Jets take flight into playoffs

Stanley Cup Odds (As of April 27):

Winnipeg Jets (5.90)

The National Hockey League is likely to garner some criticism for its playoff format. Nonetheless, the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs offers some intriguing match-ups (Hey! Capitals versus Penguins - again!) but perhaps none of them are more highly anticipated than the Winnipeg Jets against the Nashville Predators.

Not only were they the two best teams in the Central Division by the end of the regular season, but the Predators finished as the top team in the NHL's overall standings, winning the Presidents' Trophy, while the Jets finished second behind them with 114 points.

They meet in the second round, with their best-of-seven series getting underway Friday in Nashville. The Predators won the regular season series, going 3-1-1 against the Jets. Their previous match-ups also provided hockey fans with must-watch hockey and it's highly likely the best has yet to come in that aspect.

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These games are fast. They're exciting. They're physical. They're intense. And that was just during the regular season. In playoffs, everything gets amplified. That they meet in the second round instead of the Western Conference Final may not be favourable with some fans, but nothing can be done about it right now. Just sit back and enjoy.

The Predators are looking to get back to the Stanley Cup Final after losing the championship series a year ago. The Jets have the makings of a team certainly capable of going on a long run this spring.

The Jets entered Game 1 as the Money Line underdogs (2.26 as of Friday morning, compared to Nashville's odds of 1.65 to win) and are underdogs in the series, as well.

Winnipeg's odds to win the series are similar to the Money Line for Friday's tilt - 2.20 for the Jets to win and advance to Round 3, while the Predators sits at 1.60.

The Jets boast one of, if not the deepest forward groups in the NHL. They're stacked up front, and they possess one of the game's ultimate scorers in Patrik Laine, who only just turned 20 years old last week. It was no fluke that they finished second in the league with 3.33 goals-for-per-game, which was behind only Tampa Bay.

Mind you, the Predators were eighth in the league in that category at 3.18 goals-for-per-game. To put it another way, they scored only 12 fewer goals than Winnipeg did over an 82-game schedule. The advantage at the other end of the rink seems minimal, too.

Nashville, which saw their top four defencemen P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and Roman Josi rise to prominence last spring during their playoff run and continue that over into the 2017-18 campaign, finished the season second in the league in goals-against-per-game at 2.49, only a shade off the defensive pace set by the now-eliminated L.A. Kings. Pekka Rinne, at the age of 35, posted a career-high eight shutouts and had an impressive .927 save percentage to go along with that.

Yes, the Predators were among the stingiest of teams this season.

So were the Jets. They finished fifth in the league in goals-against-per-game. The Predators allowed 204 goals against. The Jets allowed 216 goals against. There's that No. 12 again...

It's difficult to determine exactly how one team has a distinct advantage over the other in this series. It features two of the three Vezina Trophy finalists in Rinne for Nashville and fellow puckstopper Connor Hellebuyck for Winnipeg.

The Jets are loaded up front. The Predators had four 20-goal scorers in their forward group, and 10 forwards in total reach double digits in goals, for a well-balanced attack beyond their top line of Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen.

Winnipeg's defence includes Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Morrissey, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba. That quartet combined for 131 points during the regular season. That's not quite on the same level as Nashville's Big Four on defence (178 points) but it's still solid.

Perhaps it is there where Nashville might one-up the Jets. The Predators' productive defence was a difference-maker last year and it's likely they'll need them to come up big again in this series in order to advance.

One of these teams will gain the upper hand on its opponent. It may take the full seven games with multiple momentum swings to do so. The oddsmakers have the Predators - the reigning conference champs and 2018 Presidents' Trophy winners - as the favourites. The Jets, with the way their roster is built through the draft and savvy trades, probably won't mind the underdog role.

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