If you’re a schedule analysis dork such as myself, the Winnipeg Jets’ rush back into the Southeast Division/Eastern Conference playoff picture is far from a shocker.
Even with that in mind, the Jets’ 7-0 thrashing of the Southeast-leading Florida Panthers was far from expected.
For the most part, this scrappy bunch is making the most out of an eight-game home stand that carried almost as many challenges as it did advantages,* but this win should be the centerpiece. Winnipeg carried a 2-0 lead into the third period. Rather than sitting on the lead, the Jets scored five more goals as they chased Jose Theodore and then beat Scott Clemmensen three times on just eight shots.
(In other words … it wasn’t all Theo’s fault.)
Southeast race is still most likely Florida vs. Washington
The Panthers shouldn’t freak too much because they still have a pretty cozy Southeast Division lead. Florida has two more points and three games in hand on the Jets, although Winnipeg has a slight edge in plain-old wins (31 to 30) and regulation/OT ones (27 to 26).
The Jets’ greater chances for a stunning playoff run obviously come in merely getting one of the bottom seeds – even if the Southeast is by no means out of the question. They bumped the Washington Capitals out of the top eight because the Jets have 70 points to Washington’s 69.
The Capitals still “control their destiny” (to use an NFL playoff term that bothers many, which makes it extra-delightful) however, as Washington has 19 games remaining vs. Winnipeg’s 16. The Capitals also have more standard wins (32 to 31) and significantly more regulation/OT ones (31 to 27), so the Caps hold tie-breaker advantages.
Give the Jets plenty of credit for taking advantage of an opportunity to move back into serious contention, but their home stand is about to end with a Monday match against the enigmatic Buffalo Sabres. After that, they’ll play two road games, three home games and then three more contests away from Winnipeg.
Overall, the Jets have just seven games left in Winnipeg versus nine on the road (where they’re an unsettling 11-18-3).
Looking at the Southeast picture, the Jets and Capitals face remarkably similar situations since they’re up-and-down teams who are highly dependent on home ice. The Panthers have been a little more balanced (15-8-8 at home; 15-13-4 on the road) and that might ultimately determine the division champion.
Still, considering the fact that countless people wrote that Winnipeg fans would likely accept a horrible team just to get an NHL team back, it’s a heck of a story that they have a real shot to make the playoffs – and maybe take the Southeast.
* – The homestand began with a game against the Boston Bruins, included an OT loss against the formidable Philadelphia Flyers and a shootout loss against the St. Louis Blues. The only true letdown so far was a 5-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.