It’s Easy, Big Buff Just Lost His Mind

Tuesday night, in the heat of battle, Dustin Byfuglien lost his mind. In fact, that should be his defense on Thursday.

He can chalk it up to the heat of the moment. Fans who know him will say that it’s part of the personality of the biggest and toughest hombre in the Winnipeg Jets lineup. Hell, there are some out there who might even say Big Buff was just finishing his check.

The Big Buff screen shot from YouTube.

The Big Buff screen shot from YouTube.

Say what you will, it’s very likely that Byfuglien is going to be suspended for at least two games and possibly three or more On Thursday because of a nasty cross-check and that isn’t going to sit well with a coaching staff and a hockey team just barely holding on to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

On Tuesday night at MTS Centre, in the second period of the Jets match-up with the visiting New York Rangers, Byfuglien — who not only weighs about 265 pounds but is also as strong as a bear — cross-checked the Rangers J.T. Miller right on the back of the neck. While he was laying on the ice. There was no penalty called on the play (always remember, NHL referees don’t officiate hockey games, they manage them), but the video is ugly.

On Thursday, Byfuglien will have a telephone hearing with the NHL’s Senior Vice-President of Player Safety, former Winnipeg Jets defenseman Stephane Quintal, and that almost guarantees that Byfuglien will be suspended between two and five games.

Byfuglien could not have picked a worse time to lay a lickin’ on a smaller guy with his back to him.

“Violent, deliberate, he could have broken his neck,” said Rangers coach (and former Manitoba Moose head coach) Alain Vigneault. “It was one of the most vicious cross-checks I’ve seen this year.”

With the Jets holding on to a two-point lead over the tired-looking, but still defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, losing Byfuglien for more than a game could be devastating. That’s not to say the Jets can’t win without him. They’ve certainly won without him already this year. But as head coach Paul Maurice has made clear, at this stage of the season, it has to be all hands on deck.

Dustin Byfuglien's intensity. (Photo by Jeff Miller)

Dustin Byfuglien’s intensity. (Photo by Jeff Miller)

If you look at the replay closely, as Quintal already has, there was absolutely no reason for Byfuglien to do what he did. Miller was on the ice trying to get up. He wasn’t in the play and he wasn’t a threat to be in the play. Byfuglien will be suspended, the only question is for how long.

The Jets have five games remaining this season. They play the Vancouver Canucks this Saturday at MTS Centre, then they go on a three-game road trip to Minnesota, St. Louis and Colorado and then they’ll finish the season against Calgary at home next Saturday, April 11. It was claimed by TSN nationally yesterday that, “These are undoubtedly the most important games the Jets have played since the team moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg in 2011.”

That might be true.

Working in Byfuglien’s favour is the fact he has never been suspended during his 10-year NHL career with Chicago, Atlanta, and Winnipeg. What is working against him is the video and the outcry from around the league.

Expect Byfuglien to be out for the games against Vancouver, and Minnesota and, maybe, St. Louis. Hopefully not more. Regardless of the suspension, it will be time for the rest of the Jets D to step up without their emotional leader.



Kreider’s late Goal Seals it for Rangers

Speed kills and on Tuesday night, it put a dagger through the heart of the Winnipeg Jets.

With 3:46 left in regulation time, the New York Rangers’ speedy Chris Kreider took a beautiful pass from linemate J.T. Miller, blew past Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and deked Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec for the winning goal in a 3-2 Rangers victory. It was the only time the Rangers led all night.

Henrik Lundqvist was just too good (Photo by Jeff Miller)

Henrik Lundqvist was just too good (Photo by Jeff Miller)

In a game the Jets absolutely, positively had to win, they simply couldn’t find a way to solve the Rangers brilliant Henrik Lundqvist in the third period and, as a result, lost their second straight game by giving up a goal late in the contest.

“He (Lundqvist) was good,” said Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba. “We had some chances, some good opportunities, but we just couldn’t score. They’re one of the best teams in the league. They have some big, skilled forwards. It was a tough game. We just have to keep moving forward. The next game with Vancouver is just as big as this one was.”

“This one” was the second heartbreaker in as many games for the Jets. They fell to Chicago on Sunday night as Jonathan Toews scored the winning goal with 31 seconds left to play in regulation time. It’s a loss that never should have been a loss.

And neither should this one.

On Tuesday, the Jets won almost all the individual battles. The Jets outshot the Rangers 34-24 (Winnipeg outshot New York 16-9 in the first period). The Jets had territorial control from almost start to finish. The Jets were stronger on the puck, provided more puck support and won just about every statistical battle. This was a game the Jets were determined to win.

Dustin Byfuglien shows Jets determination (Photo by Jeff Miller)

Dustin Byfuglien shows Jets determination (Photo by Jeff Miller)

But they didn’t. They outhit New York 19-14, won 56 percent of the faceoffs, and fired 73 shots toward the Rangers goal (the Rangers blocked 24 shots) and just couldn’t beat Lundqvist enough times to pull back ahead of Calgary and into seventh in the West.

