Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 30/5/2021 (361 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
And on the seventh day, they rested. Just as they did on the sixth. And the fifth. And the fourth. And, well, you get the picture.
It has now been a week since the Winnipeg Jets stunned the hockey world by sweeping the heavily-favoured Edmonton Oilers right out of the playoffs. And, incredibly, Paul Maurice's crew is still waiting for their next dance partner.
That will finally be settled Monday night as Toronto and Montreal face-off at Scotiabank Arena in Game 7 of their first-round series. And Winnipeg, no doubt, will be hoping they beat the holy heck out of each other. One overtime? Two? How about three? Play on, gentlemen. Play on.
Either the first-place Maple Leafs avoid a catastrophic collapse and find a way to get it done, or the fourth-place Canadiens complete the epic comeback after being down 3-1. Regardless, the victor won't have much time to catch their breath. The North Division final starts Wednesday — in Toronto, if the Leafs win, and in Winnipeg, if the Canadiens win — and the NHL has once again condensed the schedule. They'll play again on Friday, then back-to-back on Sunday and Monday.
For either Toronto or Montreal, that will mean 11 playoff games over a 19-day span, dating back to the start of their series on May 20. That's a lot of high-stakes hockey in a short period of time, which is where Winnipeg should have a marked advantage. The Jets, who began their series with the Oilers on May 19, will only be playing seven times over the same 19-day span, which will have included a nine-day break.
A quick aside: This scheduling crunch was avoidable. For reasons that make no sense, the NHL insisted on waiting to start the first-round north of the border until after Calgary and Vancouver had finished their remaining three regular-season games, which had to be postponed due to the Canucks COVID-19 outbreak.
Every other division got their playoffs underway of May 15, 16 or 17, but the North was held back, even though the results of those games had zero impact on the postseason. Winnipeg, Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto were the only teams who had to play on consecutive nights in the first round. And now Winnipeg and one of Toronto or Montreal will be the only teams to have to do it again. In fact, the other three division finals all include a two-day break between games at one point to let their northern neighbours catch up.
I'd say Winnipeg is in a much better position to weather it. By disposing of the Oilers so quickly, the Jets got to put their feet up, get in plenty of practice time and video scouting sessions and heal up some injuries. That's key for players such as Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nikolaj Ehlers, who began the series with Edmonton on the sidelines but made their debuts in Games 2 and 3 respectively.
No such luck for their next opponent. Toronto, for example, lost one of their top defenceman in Jake Muzzin to a lower-body injury in Game 6 on Saturday night, and his status isn't clear. They're already without captain John Tavares, who got knocked out in Game 1, and others, such as Nick Foligno, are clearly playing hurt. Montreal is slightly healthier, but there are several players currently banged-up.
Don't expect the Jets to be sending any "Get well soon," cards.
For Winnipeg, there's always the balance between rest and rust, and you wonder if this is a case of "be careful what you wish for." Has too much time passed to carry any momentum over from the first round, which already seems like a lifetime ago? Can they hit the ground running against a rival that will be fresh off an emotional victory?
The Jets took two days away from the rink after beating Edmonton, practised on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, then took Sunday off. They'll return to the ice Monday, then hold one final skate on Tuesday. If they're facing Toronto, they'll also board a charter to head east. If it's Montreal, that's some unexpected bonus time in their own beds.
"You can’t practice at a playoff pace. It’s not the same," Maurice said following Saturday's workout at Bell MTS Place.
"We don’t want to. We’re not running and finishing every check and battling in the same way. Right now it’s all details and tactics and trying to keep the legs right and for the first few days, just getting rested and getting over our last series. We don’t work on long durations but we want to be sharp when we do."
If the Jets have a preferred next opponent, they're not saying publicly. Winnipeg went 4-4-2 in the regular-season against Toronto, and 6-3-0 against Montreal. But as we just saw in the series against Edmonton, there's not a lot of weight to put on those previous head-to-head meetings, as the Jets went just 2-7-0 against the Oilers.
"If it’s Toronto, we’ve just hit the one and two leading scorers in the league, and we’d move to the fourth and fifth leading scorers — I believe — in the regular season. If it’s Montreal, you’ve got almost a different dynamic in terms of committee scoring," said Maurice.
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"Picking a team is foolish because every team in the playoffs has enough of a strength and your task at hand is to play as close to as strong a game as you’re capable of playing. It doesn’t have to look like the other team’s in order to win."
The North Division champion will then move on to play an American opponent in the third round. If that's Winnipeg or Montreal, it would be the winner of the Colorado-Vegas series. The Jets and Habs had the least amount of regular-season points of remaining playoff teams, while the Avalanche and Golden Knights tied for the most. If it's Toronto, it would be the winner of the Carolina-Tampa Bay series.
The NHL is still negotiating with the federal government about where those third-round home games would be played. It's expected an exemption may be granted allowing for cross-border travel, which would prevent the Canadian semifinalist from having to relocate south of the border for the rest of the playoffs.
But that's a worry for another day. For now, the Jets will enjoy 48 more hours of calm before the second-round storm finally begins.
Mike McIntyre Sports columnist
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.