The Winnipeg Jets suffered their first defeat of the playoffs Wednesday night in a 5-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. However, their biggest loss of the night wasn’t on the scoreboard.
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg’s leading scorer in the regular season (21 goals, 42 assists), charged the length of the ice to hit Jake Evans while the Canadien was wrapping around from behind the net to score an empty-net goal. Scheifele was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for charging, and had a hearing for the hit on Thursday.
After the hearing, the Department of Player Safety suspended Scheifele for four games. Without Scheifele, the whole complexion of the series may be different, and Winnipeg could be in trouble.
Where Are Things Now?
Winnipeg has turned Game Two into a virtual must-win. Teams who start a best-of-seven series 1-0 have an all-time record of 496-224 (68.9%); however, teams that go up 2-0 in the series are 334-51 (86.7%). If the Jets hope to avoid that 13.3% outlook, a win Friday is a must.
So what does that mean for the roster? It likely means Pierre-Luc Dubois moves into the top-line center spot and the rest of the lineup adjusts around that. This could also mean Andrew Copp takes the second-line center role, and a winger moves up in the rotation. While a significant piece to the Jets’ center depth will be out, Dubois, Copp, Adam Lowry, and Nate Thompson are still formidable up the middle.
Playing at home does offer a slight advantage as fans return to the stands. Though not a massive crowd, the Jets will allow 500 fully vaccinated health care workers to attend Game Two, as they did for Game One. But, of course, any crowd noise at home is a good thing, so Winnipeg must take advantage, especially as Montreal is allowing 2,500 fans in the stands.
What Does the Path to the Cup Look Like?
If Winnipeg rallies to win the series, they would take on the Colorado/Vegas series winner. The Jets finished 19 points behind the Avalanche and Golden Knights in a regular season, so it would be a difficult task to undertake.
So despite the drama that took over Game 1, there is still hockey to be played, and the teams will be focusing on that moving forward. “We’re not worried about any targets or whatever they’re saying in the media. We’re worried about going and winning Game 2. It’s a big f—ing game for us.” said Winnipeg Jets center Andrew Copp.
However, if Winnipeg can get continued excellence between the pipes from Connor Hellebuyck, they would give themselves a much better chance of slowing either Vegas or Colorado.
With Montreal up 1-0 in the series, the online betting odds have swung back to the Canadiens’ favor. Montreal is -210 to win the series, while the Jets are +175.
Furthermore, the Jets are listed by the online sportsbook at +2000 to win the Stanley Cup. Though it wouldn’t be easy, Winnipeg has the offensive star power and talented goaltending capable of carrying a team deep in the playoffs.
Ultimately, whichever team takes Game Two will likely go on to win the series. If Winnipeg wins, especially without Scheifele, they can prove Game One was a fluke and that they are in charge of the rest of the series. But if Montreal wins, the Jets’ chances are all but over.