Despite the loss, the Jets remained in eighth place in the Western Conference with a record of 39-26-12. With 90 points, the Jets are still two points ahead of the ninth-place Los Angeles Kings. Winnipeg has five games remaining while the Kings have six. The Kings play host to Edmonton on Thursday night, the Jets play again on Saturday night at MTS Centre against the Vancouver Canucks.

“We came out a little bit slow tonight but as the game went on, I thought we played pretty well,” said Trouba. “We lost a tough one at the end. We’re just going to have to re-group and be ready to play against Vancouver on Saturday.”

In the first period, this looked like the Jets night. Winnipeg opened the scoring at 3:16 of the first frame as Jim Slater scored his fourth of the year by outworking the Rangers defense. But New York tied it at 9:42 as Mats Zuccarello scored his 15th.

The Jets took a 2-1 lead on a beautiful shot by Lee Stempniak, but the Rangers came back and tied it again as Derick Brassard beat Ondrej Pavelec on the short side simply because Rick Nash had Pavelec so screened, the goalie had no idea where the puck was.

Lundqvist was the difference (Photo by jeff Miller)

Lundqvist was the difference (Photo by jeff Miller)

Brassard’s goal came on the power play, the only special teams goal of the night. The Rangers were one-for-three with the man advantage while the Jets were zero-for-two and did not register a shot on goal.

The Brassard tally set the stage for an exciting third period, a period dominated by the Jets but won on a tremendous goal by Kreider.

“We didn’t get an opportunity to come back after they scored in the third,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice in a very brief post-game news conference. “It was just too tough to move the puck through the neutral zone. With three and a half minutes left, we just didn’t have enough time to re-group.”

They’d better re-group this week.

The Jets will now have three days off before closing out the final game of this four-game homestand on Saturday afternoon against the Canucks.

Winnipeg will play only two of its final five games at home – Saturday against Vancouver and then again on Saturday, April 11 against Calgary. This Saturday’s game is scheduled for 2 p.m. It’s on TSN3.



Norris Trophy Race Wide Open

It has been said, and rightly so, by the people who know these things, that the toughest position in the game of hockey in which to become proficient is defense.

It’s hard to be good and the experts have long said that it’s even harder for young players to be good.

2014 Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith.

2014 Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith.

But that was in the old days. Today, the best defensemen in hockey are, more often than not, 25 or younger – Drew Doughty and P.K. Subban are 25, Dougie Hamilton is 21, Nick Leddy, Erik Karlsson, Travis Hamonic and Roman Josi are 24 and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is just 23. Playing defense at a high level in the NHL isn’t for old men anymore.

However, as we sit down to select our 2015 Norris Trophy winner, we like a lot of the veterans. The Norris Trophy is handed out each year to the best defenseman in the NHL and it’s difficult for so many good players to impress the voters. After all, the voters are members of the Hockey Writers’ Association and most of those guys have never put on a pair of skates, let alone played an actual game. To impress them, you have to stand out, and in many cases, you need to have an elite reputation.

This year is one of the toughest seasons in recent memory to impress any voter. The list of outstanding defensemen has never been longer. Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang has been outstanding, but a late-season concussion might have derailed his Norris Trophy dream. Ryan Suter is obviously happy to be playing in the Twin Cities and he’s logging almost 30 minutes a night. And Shea Weber has been truly sensational on a truly outstanding team in Nashville.

There have been a boatload of defensemen who have been impressive this season. In fact, this is a wide-ranging group: Suter, Weber, Subban and Doughty are earning every penny of their big contracts while Dustin Byfuglien, the 270-pound monster on the Winnipeg Jets defense (he’s played a lot of right wing, too), has made some remarkable plays and has almost single-handedly won three or four games for a Jets team that’s battling for its playoff life.

Must admit, we’ve been impressed with a number of great NHL defensemen this season, but here are the 11 players we believe should be considered for the 2015 Norris Trophy (in order):

Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

THE TOP FIVE

  1. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: According to Toronto Maple Leafs professional scout Mike Penny, “the best, most consistent defenseman I’ve watched all season is Weber.” We would agree. The Predators have 47 wins and 102 points for a lot of reasons. The biggest? They’ve allowed only 188 goals. A lot of that has to do with goaltender Pekka Rinne, but it also has to do with a solid defense that includes Weber and young stars Seth Jones and Roman Josi. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound 29-year-old Weber has 15 goals and 30 assists and is plus 15 in 75 games. He also averages more than 26 minutes a game. He’s our No. 1 choice.
  2. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens: One of the best skaters and most productive offensive defensemen in the game today, Subban won the Norris Trophy during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Tied with Kris Letang at fourth in scoring among defensemen this season, this 6-foot-, 210-pound product of the Toronto minor hockey system has become a better defensive player with every season he’s played in the NHL. He has 14 goals and 54 points and is a rock solid plus 18. He’s fourth in the NHL in power-play goals with seven and is averaging more than 26 minutes per game (Subban has never averaged as many as 25 minutes per game in the NHL). Just 25, Subban is a better player today than he was in 2013 when he won the Norris Trophy.
  3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: The past five Norris Trophy winners have finished either first or second among defensemen in scoring — three times the winner led all defensemen in points (Duncan Keith in 2013-14, P.K. Subban in 2012-13, and Karlsson in 2011-12). Obviously, scoring makes a huge difference. Right now the 6-foot-, 180-pound Karlsson leads the NHL in scoring among defensemen with 20 goals (first) and 61 points (first). He is a gifted offensive player, but the reason we like Weber at No. 1 and Karlsson at No. 3 is that Weber has made a good team in Nashville one of the best teams in the game whille Karlsson and his Senators might not make the playoffs.
  4. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings: Doughty has had a terrific season, but like the rest of the Los Angeles Kings, he has nights when he looks tired. Of course, that might have to do with the fact he’s likely going to play more total minutes than any defenseman in the NHL this season after carrying the Kings to the 2014 Stanley Cup last spring. He’s played a lot of hockey in the past year. Good thing he’s young. Doughty has five goals and 36 assists and is plus three on a team that is only plus nine overall. It’s been a long, hard season and with six games left, Doughty and the Kings might not make the playoffs. Regardless, he’s been terrific all season.5.
  5. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks: The Norris Trophy winner in 2010 when he led the Hawks to a Stanley Cup and in 2014 when he was simply the best in the game, Keith has once again been very good this season. He has nine goals and 35 assists in 75 games and is a solid plus 12. This year, playing on defense on one of the best teams in hockey (the Hawks have 98 points with six games to play), Keith has been a rock, while averaging about 23 minutes a game. At 31, he’s still among the very best defensemen in the NHL.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins.

THE SECOND FIVE

  1. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: The 27-year-old from Montreal was having a remarkable campaign, but then he suffered a concussion and he fell on our Norris Trophy list from first in February to sixth in late March. He has 11 goals and 54 points and is tied with Subban for fourth in scoring among defensemen. He’s 6-foot-, 200-pounds and was a third round draft pick (62nd overall) of the Penguins in 2005 who has developed into one of the best players in the game. Up until his injury, he was playing 26-27 minutes a game and is a plus-12 on one of the best teams in hockey. When you are one of the best players on one of the best teams, you’re pretty good. Before his concussion, Letang had my No. 1 vote for this year’s Norris Trophy.
  2. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild: He got the big contract from Minnesota a couple of years ago and, for a while, the experts wondered aloud if he would respond with a vengeance or a whimper. Chalk one up for vengeance. Suter’s Wild have become one of the best teams in the NHL, thanks in no small way to the play of goalie Devan Dubnyk — and the defense. A former first-round draft pick of the Nashville Predators, Suter has two goals and 34 assists in 72 games and is currently averaging almost 30 minutes a game, among the highest TOI in the NHL.
  1. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets: Big, strong, fast and exciting, Byfuglien used to be a power forward and then moved to defense after he left the Chicago Blackhawks – the year after Chicago won a Stanley Cup. He is all of 6-foot-5, 268-pounds and was an eighth-round draft pick out of the WHL’s Prince George Cougars in 2003. He has developed into what one Eastern Conference scout called, “the most exciting player in the NHL.” He can rush the puck, has a huge shot and is not afraid to spend entire shifts behind the opposition’s net. He has 18 goals and 27 assists, three game-winning goals and five power-play goals and on seven occasions has either set up the winning goal or scored it. The guy can play, but because he’s in Winnipeg – even though the Jets are in a huge Western Conference playoff race – he won’t ever get the votes from the Eastern writers that are necessary to win a major NHL award.
  1. Travis Hamonic/Nick Leddy, New York Islanders: Both of these young Islanders’ defensemen have been good for different reasons. Chicago Blackhawks Senior Advisor to Hockey Operations, Scotty Bowman, calls Hamonic, “Maybe the most under-rated defenseman in the NHL. He’s a leader on an Islanders team that has really improved. He’s not offensively gifted, but he can get the puck out of his own end quickly, can make good plays, passes well, is a great skater and has a big shot. He’s one of the most important players on that team.” He has five goals and 26 assists but it’s what he does in his own end that counts. He’s become a huge shot blocker and is one of the most devastating hitters in the league. He also plays 23 minutes a night. Leddy is an offensive minded defenseman who has 10 goals and 31 points in 73 games. He’s a plus 14 and plays 22-23 minutes a night. Together, they give the Islanders their best one-two defensive punch since the glory days of the early 1980s.
  1. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks: It hasn’t been a great year for the Sharks, but it’s been a superb year for Burns. He averages more than 24 minutes a night and is second in scoring among defensemen in the NHL with 16 goals and 56 points. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder from Barrie, Ont., has been one of the best players in the league this season despite the fact his highly-regarded Sharks team will miss the playoffs.
Dustin Byfuglien,  Winnipeg Jets (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

HONORABLE MENTION:

Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues; Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers; Jake Muzzin, Los Angeles Kings; Roman Josi, Nashville Predators; John Carlson, Washington Capitals; Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes; Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings; Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins; Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens; Anton Stralman, Tampa Bay Lightning; Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames.



