Leafs, Jets set for marquee clash in Winnipeg
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- It might be a little early, but this week's home-and-home series between the Winnipeg Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs could be for the title of Canada's team.
It has been more than a quarter-century since the captain of a Canadian-based squad has lifted the Stanley Cup over his head and it's been a thorn in the side of a proud hockey nation ever since.
The hostilities between the Jets and Leafs, the two highest-ranked Canadian teams by virtually all prognosticators, will kick off Wednesday night at Bell MTS Place and conclude on Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena.
The Jets have the best home record in the NHL since the beginning of the 2017-18 season with a more than .800 winning percentage and are 4-0-1 on their current six-game homestand. They haven't lost in regulation on home ice since Feb. 27, a span of 15 games (14-0-1).
The Leafs (6-3-0), meanwhile, have cooled a little since blasting out the gate with six wins in their first seven games, but they still have a perfect 4-0-0 record on the road. The Jets lead the head-to-head battle against the Maple Leafs since the start of the 2016-2017 season with a 2-1-1 record.
The Jets are 6-2-1 overall in the ultra-competitive Central Division, where they trail both the Nashville Predators and the upstart Colorado Avalanche.
The Jets overcame a 3-1 third-period deficit to defeat the St. Louis Blues 5-4 in overtime on Monday.
Center Mark Scheifele, who led the way with four points, including two goals, said the Jets will have to get out of the gate much faster against the Leafs.
"We battled the puck early (against St. Louis)," Scheifele told The Winnipeg Sun. "That third period, we pretty much said, 'screw it. Let's have fun and battle and work for each other here.' It turned out. It worked for us. It just shows that any game is in reach if you play the right way. That third period, we played Winnipeg Jets hockey. We were on the puck, we were working hard. We were battling for each other. That's how you win games in this league."
The Leafs have scored one goal in their last two games, including a 4-1 loss against those same Blues last Saturday. Center Auston Matthews, who leads the league in scoring with 16 points and goals with 10, will undoubtedly be the subject of good-natured cat-calls from Jets fans. For example, in his first game two years ago against Patrik Laine, who was drafted No. 2 behind Matthews in 2016, they serenaded him with "Laine's better." (Lai-ne's be-tter.)
"It's always a good atmosphere (in Winnipeg), the crowd gets into it," Matthews said in a scrum after practice on Tuesday. "They're a good team, a lot of depth and their power play is pretty lethal. You don't want to give them momentum."