While the Winnipeg Jets defeated Los Angeles 4-1 on March 24th, the smart money in last night's Game #82 for both teams was on the Kings. Their playoff appearance is of course a certainty, but LA still had something to play for: the Pacific Division crown (whether a date with the Nashville Predators is any more or less desirable than one with San Jose is a conversation for another time). This is also a team which set a franchise record for wins on Thursday:
Win No. 48 on Thursday night extends the Kings franchise record in the victory category. pic.twitter.com/yX6ma9X7dT— LAKingsPR (@LAKingsPR) April 8, 2016
And for over half the game, all seemed as it should. However, Mark Wheeler & Co. had other things planned.
1. Hutch is Clutch(ing his tummy)
The signs that it would be an unpredictable night were there from the get-go. The Jets have been rather dedicated to their regular goalie rotation of late, and so Michael Hutchinson was rightly expected to be Game 82's starter.
But as a result of the flu, Ondrej Pavelec was called upon to close out the 2015-16 season instead. This was not necessarily good news for the tank:
Late change: Quick, Pavelec lead teams out of tunnels. Have heard Hutchinson is ill. Pavelec: .939 career Sv% vs #LAKings.— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) April 10, 2016
2. Alec Martinez, shaken, not stirred
In addition, as a result of Alec Martinez's absence, LA's d-corps was and continues to be in a bit of flux. He missed his fourth straight game last night with an undisclosed injury, but hopes remain high he might be ready for when the playoffs begin next week.
Without their valuable #3 defenceman, one who averages 21:09 TOI, the Los Angeles d-corps does look a little more suspect. As per Daily Faceoff:
3. Off to a good start
Enough prelude, time for game action! It looked as though the night might swiftly become a long one for Winnipeg:
While that early chance may not have crossed the line, the Kings would not not be denied long. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the situation in Winnipeg's defensive zone went from seemingly controlled to completely broken down. One emphatic shot by Tyler Toffoli later (following a magnificent dish from Jeff Carter), and LA was up 1-0:
Coming just over four minutes later, LA's next goal was arguably even prettier. Watch how Milan Lucic seamlessly switches the play over to Tanner Pearson, resulting in a five-hole finish:
Los Angeles sure will miss Lucic when Vancouver signs him for a gazillion dollars in the offseason.
And so Winnipeg went into the first intermission down 2-0. For what it's worth, the Jets were killed on Corsi in the 1st period, to the 5v5 tune of 22-11. If you're a traditionalist, the overall shot clock after 20 minutes read 13-7 in favour of LA.
4. Playing LA, battling Calgary
Let's take a moment to appreciate the standings picture facing Winnipeg last night. Riding a three game winning streak, the night was effectively a battle between the Jets and Calgary Flames for 25th and 26th overall.
At some point, the Calgary Flames defeated the Minnesota Wild 2-1. As TSN's Rick Ralph explained, this meant only a win would move Winnipeg from 26th to 25th. Down against the LA Kings, a bottom-five was surely in the bag.
Flames win. A regulation loss by #NHLJets tonight or a lone point and they finish 26th. A win and they finish 25th.— Rick Ralph (@RickRalphTSN) April 10, 2016
5. Noted sniper Andy Andreoff
The first two Kings tallies were things of beauty, coming from quite likely goalscorers. The goal which put LA up 3-0? Not so much:
Credit to 4th line relative possession nightmare Andy Andreoff, who now has four goals in his last eight games.
The tank and 26th overall seemed assured. But little did we know that, now down 3-0, the Jets had LA exactly where they wanted them.
6. Cue the comeback
It looked as though Winnipeg would have a daunting 3-0 hole to show for their first 40 minutes of play. But with less than three minutes left in the 2nd, the script began to change:
Terrific effort by Nic Petan on the forecheck there; that's the tenacity we've heard so much about. For the record, Kings d-man Brayden McNabb is 6'4", 216 lb, versus Petan's 5'9", 179 lb.
As the announcers mentioned, the play brought Petan up to five points in his last five games. It also provided Copp with his third goal in four games. How's about that.