Toews Scores Winner as Hawks Come Back to Beat Jets

Jonathan Toews came home on Sunday night and scored the winning goal. Nobody loves playing in front of the home crowd more than the guy they call Capt. Serious.

“I always have plenty of friends and family here so it’s an exciting place to play for me,” said Toews after he and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-3. “It’s nice to get the winner anytime. It was great tonight.”

The Hawks celebrate a winner (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

The Hawks celebrate a winner (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Toews deflected a shot from the point off the stick of Niklas Hjalmarsson at 19:29 of the third period to cap a third period Hawks comeback and hand the Jets only their second regulation loss at home since Jan. 13.

“It was big considering the difference it makes,” Toews added. “Getting two points instead of just one more than them. It was a big game for both teams, so it was nice to scrape our way back into that one and find a way to win at the end there.

“I think we did a lot of good things, and we made a few mistakes that ended up in the back of our net. But for the most part, we didn’t give up much. So I think all four lines brought a lot tonight.”

It was a heartbreaking loss for the Jets. It was especially heartbreaking because Toews’ winner came only 31 seconds from the end of regulation time – and what would have been a guaranteed point.

“I thought we played a pretty good game, an up-tempo game,” said the Jets’ Adam Lowry, who turned 22 on Sunday. “To lose in the last minute really stings, but we’d better forget it quickly because we have the New York Rangers coming in on Tuesday.”

Toews was always around the net (Photo by James Carey Lauder).

Toews was always around the net (Photo by James Carey Lauder).

The Jets took a 3-2 lead into the third period on a pair of goals by Dustin Byfuglien, his 17th and 18th of the year, and Blake Wheeler’s 25th. Byfuglien’s second goal came on the power play with just 26 seconds remaining in the second period.

However, in the third period, Patrick Sharp tied the game at 6:27 as he went in on a breakaway and beat Ondrej Pavelec with a near-perfect shot to the glove side. Sharp got the breakaway because Jets defenseman Toby Enstrom got his stick tangled up in a linesman’s skate and then fell to the ice while trying to corral the loose puck.

“It was a pretty even game throughout,” said Lowry. “We had some good chances and they had some good chances, but we got a bad break when Toby lost his stick and Patrick Sharp went in and scored to tie it and then we lost on a deflected shot from the point. Losing like that is pretty tough to take, but credit the Blackhawks. They played a pretty good road game.”

The Jets outshot Chicago 34-24 and essentially had territorial control throughout the game. In the end, however, Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford was just better than the Jets Ondrej Pavelec, who had his six-game winning streak stopped. The Jets have now won six of eight, but Sunday night’s loss really stung.

“It’s a tough loss,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice quietly. “You’re not taking away any of the pain or frustration by anything you say today, so we’ll talk in the morning. (The play with Enstrom) is like an injury. You’re mad about it when happens, but there isn’t anything you can do about it. I’m sure the linesman feels worse than anybody in the building.

“It was a tough loss for us. We’ll deal with it tomorrow and we’ll be done with it by the time we hit the ice tomorrow.”

Winnipeg's own Jonathan Toews was the Hawks hero (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Winnipeg’s own Jonathan Toews was the Hawks hero (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Andrew Ladd didn’t score a goal but he did dish out his 36th and 37th assists of the season. Ladd now has 61 points on the campaign. With an assist, Drew Stafford now has a nine-game points streak. During that streak, he has four goals and seven assists.

However, with the loss, the 39-25-12 Jets remained in seventh place in the West, one point ahead of eighth-place Calgary, 5-2 winners in Nashville (Brandon’s Michael Ferland scored the winning goal for the Flames). Both teams have six games remaining. The Los Angeles Kings are ninth with 88 points, two back of Winnipeg. The Kings have seven games left this season.

“We’d better forget that loss and be ready to play on Tuesday,” said Lowry. “That’s a good New York Rangers team coming in here, but we’ve been a pretty resilient bunch all season long. We just to come out and play our best again on Tuesday night.”

Tuesday’s game against the Rangers begins at 7 p.m. It’s on TSN3.



The Price is Right

Montreal’s Carey Price will win the 2015 Hart Trophy as the National Hockey League’s Most Valuable Player, but there are others that deserve votes.

 There is little doubt about it. Saturday night, the Montreal Canadiens clinched a playoff spot and with it, goaltender Carey Price locked up the Hart Trophy.

Carey Price is a lock for MVP

Carey Price is a lock for MVP

According to the NHL, “The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association in all NHL cities at the end of the regular season.”

