By: Lori Bennett
When the Winnipeg Jets traded Patrick Laine and Jack Roslovic to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Pierre-Luc Dubois and a 3rd round pick I made a prediction. I expected it would take a while, between the quarantine and the adjustment, but that the Jets would end the season and enter the post-season at their strongest. It didn’t exactly go like that. They limped into the post-season and finished 3rd in the division, but only because their limp was a little less debilitating than that of the Montreal Canadiens.
Was there was another NHL coach who did more to prepare his team between the end of the season and the start of the first round than Paul Maurice did? The Edmonton Oilers were the favourites to start the series, but in game 1 the Jets came out like a wrecking ball. They hit everything that moved and won 4-1. In game 2 a monster performance from Connor Hellebuyck led to a 1-0 shutout win. Then the series shifted to Winnipeg where the Jets won games 3 and 4 in overtime.
The Jets were masterful in containing Connor McDavid (1G, 3A) and Leon Draisaitl (2G, 3A) and relied upon a diversified offensive punch to sweep the Oilers. After a couple of marathon games, the Jets earned a break while awaiting the winner of the Leafs-Habs series. The Oilers have a considerably longer break and will turn their attention to the off-season where their list of needs looks much like it has for years.
In the other North matchup, the Toronto Maple Leafs were the heavy favourite to defeat the Montreal Canadiens, but the Habs surprised when they drew first blood. The Leafs responded, fueled by a desire to win for injured Captain John Tavares, with three straight wins and pushed the Habs to the brink of elimination.
But the Habs came to the Air Canada Centre on Thursday night with some fuel of their own. COVID restrictions were about to be eased in Montreal, and if they could bring the series back home for game 6 there would be fans in the stands. After playing the past week with all the intensity of a Sunday afternoon nap, it finally dawned on the Habs that they were in the playoffs.
Montreal got out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Joel Armia and took a 3-1 lead into the third period. The Leafs came on strong in the third and took it to overtime. But just 59 seconds in, the Habs ended it on a beautiful 2-on-0 breakaway for Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, and a perfect finish by Suzuki.
Press deadline brings an end to my recap. By the time you’re reading this, you’ll know the outcome of a big game in front of fans at the Bell Centre in Montreal, and hopefully you’ll be getting ready for game 7 on Monday.
There’s a lot riding on this series for both franchises. Another first round exit for the Leafs will raise big questions about why such a talent-laden team cannot succeed. In Montreal, there will be calls for a new GM if the Habs are ultimately eliminated. Get ready for a summer of drama either way.
Blue Jays Babble
The Blue Jays received more bad news on the injury front this week. On Tuesday they announced relief pitcher David Phelps would miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his right lat.
This is a huge hit to the Toronto bullpen, which has been heavily relied upon while they try to establish a solid starting rotation. So far, they have found three dependable starters in Hyun Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray and Steven Matz. The rest are inconsistent, mixing decent outings with some where they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a barn shovel.
On Wednesday the Jays called up their number three pitching prospect Alek Manoah for his debut against the New York Yankees. Wednesday’s game was delayed by weather, but Manoah pitched the first game of a double header on Thursday and led the Jays to a win. It would have been nice for the bats to give the rookie a little more run support, but two homeruns from Marcus Semien and Bo Bichette was all he would need.
Manoah was fantastic in his debut, pitching six scoreless innings and giving up just two hits and two walks. This could be a game changer for the Jays if Manoah proves ready to join the five-man rotation.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreation softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. A Newfoundlander living in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or even a debate, just as long as it remains respectful. She posts her gametime thoughts on twitter, particularly about hockey and the Montreal Canadiens, as @lori10habs