So when provided increased opportunity and offensively able linemates, Andrew Copp seems to be producing more. Huh. #NHLJets— Philip Iver (@PhilipAIver) April 8, 2016
The Winnipeg Jets weren't done there, however. Blake Wheeler and Nik(olaj) Ehlers decided to show the viewers some magnificent passing of their own:
The colour commentator nailed it when he pointed out how Wheeler dragged everyone with him down towards the corner. In addition, credit to Ehlers for moving into open space and providing Wheeler an option. And just like that, the Winnipeg Jets had all the momentum, having clawed their way back to make it a 3-2 game.
LA still held the 5v5 Corsi edge in the 2nd. However, at a much narrower gap of 20-18, it was a significantly improved effort by Winnipeg. Traditional shots painted an even rosier portrait, with Winnipeg carrying a 13-9 overall edge in the period.
8. Mark Wheeler
If you watched last night's game, or even just the clip above, you experienced the origin story of Mark Wheeler. A small sampling of his Twitter mentions:
Did Mark Quick stop the shot from Mark Chiarot passed from Mark Wheeler?— Peter Tessier (@Teddier) April 10, 2016
WTF Mark Wheeler. Don't you know Blake Scheifele is trying to score 30 goals?— Zak Rubin (@JetsBenny00) April 10, 2016
For a while there, Mark Wheeler was trending on Winnipeg's Twitterverse. Godspeed Mark Wheeler. #NeverForget.
This is that point in the game where you begin to laugh uncontrollably. Down 3-0 to a possession juggernaut, the Los Angeles Kings, one of the best teams in the league. Feeling for certain that the Winnipeg Jets have locked down a bottom-five finish.
And then 03:21 into the 3rd period, seeing that deficit completely erased, like it never even happened:
Something tells me Ehlers-Scheifele-Wheeler might get a look next season.
By the 3rd period's end, Los Angeles carried just a 17-16 5v5 Corsi advantage, while being outshot 8-6. Overtime solved nothing, despite Anze Kopitar's best efforts. In a poetic ending you couldn't write any better (aside from playoffs of course), victory in the season finale fell on the shoulders of Mark Scheifele. He did not disappoint:
Just like that, the Winnipeg Jets triumphed 4-3 over LA, sweeping their California road trip and closing out the season with four straight wins. They finished the 2015-16 season with a record of 35-39-8, nine points back of the Minnesota Wild for the 2nd Wild Card slot. Their win also ensured a 25th place finish, with Calgary coming in 26th:
With the Jets win, the #Flames finished 5th in the lottery standings and has a 8.5% chance at the 1st pick. It all comes down to April 30th.— Brandon Fong (@brandonfong22) April 10, 2016
When it comes to the odds for picking first overall, at 7.5% versus 8.5%, finishing 25th as opposed to 26th makes for just a 1.0% difference. Of course, it also means Winnipeg has the potential to slip further down the draft board than Calgary.
Finishing where they did is far from ideal, but as the last two episodes of AIH 20416 have hopefully helped to illuminate, there is very real high-end talent throughout at least the first 8-10 selections of the 2016 draft. It would not be surprising in the least if some of those names 1st round names beyond Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine become stars in their own right.
Winnipeg's fate is now in the hands of its amateur scouts (and the lottery)
Congrats to former Wpg Jet Brad Berry 1st rookie HC to lead team to NCAA Championship as UND defeats Quinnipiac 5-1 pic.twitter.com/tVfoyjlO3T— Joe Pascucci (@Pascucci015) April 10, 2016
Tucker Poolman had a strong sophomore season at UND. Now the question will be,is he going to sign contract with #NHLJets? Will be 23 in June— Ken Wiebe (@WiebeSunSports) April 10, 2016
IMO, I'll be surprised if #NHLJets D prospect Tucker Poolman doesn't decide to turn pro. Looks ready to start the process of being a pro— Ken Wiebe (@WiebeSunSports) April 10, 2016
Of course, the fun doesn't stop just because Winnipeg's season has come to a close. Both of Arctic Ice Hockey's podcasts, the AIH Superfans and AIH 20416, will continue pumping out episodes on a regular basis. In addition, we can now deconstruct the season which was, relentlessly prepare for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, and focus on any lingering article ideas which haven't yet taken shape (of which I have about 20).
Just like Brian, this was also my first tour of duty under the Arctic Ice Hockey banner. Thanks everyone for a warm welcome, and have a great Jets offseason.