Wayne Gretzky won the award a record nine times during his career, including eight in a row from 1980-87. Players from the Montreal Canadiens have won the award 16 times; players from Boston Bruins are second with 12 winners.

I’m an old school guy. I believe that goaltenders have their own trophy. The best goalie in the league gets the Vezina Trophy and that should be it. Just like baseball’s Cy Young Award. Pitchers have an award, they shouldn’t be MVP.

Then a guy has a campaign like Carey Price has had this season and the argument ends. The Smurf-like Canadiens should not have clinched a playoff spot on Saturday, should not have 102 points with six games to play and should not be first in the East.

But then Carey Price comes along, stops everything and allows the fast and talented Canadiens to do what they need to do on offense because they don’t have to worry about what’s going on behind them.

Check out these numbers: A won-lost record of 41-15-5 in 61 games. A .937 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.88. The Canadiens are in the bottom half of shots on goal and shots toward the goal, and yet they have 47 wins and 102 points. That’s all because of Carey Price.

He has been the media leader all season and he’s still the leader as we enter the final two weeks of the season. Amazingly, Price will be the first goalie to win the Hart Trophy since Jose Theodore, also a member of the Canadiens (Theodore actually tied in the voting with Jarome Iginla that year, but Theodore had more first-place votes), took home the Hart in 2002.

Devan Dubnyk. Your Runner-Up.

Devan Dubnyk. Your Runner-Up.

Listen, Price is going to be named NHL MVP. The voting won’t even be close. But five other players should be given some recognition, if not a first-place vote or two.

  1. Devan Dubnyk, G, Minnesota Wild: The Minnesota Wild acquired the journeyman goaltender on Jan. 15 from Arizona and he has completely turned around the fortunes of his team. The Wild were 12th in the Western Conference when Dubnyk was acquired. They are now fourth and pretty much have a lock on the playoffs. He has made a Wild-record 34 consecutive starts and is 26-6-1 with Minnesota. He has a .939 save percentage and a 1.70 goals against average. He has allowed 57 goals (Total) in 34 games. He has won five straight starts, allowing only eight goals. Saturday night he beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-1. It was his second straight win in a back-to-back situation. He is 8-1-1 in back-to-back games since joining the Wild. If you aren’t going to designate Price as your first-place vote-getter, you must designate Dubnyk. He’s the clear choice as runner-up and yes, he’s another goalie.
  2. Rick Nash, C, New York Rangers: He has 40 goals and 25 assists in 73 games and is a plus 27. The Rangers are where they are in the standings (47 wins, 101 points, second in the East), despite having All-World goalie Henrik Lundqvist for only 40 games this season, because their 6-foot-4 power forward has played the best hockey of what is a terrific career.
  3. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks: When superstar Patrick Kane (who is still the team’s leading scorer, despite going down in Game 61) was injured everyone thought the Blackhawks were toast. But the team’s captain picked the cub up on his shoulders and carried it. Toews has 24 goals and 37 assists (is second in scoring to Kane) and has six goals, six assists and is a plus seven since Kane was injured 13 games ago. He logs about 19 minutes of icetime a game and has been the team’s best player for more than a month down the stretch.
  4. Alexander Ovechkin, RW, Washington Capitals: Ovie has 48 goals and will probably get to 50. He’s also the major reason why the Washington Capitals will make the playoffs. He leads the league in goals and is fourth in points. He’s been the Ovechkin that everyone thinks he is this season. Without him, Washington wouldn’t be close to the post-season.
  5. Shea Weber, D, Nashville Predators: The Predators have 47 wins and 102 points for a lot of reasons. The biggest? They’ve allowed only 183 goals. A lot of that has to do with goaltender Pekka Rinne, but it also has to do with a solid defense. And the leader on that defense is Weber, the likely No. 1 candidate for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound 29-year-old has 15 goals and 30 assists and is plus 15. He also averages more than 24 minutes a game.

Honorable Mention: Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Anaheim; Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay; Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg; Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen, St. Louis; Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver; and Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh.

Rick Nash

Rick Nash



Jets Blast Habs 5-2, Playoffs in Sight

Despite some interesting statistics, the Winnipeg Jets were just too good for a team that might win the President’s Trophy.

On Thursday night at MTS Centre, another full house gave the Jets a standing ovation as the home side drilled the visiting Montreal Canadiens 5-2.

Ondrej Pavelec gets the shutout.

Ondrej Pavelec gets his sixth straight win.

The Jets were clearly the better team. Sure, the Habs put up some big shot numbers in the first period. A 20-5 difference in shots is significant. But Ondrej Pavelec was rock solid once again as he made 39 saves to record his sixth straight victory.

“I think we definitely got better as the game went on,” said Jets winger Adam Lowry who scored his 10th goal, in this his rookie season. “You don’t want to be outshot the way we were in the first period, but kudos to Pavs, he was sensational tonight. We weren’t ready to start. We were a little sluggish. But as the second period started we got more physical, forced some turnovers and gave ourselves a few more chances in the final 40 minutes.

