1. Winnipeg Jets
At the beginning of the year, most of us had our eyes set on the Winnipeg Jets.
Along with the Sharks, they were my favorites to make the Western Conference Finals from the very first game in October.
While this year’s regular season West Side Story has turned the final page, a new book awaits deeply in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Jets are on top of the Central Division, but it won’t come easy with the Predators lurking right behind.
However, in my mind, the offensive juggernaut of Paul Maurice’s team is what scares many Western Conference competitors.
With the superstar talent and leadership from Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and Dustin Byfuglien mixed with the promising performances from their young phenoms like Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey, Winnipeg is definitely capable of making it farther than their 2018 postseason run.
The Jets have the edge on the Sharks and here’s why.
When the San Jose Sharks took Winnipeg down twice at MTS Centre, they did so without facing a fully-healthy Jets squad that has suffered major blows on their defensive pairings.
Morrissey and Byfuglien, their top two quarterbacks for the No. 4 power play in the league, were both out at the time of those games played, and the Jets narrowly lost both games by goals that came in dramatic fashion (Pavelski’s OT winner in the first road meeting and Pavelski’s GWG with 4.3 seconds left in regulation in the final matchup).
When the playoffs roll in, the Jets, as well as the Sharks, will recover from recent setbacks and be ready for whatever comes their way.
When both teams were fully healthy in the first West Side Story showdown of the season, Ehlers’ hat trick lifted the Jets to a 5-3 victory over the Sharks at SAP Center.
On paper, the Sharks have the depth to go toe-to-toe with the Jets, it will be a gutsy, grind-it-out effort to really push past this unrelenting, offensively and defensively minded opponent.
The Western Conference is set up to be a slug fest, which will be the perfect end to a turbulent regular season for the San Jose Sharks.