WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Winnipeg Jets have reached the stage in their season where they only have one goal for their final game — just don’t get hurt.
With second place in the Central Division locked up — they can’t catch Nashville for first and the Minnesota Wild, who the Jets will play in the first round of the playoffs, are permanently entrenched in third — Saturday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks will serve little purpose other than maintaining good habits for the postseason.
Well, a couple of personal milestones are possible.
Right winger Patrik Laine is still in the running for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy — he trails Alex Ovechkin in goals, 47 to 44.
Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck has tied Tom Barrasso for the most wins ever by an American goaltender in a season with 43. He is expected to get the start against Chicago. Barrasso set the record with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992-93.
Laine, 19, who broke a seven-game goalless skid this week, has pretty much conceded the goal-scoring race to his boyhood idol.
“A lot of things can happen. But I don’t want to think about that. Because then it’s just going to be hard to play if you’re thinking about those kinds of things,” he told The Winnipeg Sun.
“Those past couple of games I felt like the pucks were bouncing all over the place and just couldn’t get a handle on it. It just affects you when you’re not scoring and when you’re not getting points as a second-line guy. It’s inside your head.
“But my head is pretty strong. I’m not going to let those things affect my head and my game.”
The Jets got an injury scare in Thursday’s snoozer 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames when defenseman Josh Morrissey was sent sliding into the boards, back-first, by Michael Stone in the first period. Jets fans held their breath as Morrissey stayed down for a second and winced as he made his way to the bench. He played a regular shift for the remainder of the game.
Regardless of Saturday’s result, the Jets have already set a franchise record at 51-20-10. Chicago, meanwhile, has been one of the biggest disappointments of the 2017-18 campaign, following up its 50-win season last year with a record of 33-37-10, good for last in the Central.
With any playoff aspirations long-gone, the big news out of the Blackhawks was that coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman, the architects of three Stanley Cup winners since 2010, will be back next season.
Team president Joe McDonough told a news conference that he believes in continuity.
“They’ve had an incredible body of success. We’re not tethered to the past. This has been a very disappointing year and our expectations are incredibly high. We’re not going to deviate from those expectations. But I believe both Stan and Joel are the guys that are going to bring this back,” he said.
This marks the second time that the Jets have qualified for the playoffs since moving from Atlanta in 2011. They were swept in four straight games by the Anaheim Ducks in 2015.
You have to go back to 1996, when that version of the Jets played the Detroit Red Wings in the first round, to find a Jets victory in the post-season. The Jets lost the series 4-2, picking up their last win in Detroit, a 3-1 decision on April 26.