“Every game at this time of the year is super important for every team. With where they’re (Canadiens) standing, fighting for first in the league, we knew they’d come in hard, but we got a lot better in the second and third periods. We were a lot more physical, had more jump and created a lot more opportunities for ourselves.”

It was a huge win by the Jets and sure, you might figure that because the Canadiens had the territorial advantage and outshot the Jets by a wide margin, 41-22, that they should have won the hockey game.

Not so fast.

The Jets took advantage of their best scoring chances and made a mockery of Dustin Tokarski’s return to the centre of Canada. Tokarski had plenty of family and friends in town from Saskatchewan and they did not go home happy.

Dustin Byfuglien, back from a three-week absence, put the Jets on the board first with his 16th goal of the season. Despite being outshot 20-5 in that opening period, the Jets skated out of the first 20 minutes with a 1-0 advantage.

The Jets' Mark Stuart shuts down Winnipeg's own Dale Weise (Photo by Jeff Miller)

The Jets’ Mark Stuart shuts down Winnipeg’s own Dale Weise (Photo by Jeff Miller)

At 6:05 of the second period, Mark Scheifele scored a picture goal (his 14th) to give the Jets a 2-0 lead, but the Canadiens made it 2-1 on a goal by Andrei Markov just 41 seconds later.

But the comeback was very short lived. Jim Slater scored his third of the year on a deflection off his skate at 9:13 and then Blake Wheeler, with his 24th of the year, at 19 minutes, put the game away.

The Habs Brendan Gallagher scored at 11:37 of the third period, but just 45 seconds later, at 12:22, Lowry scored to make it 5-2 and the rest was just a formality.

With the loss, the Habs fell to 46-21-8 on the season, one point behind Anaheim and the New York Rangers, both winners on Thursday night.

The victory was gigantic for the Jets. Minnesota is still fifth with 91 points (eight games remaining) and Vancouver is officially sixth with 90 points (nine games remaining), but the Jets are still seventh with 90 points (seven games remaining) and a record of 39-24-12.

Los Angeles beat the New York Islanders 3-2 on Thursday so the Kings moved into eighth with 88 points (eight games remaining) while Calgary fell to ninth with 87 points (eight games remaining). No other teams are legitimately in the race.

Dustin Byfuglien returned from injury and scored his 16th. (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Dustin Byfuglien returned from injury and scored his 16th of the season. (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Thursday night, the Jets opened a huge four-game homestand with only their second win over the Canadiens at MS Centre. The only other victory, a 4-0 shutout, occurred way back on Dec. 22, 2011.

The Jets have suffered only one regulation loss in their last 16 home games (11-2-2) dating back to Jan. 13. Overall, the Jets are 21-11-5 at MTS Centre this season. The Jets play four of their final seven regular season games at home. The Jets now have a 71.8 percent chance of making the playoffs.

“We found a way to get better over the course of the game,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice after the Jets huge win over Montreal. “Sometimes you have to accept where you’re at and find a way to get better. I think we did that tonight.”

Next up for the Jets is Game 2 of the homestand against the Chicago Blackhawks. It goes Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m. at MTS Centre. The game can be seen on CITY TV.



The Never-Ending Saga of the Vikings And Their Prodigal Son

Adrian Peterson’s agent says the future Hall of Fame runningback doesn’t want to play for the Minnesota Vikings anymore.

Minnesota Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf says the team can’t wait to get AP “back out onto the field with his teammates.”

Adrian Peterson.

Adrian Peterson. Looking confused.

AP has a contract to play for the Vikings that will pay him $13 million next year. AP should probably put on his big boy pants, collect more money than people who are actually important and just play football in a purple uniform.

One senses, however, that the on-going saga of one of the great runningbacks in NFL history is not going to sort itself out anytime soon.

Ben Dogra, the agent for Peterson told USA Today at the NFL meetings at the Biltmore in Phoenix, that he and AP “want out of Minnesota.” Dogra and Peterson are likely quite sincere. They just aren’t very bright.

We are at this point because Peterson beat the living crap out of his four-year-old son. In the state of Texas, where the incident took place, Peterson was arrested and charged with assault. He eventually copped a plea deal and was sentenced to a form of probation after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault for using a wooden switch to discipline his boy.

From that moment forward things got complicated. He remained suspended by the NFL, the Vikings found themselves in the midst of a public relations nightmare and the team’s now CEO Kevin warren suggested publicly that Peterson’s future in Minnesota was being seriously considered.

Peterson, of course, didn’t appreciate or understand any of that, blamed the Vikings, not himself or the NFL for his problems, and has decided that he’d rather play elsewhere. It should be noted that he wasn’t charged in Minnesota nor did he have his day in court in Minnesota. It should also be noted that the league, not the Vikings, suspended him. Heck, the Vikings tried to reinstate him a week after he’d been charged with child abuse.

