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Game Preview #77: New Jersey Devils at Winnipeg Jets

Make it 49.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (48-20-8) at the Winnipeg Jets (42-31-3). Opposition blog: Arctic Ice Hockey.

The Time: 7:00 PM

The Broadcast: MSGSN

Playoff-Intensity Game for Winnipeg

The New Jersey Devils might have their playoff spot all locked up, but the Jets are anything but safe. With 87 points in 76 games played, they maintain a razor thin edge of two points over the Calgary Flames for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. Additionally, the Predators loom similarly close — just three points down with a game at hand. Everyone else is essentially out — any Winnipeg win tonight or for the rest of the season should eliminate the St. Louis Blues and the Vancouver Canucks (whose maximum possible points are 89). So, the seventh and eighth wild card spot is down to the Seattle Kraken (90 points - 75 games), the Winnipeg Jets (87 points - 76 games), the Calgary Flames (85 points - 76 games), and the Nashville Predators (84 points - 75 games).

That said, expect Winnipeg to be playing like a bunch of bats out of hell tonight. They beat Detroit 6-2 on Friday, and they still have some big and heavy players that might give the Devils fits. Some guys, like Blake Wheeler, might have slowed down over the years — but they still have a strong defense and guys like Adam Lowry and Pierre-Luc Dubois that can cause issues for defensive puck carriers. Our forecheckers will have to contend with Josh Morrissey, who, like Dougie Hamilton, should cross the 70-point mark soon. In addition, they have good, safe puck-movers in Neal Pionk and Dylan DeMelo — the Devils will have to play the Jets the same way they did the Rangers, but with even more structure and less room for error. And as always, keep your eyes on Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele — they can will goals into existence among the best players in the league.

Since every game is now must-win for Winnipeg, and the Devils are a very good team, I expect the goalie matchup to be Connor Hellebuyck against Vitek Vanecek tonight. Hellebuyck has a .917 save percentage and 2.59 goals against average. Winnipeg likes to play low-event hockey, but they are also terrible at finishing (while Hellebuyck is a fantastic goalie). These tend not to be the games that the Devils love to play, but our defense should hold up very well against Winnipeg’s limited group.

Looking at the Devils

With six games remaining, including tonight, the Devils are looking at a few individual and team milestones. At 48 wins, the team is very close to pulling off one of their only 50-win seasons in franchise history. And with his two point night, Jack Hughes is up to 89 points — just seven behind the single-season franchise lead set by Patrik Elias. Meanwhile, Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer are eight points away from 80 and 60 points, respectively — they would need a multi-point effort or two to seal those up. Mercer is just one goal away from the 25-goal mark, though, and two assists away from the 30-assist mark.

Jesper Bratt, who is just a tick down from last year in total production, can get to his second straight 70 point season. It’s remarkable how similar he looks to last year through 76 games, though. Last year, he had 26 goals and 47 assists on 197 shots (13.2%) in 1325 total minutes (17:26 ATOI) in his 76 games. Through 76 games this season, he has 31 goals and 36 assists on 197 shots (15.7%) in 1325 minutes (17:26 ATOI). The difference has been his lowered assist numbers, which has played out in recent times: Bratt has nine goals but only four assists in the last 20 games.

And if Dougie Hamilton really wants to push the issue, having already crossed the 20-goal and 70-point marks, he can close out one of the remaining Colorado Rockies records out of the franchise history by scoring three goals in the next six games. Barry Beck holds that record with 22 goals in 1977-78 — and beating that record would likely tie him with Erik Karlsson for the league lead in defensemen goals by the season’s end.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s game? Do you think Winnipeg is a legitimate playoff contender? How do you think the Devils match up against them? Will Connor Hellebuyck make us go through hell tonight? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.