The playoff ride is officially over for the Winnipeg Jets (34-34-10), but they can throw a wrench into the plans of the Toronto Maple Leafs (38-32-8) on Saturday night.
The Jets were eliminated from playoff contention on Thursday night with a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, after a measly 4-5-1 record in their last 10 games. The Leafs have rebounded from an untimely eight-game losing streak with two straight wins, including a 4-3 victory over the East-leading Boston Bruins on Thursday, but are a point back of the final Wild Card spot with one less game to play. In the teams’ only prior meeting this season, Dustin Byfuglien scored the over-time winner as the Jets took a 5-4 victory on home ice.
The Jets will start Ondrej Pavelec for the fourth straight game since returning from injury. Pavelec is 21-26-7 this season, averaging a .901% save percentage and 3.01 GAA in 56 games. With an injury to Jonathan Bernier, it is now James Reimer that has to lead the way for the Leafs, and he will take the ice on Saturday. Reimer is 12-13-1 this season, with a .908% save percentage and 3.39 GAA.
The Jets are without Mark Scheifele, James Wright, and Chris Thorburn for the season, while Zach Bogosian and Keaton Ellerby are still day-to-day. It is unclear whether back-up Al Montoya will dress for the Jets, who still have Michael Hutchinson on their roster as of Saturday morning. Along with Bernier’s absence, the Leafs will also miss Joffrey Lupul, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, and is not expected to play Saturday.
The Jets have received some good news on Friday’s practice day: Grant Clitsome skated for the first time since season-ending back surgery, and Olli Jokinen was nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. They practiced in Winnipeg on Friday, and traveled to Ontario that evening. Paul Maurice was also hit with a puck during practice, but is fine, and will be behind the bench.
The Leafs embark on a three-game road trip to close their season following this game, and a Jets win in regulation could nearly sever the string that their playoff hopes hang by. The Columbus Blue Jackets are a point ahead of the Leafs, and have five games remaining.
The Jets bring their 17-18-4 road record into the Air Canada Center, where the Leafs are 24-15-1 this season. Winnipeg is .500% with a 14-14-2 record against the Eastern Conference, while Toronto is 15-10-2 against the West this season.
This is the final nationally televised Jets game of the season, which will be on Hockey Night in Canada. The game begins at 6:00 Central time.