Still, in the minds of Dogra and Peterson, the runningback was somehow not given complete support by the football club and therefore he feels it’s time to go. One of the places he wants to go is Dallas. That’s in the state that charged him and forced him into court and ultimately a conviction in the court of public opinion, but apparently that’s OK for Dogra and Peterson. Something doesn’t add up here.

Fact is, Dogra recently told ESPN: “I don’t think it’s in Adrian’s best interest to play in Minnesota. Why would it be?”

I can think of plenty of reasons why but obviously the Peterson Camp isn’t listening to anyone.

Then again, the Peterson camp has no real control over its immediate future. AP is under contract to the Vikings until 2017. All Dogra can do is whine loudly about Adrian having no desire to play in Minnesota and hope the Vikings trade him.

Adrian Peterson is one of the game's greatest backs. Headed for the Hall. Too bad he just can't stop whining and just play.

Adrian Peterson is one of the game’s greatest backs. Headed for the Hall. Too bad he and his agent (mostly his agent) can’t stop belly-aching.

They should trade him to Oakland or Jacksonville. A couple of three-win seasons with no offensive line in front of him might let him know how great he had it in Minnesota.

Coach Mike Zimmer, general manager Rick Spielman and the Wilfs have made it very clear, at least publicly, that they want Peterson to play for the Vikings in 2015. They believe, as most fans have, that Peterson did his time and paid his debt to society and he should return to “his” team.

In fact, it has become apparent over the past few days that the Vikings brass is not going to cut Peterson and they don’t seem to be in any hurry to trade him.

“Adrian is a member of our football team. He is under contract,” Spielman told ESPN.com. “We are focused on the 2015 season and expect Adrian to be a part of that. Our whole focus is getting ready for the season with Adrian.”

With Peterson, the Vikings should be pretty good in 2015. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater proved he could handle the daily grind and constant pressure of the NFL, the club acquired wide receiver Mike Wallace, they re-signed Matt Asiata and signed RB DuJuan Harris. Otherwise, they didn’t lose anyone deemed to be important and should be reasonably stable heading into camp.

So as the Peterson camp whines and struts around like a pair of eight-year-olds, the Vikings, who have all the leverage, will likely just sit back and see what happens. Either someone is going to make an offer that Spielman can’t refuse or Peterson is going to be a Viking. I just don’t see a 30-year-old runningback sitting out another season when he could be making $13 million while taking a few more strides toward Canton.

Then again, I’ve been wrong before when it comes to these guys. They all think their bullet proof – even at 30 – and maybe $13 million isn’t that important.

If Dogra is as smart as I suspect, then in the end, Adrian Peterson should probably just suck it up go out and have another great season in Minnesota. Of course, none of these guys is ever as smart as you’d hope.



Jets Blow 2-0 Lead in Second, Lose to Canucks

The Winnipeg Jets took a 2-0 second period lead in Vancouver on Tuesday night and it appeared as if their sixth straight win was in the bag.

But then Chris Higgins, Yannick Weber and Radim Vrbata scored three times in eight minutes and three seconds and the Jets hopes were shattered.

Chris Higgins beats Michael Hutchinson.

Chris Higgins beats Michael Hutchinson.

In the end, Winnipeg managed only six shots in the third period, couldn’t even get much pressure on Canucks goalie Eddie Lack and fell 5-2 to Vancouver in one of the biggest games of the season.

The loss certainly didn’t end the Jets playoff hopes. Quite the contrary. The Jets are still seventh in the Western Conference, two points ahead of eighth-place Calgary and ninth-place Los Angeles. However, a win last night and the hockey analysts who create these logarithms would have given Winnipeg a 91.5 per cent chance of making the playoffs. As it stands, that percentage is now 75.5. Still good, but not a lock by any stretch wit eight games remaining.

“We let the pedal off the gas,” Jets forward Jiri Tlusty told TSN 1290. “We were dominating the first period but we sat back and they (Vancouver) got some jump and it cost us the game. It can’t be a 40-minute game for us. We have to play for 60 minutes. They have a good team and they were playing at home. We knew it was going to be tight. They didn’t gave us very many chances in the third period.”

Tlusty gave the Jets a 1-0 lead at 2:17 of the first period (his first goal as a member of the Winnipeg Jets) and then Blake Wheeler made it 2-0 at 5:07 of the second. But Vancouver beat Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson at 10:57, 16:29 and 19:00 of the second period and that’s all they needed. Henrik Sedin and Vrbata, who finished with two goals and an assist, scored empty net goals in the final minute of the third period to make the score 5-2.

Jiri Tlusty scores his first goal as a Jet.

Jiri Tlusty scores his first goal as a Jet.

“Of course, it’s nice to get the first goal, but I’d rather have two points as a team,” said Tlusty. “But we have a good thing going here and we just have to move forward. It will be good to get back home to those great fans for a four-game homestand.”

