NHL Mixed Bag: Jets become Canada's latest, best hope to end Stanley Cup drought

The last time a Canadian franchise hoisted the Stanley Cup, the first iteration of the Jets was closing out its stay in Winnipeg. It would be somewhat poetic if they ended the nation's drought 25 years later.

Each Monday during the NHL season, Rob Mixer takes a look at the biggest storylines from the hockey week that was.

The Winnipeg Jets are headed back to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

For the second time since moving from Atlanta, the Jets clinched a playoff berth Sunday and have a good chance to win a championship. The first time didn’t go so well (they were swept), but this year feels different. Much different. They punched their ticket with a thrilling 5-4 shootout win over the Nashville Predators — a possible second-round opponent — and now, they’ll try to climb as high as they can before the dance begins.

And if what we’ve seen is any indication, these Jets are well equipped to make a deep run, and (dare we say) challenge for a Stanley Cup.

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Yes, folks: the Winnipeg Jets might be Canada’s best chance to end its long Cup drought, now 25 years old and counting.

Sorry, Toronto.

They’re ridiculously deep at forward, have a mobile and sturdy defense, and finally have a guy in Connor Hellebuyck who looks capable of leading them between the pipes. The Jets have been an inconsistent team under Paul Maurice, but GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has been patient with his head coach and stuck with him — which, at this point, appears to have been the right decision. Maurice has done a marvelous job guiding this team as its expectations have risen, and they’ve handled everything in stride.

With Nashville in good shape, it looks as though the Jets are locked into the Central Division’s No. 2 spot, setting up a first-round date with the Minnesota Wild if the playoffs started today. That’s a favorable matchup for Winnipeg, one the Jets should (and probably would) win, only to face the Predators in the second round.

But if the Jets could get past the Predators — and they’ve shown they can hang right there with them — they might be in business to go seriously far.

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Elsewhere …

— The Columbus Blue Jackets have emerged from the “pack of three” and created a slight bit of separation from the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers. Their 10-game winning streak came to an end Saturday night at home (a 2-1 loss to St. Louis), but the Blue Jackets enter the week in third place in the Metropolitan Division.

During the streak, they took down some legitimate opponents: Vegas, Colorado, San Jose, Philadelphia and Florida to name a few. Last week, the Panthers came to Nationwide Arena with an opportunity to slow the Blue Jackets and pick up ground in the wild-card race, but left town with a significant bruise in the way of a 4-0 loss. It was arguably the Jackets’ most impressive win of the streak.

The Blue Jackets head to western Canada this week before closing out the regular season with three Eastern Conference opponents.

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— Speaking of St. Louis, the Blues are back in business.

They had lost six straight games leading up to the trade deadline, sent a big part of their team (Paul Stastny) to a division rival, and looked poised to fade away. But the Blues haven’t gone quietly; they’ve won five straight — including an impressive 2-1 win in Columbus over the weekend — and begin this week in the West’s second wild card spot.