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JOCKEYING FOR POSITION: Race coming down to wire for Jets in Central

The Jets loss to Dallas on Monday tightened the race at the top of the Central standings.
The Jets loss to Dallas on Monday tightened the race at the top of the Central standings. - Postmedia News Service

The end of the regular season is drawing near, but the chase for top spot in the Central Division remains cloudy.

Despite dropping a 5-2 decision to the Dallas Stars on Monday, the Jets remain in control of their destiny, leading the Central by two points over the Nashville Predators (while holding a game in hand) and four points over the St. Louis Blues (who are even in games played) with six games left in the regular season.

It’s a three-horse race for the top three spots, but the options of who the Jets might face in the opening round stretch to five or six clubs — that’s simply how tight things are for the two wild-card spots.

As it stands right now, the Jets would face the Stars, who are three points up on the Colorado Avalanche, while the Minnesota Wild and Arizona Coyotes remain in the mix.

The Chicago Blackhawks would essentially have to virtually run the table and get some help in order to make things interesting.

Of course, the Jets would love to finish first and nail down home-ice advantage during the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

During the past two seasons, the Jets have been a dominant team at Bell MTS Place, putting together a record of 25-9-4 on home ice this season with two games left.

Punching their ticket to the playoffs was the first benchmark the Jets were able to hit, reaching that goal with the decisive 5-0 victory over the Predators on Saturday.

That game was essentially the template the Jets plan to incorporate once the post-season begins, likely on April 10.

There’s plenty to determine during the final six games, but here is a closer look at whom the Jets might end up playing and what the match-up might look like:

Jets vs Stars

Season series: Stars 3-1

The skinny: The Jets lone victory against the Stars came on Jan. 6, when Winnipeg had a dominant performance and won 5-1. The Stars are one of the best defensive teams in the NHL and that was on display in the other three meetings. Discipline has been an issue for the Jets against the Stars and Dallas made them pay, scoring eight times in 19 opportunities (42 %). “They’re a good team…that’s how I view it,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice, when asked about dropping three of four games to a possible playoff opponent.

Jets vs Avalanche

Season series: 2-2 (with one game remaining)

The skinny: The Avalanche have run hot and cold, but a 4-0-1 run put them back above the playoff line once again. Their depth has been tested of late, especially after the loss of captain Gabriel Landeskog to injury. Mikko Rantanen (who missed the last two games with an injury to his midsection) and Nathan MacKinnon have been outstanding this season and goalie Philipp Grubauer has made five consecutive starts and allowed only five goals during that stretch.

Jets vs Coyotes

Season series: 1-1 (with one game remaining)

The skinny: The Jets won the first meeting in a high-scoring affair, but came out flat after an emotional win over the Vegas Golden Knights, losing 4-1. These two teams meet in the regular-season finale and there could be some serious playoff implications for both teams. The Coyotes got above the playoff line and appeared to be turning the corner, but have lost five consecutive games (0-3-2).

Jets vs Wild

Season series: Wild 3-0 (with one game remaining)

The skinny: On two occasions this season, the Jets were unable to bring home a pair of third-period leads against the Wild and in the other game, Dubnyk won the goaltending duel against Connor Hellebuyck. In the last meeting, the Jets gave up a late goal that tied the game and then Joel Eriksson Ek delivered the dagger in the waning seconds. The two teams met in the first round last spring and the rivalry could reach new heights with another post-season battle.

Jets vs Chicago Blackhawks

Season series: Jets 3-0 (with one game remaining)

The skinny: It’s the least likely match-up, but the Blackhawks have been playing much better in recent weeks and have bought into Jeremy Colliton’s system. And if they find a way to get in, they’ll be dangerous. Winnipegger Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane has been driving the bus and the acquisition of Dylan Strome has given the Blackhawks a dangerous combination on the second line with Alex DeBrincat, who has 38 goals.

Jets vs Predators

Season series: Jets 3-1

The skinny: The Jets have beaten the Predators twice since the NHL trade deadline to swing the series in their favour and it’s almost always high-event hockey when they get together. These were the top two teams in the NHL last season and they produced an exciting seven-game series last spring that lived up to the advance billing. Most folks would love to see a rematch in a couple of weeks.

Jets vs Blues

Season series: Jets 3-1

The skinny: It’s tough to put much stock in the numbers as three of the four games took place before goalie Jordan Binnington essentially saved the Blues season and Vladimir Tarasenko regained his scoring touch. The Blues are a much different team and they’ve gone from being in the mix to challenge for the top pick in the lottery to being in the thick of things to still capture the division title. It’s been an impressive turnaround. A big question to answer will be if the Blues might be spent from digging themselves out of the early-season hole or if they’ll be battle-tested and ready to go on a long playoff run.

What’s left

Winnipeg Jets

Record: 45-27-4

Points: 94

ROW: 43

Games remaining: 6

Home: New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens

Away: Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, Arizona Coyotes

Nashville Predators

Record: 43-28-6

Points: 92

ROW: 39

Games remaining: 5

Home: Columbus Blue Jackets, Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks

Away: Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres

St. Louis Blues

Record: 41-27-8

Points: 90

ROW: 40

Games remaining: 6

Home: Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks

Away: New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks

Dallas Stars

Record: 39-31-6

Points: 84

ROW: 39

Games remaining: 6

Home: Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota Wild

Away: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks

Colorado Avalanche

Record: 34-29-13

Points: 81

ROW: 33

Games remaining: 6

Home: Vegas Golden Knights, Arizona Coyotes, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets

Away: St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks

Arizona Coyotes

Record: 36-33-7

Points: 79

ROW: 32

Games remaining: 6

Home: Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets

Away: Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights

Minnesota Wild

Record: 35-33-9

Points: 79

ROW: 34

Games remaining: 5

Home: Winnipeg Jets, Boston Bruins

Away: Vegas Golden Knights, Arizona Coyotes, Dallas Stars

Chicago Blackhawks

Record: 33-32-10

Points: 76

ROW: 31

Games remaining: 7

Home: Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars

Away: Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators

By Ken Wiebe

kwiebe@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/WiebeSunSports

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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