Some Jets fans will want to blame Hutchinson for the loss. He gave up a couple of soft ones in that eight-minute second-period stretch, but the Jets didn’t manage much offence until late in the third period. In the end, Vancouver outshot Winnipeg 30-28 and Hutchinson made four terrific saves in the third period to keep the Jets in it.

Meanwhile, on the bight side, Wheeler now has six goals and 11 points in his last nine games while Drew Stafford pickup up an assist and now has a seven-game points streak.

With the loss, the Jets five-game winning streak was stopped. The Jets now find themselves with a record of 38-24-12 for 88 points they are now alone in seventh place in the West.

Vancouver is now alone in sixth with 90 points while the Minnesota Wild, 2-1 shootout winners on Long Island on Tuesday night, are now fifth in the West with 91 points.

Eddie Lack stops Mark Scheifele.

Eddie Lack stops Mark Scheifele.

The eighth-place Calgary Flames have 86 points, as do the ninth-place Los Angeles Kings who won 4-2 in New York on Tuesday. Winnipeg now has nine games remaining this season and is about to start a four-game homestand on Thursday night. That’s great news. The Jets have suffered only one regulation loss in its last 15 home games (11-2-2) dating back to Jan. 13. Overall, the Jets are 20-11-5 at MTS Centre this season. The Jets play five of their final eight regular season games at home.

That homestand starts on Thursday night against Montreal. Game time is 7 p.m. and it can be seen on TSN3.



Jets Keep Rolling With Fifth-Straight Win

Another win. Another two points. And for the Winnipeg Jets, the Stanley Cup playoffs just seem to get closer every night.

Monday night at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Ondrej Pavelec stopped 33 of 34 shots to lead the Jets to a 4-1 victory over the Oilers as the Jets took another giant step toward the 2015 post season. The Jets have now won five straight games and remained in sixth place in the Western Conference.

Both Toby Enstrom and Mark Scheifele logged more than 20 minutes of ice time.

Both Toby Enstrom and Mark Scheifele logged more than 20 minutes of ice time.

The Jets built a 3-0 lead after two periods. Drew Stafford opened the scoring at 7:32 of the first period then Lee Stempniak scored at 5:31 of the second and Tyler Myers tallied at 16 minutes of the second as three players the Jets acquired in February gave the Jets all they needed to improve to 38-23-12 on the season. That’s the franchise’s highest win total since the 2006-07 season.

Thanks to Monday’s quick start, the Jets are now 3-0 against Edmonton this season. Winnipeg also improved its road record to 18-12-7, just two away from the franchise record for wins on the road, a high watermark that was also set in 2006-07, the only time the Atlanta Thrashers made the playoffs.

“Quick starts have been important for us,” Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba told TSN 1290 radio. “We got that early goal and we were able to keep it going after that.”

Pavelec gave up his first goal in one hour, 38.02 seconds of icetime when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored at 1:10 of the third period, but Pavelec kept the Oilers at bay and Michael Frolik added a third-period goal as Winnipeg kept pace with Calgary, Minnesota and Los Angeles – all winners on Monday night.

The Oilers gave the Jets a game in the third period, but Pavelec was just too good. In the end, Edmonton outshot Winnipeg 34-24, but this week’s NHL First Star of the Week was too good as he won his fifth straight game (his personal high is six straight games). His save percentage during those five games is .965.

Drew Stafford opened the scoring and had another big game.

Drew Stafford opened the scoring and had another big game.

With their fifth straight victory, the Jets now find themselves with 88 points and back in a virtual tie with Vancouver for fifth in the West. However, Vancouver (42-26-4) has played one fewer game, has four more wins and seven more ROWs.

With Minnesota’s 2-1 win in Toronto on Monday, the Jets remain one point behind fifth-place Minnesota (41-25-7) while the eighth-place Calgary Flames, 3-2 winners over Colorado (With losses, both Colorado and San Jose probably spit the bit on Monday night) on Monday, trail Winnipeg by two points. Ninth-place Los Angeles, a 3-1 winner in New Jersey, is still four points behind the Jets. Winnipeg has nine games remaining this season.

“We’re definitely pleased with that victory tonight,” said Trouba who logged a team high 23 minutes and 31 seconds of icetime. “Every point is important at this time of year and we needed that win. We stayed with our game and handled them pretty well.

The Jets will complete this brief two-game road trip with another gigantic matchup on Tuesday evening (9 p.m. on Sportsnet). It’s the Jets and Canucks in Vancouver.

The next home game for Winnipeg will be this coming Thursday night against Montreal. It starts at 7 p.m. and it can be seen on TSN3. Winnipeg has suffered only one regulation loss in its last 15 home games (11-2-2) dating back to Jan. 13. Overall, the Jets are 20-11-5 at MTS Centre this season. The Jets play five of their final eight regular season games at home.



No Need to Wait for the Next Steal of a Deal!

There’s no need to wait for the next sale event! NHL, NFL, CFL, MLB, NBA, you name it; we have amazing deals on RIGHT NOW! Click to see our clearance items and shop online!

clearance-deals-feb2715