they’re a tenacious bunch and they’re playing with a lot of confidence.

Here are five storylines to monitor:

Montreal Canadiens’ Phillip Danault handles a rebound off Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck during the first period NHL hockey action in Montreal on April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The masked men

This is shaping up to be an outstanding battle between the pipes, with Connor Hellebuyck set to go up against Carey Price.

Hellebuyck had an outstanding series against the Oilers, posting a league-best 1.60 goals against average and .950 save percentage with one shutout.

Price was able to win the goalie battle with Jack Campbell, saving his best for when his team began to face elimination.

Despite missing time late in the season while dealing with a concussion, Price delivered a 2.24 goals-against average and .932 save percentage and frequently frustrated the Maple Leafs dynamic duo of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

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While Hellebuyck has a friendship with Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell, there’s not a personal connection to Price.

“No, I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken to him, except to ask him for a stick at an all-star game,” Hellebuyck said. “He’s been playing very well.”

So has Hellebuyck.

Rest vs. rust

Winnipeg Jets’ Nikolaj Ehlers scores against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price during second period NHL hockey action against the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal on Jan. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.

The Jets can look back to 2018 for a reminder of what it’s like to try and keep things rolling after winning Game 7 on the road and starting the next series two days later.

That’s exactly what they did in closing out the second round in Nashville and then travelling to Winnipeg to earn a Game 1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights two days later.

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This time the shoe is on the other foot, as the Canadiens earned that road win in Game 7 and will try to keep it going on Wednesday.

With Games 3 and 4 to be played on consecutive days (Sunday and Monday), the rested team could have an opportunity to get a leg up with four games scheduled over a span of six days.

The benefit of getting some extra rest for guys like Pierre-Luc Dubois (who returned for Game 2) and Nikolaj Ehlers (who came back in Game 3 and scored twice, including the OT winner) could also provide a boost for the Jets.

Read more: Analysis: Winnipeg Jets will look to reverse history in Round Two

“It’s always better to be fresher,” Maurice said. “Everybody has got a set of circumstances that they have to deal with. We haven’t played a game in a week. That’s what we’re dealing with.

“We want to be sharp, but we want to make sure everybody is ready to go. On the other hand, we’re going to play a team that’s played a bunch of hockey and they will be in a rhythm. That’s how they’ll feel about Game 1. Drop the puck and everybody will stop talking and we’ll assess from there.”

Although the Jets came out flat on several occasions during the regular season, the circumstances are vastly different and the stakes are much higher.

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“We’ve had some layoffs this year and been up and down in how we’ve responded to those,” said Jets forward Andrew Copp.

“Obviously this one is probably a little bit longer than those. We’ll be ready to go. I think we’ll be fast.”

Winnipeg Jets’ Paul Stastny, right, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Canadiens with teammates Blake Wheeler, left, and Mark Scheifele. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Winnipeg Jets’ Paul Stastny, right, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Canadiens with teammates Blake Wheeler, left, and Mark Scheifele. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Centres of attention

The Jets’ depth down the middle was a factor in the series against the Oilers, with Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry doing a great job against McDavid, and Paul Stastny delivering the overtime winner in Game 2.

Stastny moved back to the wing in Game 3 as Dubois returned and that’s how the Jets figure to start this round, with Nate Thompson anchoring the fourth line.

“That’s key to success in the playoffs, and we’re lucky to have that here,” said Jets forward Mathieu Perreault.

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“We have guys throughout our lineup that can provide any kind of support for the team, either it’s offence or defence, down the middle. You name it. It’s one of the strengths of our team, and we’re lucky to have that here.”

There’s an extra layer of intrigue surrounding Dubois as the Canadiens were one of the teams to make a push to acquire the power forward before the Jets closed the deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Canadiens are deep down the middle as well.

Phillip Danault did an excellent job in the opening round against Matthews and he figures to get a steady diet of Scheifele this round.

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Nick Suzuki is an emerging talent, while Jesperi Koktaniemi made an important contribution after sitting out the series opener as a healthy scratch, providing the OT winner in Game 6.

Veteran Eric Staal brings the experience of a Stanley Cup winner and has added size on the fourth line and can move up the lineup when necessary.

Click to play video: 'Montreal buzzing as Canadiens move onto Round 2 following victory over Leafs' Montreal buzzing as Canadiens move onto Round 2 following victory over Leafs
Montreal buzzing as Canadiens move onto Round 2 following victory over Leafs – May 31, 2021

Powerful stuff

The Jets won the special-teams battle with the Oilers by a narrow 3-2 margin.

When you consider the Oilers had the best power-play efficiency in the NHL during the past two seasons, that was quite an impressive feat.

The Jets finished the four-game series with three goals (two from Ehlers’ unit, one from Blake Wheeler’s unit) in 10 opportunities and that 30 per cent efficiency leaves them fourth in the NHL so far.

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The Canadiens were 3-for-19 against the Maple Leafs (15.8 per cent), with Corey Perry supplying the game-winning goal in the series clincher on the man-advantage.

Speaking of special teams, the Canadiens got an important shorthanded marker from Paul Byron that proved to be the game-winner in the series opener.

Montreal Canadiens’ Ben Chiarot (8) celebrates with teammate Joel Armia after scoring during overtime NHL hockey action against the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.

Familiarity factor

Jets centre Nate Thompson spent parts of two seasons with the Canadiens before he was dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers at the NHL trade deadline in 2020.

Although the coaching staff has changed since Dom Ducharme took over for Claude Julien, Thompson still has players he’s close with on the Canadiens.

The Canadiens roster also includes a couple of former Jets in defenceman Ben Chiarot and winger Joel Armia.

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Chiarot signed as a free agent with the Canadiens in the summer of 2019 and has been logging big minutes on the top pairing with captain Shea Weber.

Armia, who was traded to the Canadiens in the summer of 2018, scored a pair of goals for Montreal in Game 5 against the Maple Leafs and recorded four points in seven games.

The Canadiens’ defence corps also includes Brandon product Joel Edmundson, who helped the St. Louis Blues capture the Stanley Cup in 2019.

Read more: Winnipeg Jets celebrate 10 years since returning to Manitoba

The prediction

Nobody had the Jets earning a series sweep, but I did pick the Jets to upset the Oilers in the opening round.

And while the Jets will be shedding the underdog label against the Canadiens, the crystal ball — albeit a bit cloudy — believes Winnipeg will claim the North Division crown and advance to the Final Four in six games.

Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and is a regular contributor to CJOB.

Click to play video: 'Economic impact of Winnipeg Jets return to Manitoba' Economic impact of Winnipeg Jets return to Manitoba
Economic impact of Winnipeg Jets return to Manitoba – May 31, 2021

 

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