The Winnipeg Jets host the St. Louis Blues at Bell MTS Place in Game 1 of their first-round NHL playoff series on Wednesday night (8 pm EST). As the 2nd and 3rd ranked teams in the Central Division, the Blues and Jets ended the season with the same number of points despite a lopsided head-to-head record.
The Blues and Jets finished the season with 99 points each, one behind the division-leading Nashville Predators. However, the Jets edged out their first-round foes with 47 wins and 272 goals for, compared to the Blues’ impressive 45 wins and 247 goals for. Both had a similar goal differential at +28 (Jets) and +24 (Blues) but the Jets won three of the four season matchups, outscoring the Blues 18-10.
The Jets have an A-List roster with Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers in their forward group and Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey on defense. The team is largely the same as in 2017-18 when they reached the Western Conference Final and while they’re not as strong as they were last season, they still have the speed and strength to keep up with any team in the West. They also have Connor Hellebuyck in nets, last year’s Vezina Trophy runner up.
For their part, the Blues were a pleasant surprise this season. Counted out early, they put together a solid second half to return to the playoffs after missing them last season. With Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron having outstanding seasons and taking some of the pressure of All-Star Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn, the team has come together after a busy off-season of filling holes.
With Craig Berube appointed to the bench in November, who preaches a defense-first system led by top defensemen, Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, the Blues can stifle shots at will. It also helps that their best player is goaltender Jordan Binnington whose second-half heroics are the reason the Blues surged into a playoff berth.
It will be tough for the Blues to get past the Jets in this round. The Jets will be looking to redeem themselves after a 4-1 series loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in last season’s Western Conference Final, and they have enough power up front and on defense to get there. It’s taken a few seasons for the Blues to find their footing and without a strong second half and a star-turn from Binnington, they wouldn’t even be in the playoffs. Still, if Binnington is unfazed by the playoff pressure, they could make a series of it.
Prediction: Winnipeg Jets in six.
Here is the full St. Louis Blues vs. Winnipeg Jets First Round Playoff schedule:
Game 1: Blues @ Jets, Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2019 at Bell MTS Place, 7 pm
Game 2: Blues @ Jets, Friday, Apr. 12, 2019 at Bell MTS Place, 8:30 pm
Game 3: Jets @ Blues, Sunday, Apr. 14, 2019 at Enterprise Center, 6:30 pm
Game 4: Jets @ Blues, Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2019 at Enterprise Center, 8:30 pm
*Game 5: Blues @ Jets, Thursday, Apr. 18, 2019 at Bell MTS Place, TBD
*Game 6: Jets @ Blues, Saturday, Apr. 20, 2019 at Enterprise Center, TBD
*Game 7: Blues @ Jets, Monday, Apr. 22, 2019 at Bell MTS Place, TBD
* if necessary