With the playoffs looming, the Toronto Maple Leafs and host Winnipeg Jets look to end the regular season with some momentum on Friday.
The two clubs have never met in the Stanley Cup playoffs, though a second-round date is a possibility. The North Division champion Maple Leafs (35-13-7, 77 points) will face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, while the third-place Jets (29-23-3, 61 points) will battle the Edmonton Oilers.
While the 56th and final game of the 2020-21 regular season doesn’t carry any impact in the standings, it can certainly serve as an opening statement for a Stanley Cup bid.
“It’s going to be a focus as far as this last game, to play the game the right way,” Toronto forward Nick Foligno said. “Whatever the outcome, just play that style of hockey that we’re going to need to, and then build off that.”
Foligno wasn’t satisfied with how the Leafs performed in their most recent game, though Toronto still secured a point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs have gone nine games (7-0-2) without a regulation loss.
The Jets hope Tuesday’s 5-0 shutout of the Vancouver Canucks has already served as their turn-around game. Winnipeg entered that game amid what team captain Blake Wheeler described as “as adverse of a stretch as I’ve been through.” The Jets were 1-9-0 with only 17 goals scored in their previous 10 outings.
“You’ve got to give the guys a lot of credit for … doing the right things and doing the same things, because ultimately when it comes playoff time it’s a lot harder to score goals,” Wheeler said after Tuesday’s victory. “And that’s the way you score goals. You just keep doing the same things over and over again, and with that blind faith that you’re going to get rewarded for it.”
Wheeler was the First Star of the Vancouver game, recording two goals and two assists. Wheeler has 11 points (five goals, six assists) over his last eight games.
After missing Winnipeg’s previous game with a minor injury, Connor Hellebuyck made 24 saves against the Canucks. Hellebuyck looked in good form while recording the shutout, though Laurent Brossoit could start against Toronto to give Hellebuyck a bit more rest heading into the postseason.
Jack Campbell has already been announced as the Maple Leafs’ starter for Friday. Campbell has never made a postseason appearance, but he looks like Toronto’s top choice for the playoffs after posting a sterling 17-2-2 record so far in the regular season.
Winnipeg and Toronto will each be looking for a spark on the power play. The Jets are only 2-for-29 with the extra attacker over their last 11 games. While Jake Muzzin converted a power-play chance against Ottawa, the Maple Leafs are still only 2-for-23 on power plays over their last nine games.
Auston Matthews leads the NHL with 41 goals and is looking to officially secure his first Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top scorer. Matthews has eight points (seven goals, one assist) over a seven-game points streak.
The Maple Leafs are 6-3-0 against the Jets this season. The Leafs are a perfect 7-0-0 in their last seven games in Winnipeg, dating back to the 2017-18 season.
–Field Level Media