5 things to watch as Jets host Bruins in home finale

The Winnipeg Jets welcome the Boston Bruins to town Thursday night in the final game of the season at the MTS Centre.
Boston Bruins' Matt Bartkowski and Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler battle for the puck in their only other match-up this year, on Jan. 4, 2014. (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)

The Winnipeg Jets welcome the Boston Bruins to town Thursday night in the final game of the season at the MTS Centre.

The Jets (35-35-10) hope to end the year on a high note and will have to do so in back-to-back games as they’ll travel to Calgary Friday night to cap off the 82-game schedule.

As for the Bruins (53-18-8), they wrap up a two-game road trip tonight following a 4-3 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild Tuesday. It was the third loss in four games for Boston.

With that, here are five things to keep in mind heading in to tonight’s game:

Beantown battle

It’s just the second game between these two clubs this season. The Bruins were winners in the other, earning a 4-1 victory back on Jan. 4.

After Dustin Byfuglien opened the scoring midway through the first period, Boston answered back with four straight markers, including two from rookie defenceman Torey Krug, who also finished with an assist for a game-high three points.

Over the past three seasons, the Jets are 3-4-1 against the Bruins. It’s important to note, however, that all three of the Jets wins have come on home ice.

Practice makes perfect

The Jets practised Wednesday for the final time this season. To celebrate, Coach Paul Maurice ran the team through a number of intense skating drills that lasted close to 90 minutes.

On the surface, it all seemed a bit unusual, especially for a team that wasn’t prepping for a long payoff run and in need of conditioning.

But all that was cleared up following the skate as Maurice explained to media his motivation behind pushing his players. For the Jets bench boss, it was about establishing a culture of fitness in the locker room, something Maurice said is key to his plan to build a better team in Winnipeg.

“It was the first day I felt we could do it and I know it does not come at an easy time in our schedule,” Maurice admitted before getting into the real stuff.

“I needed them to understand when I say we’re going to have a tougher camp [in spring]. What I’ve asked them is to prepare differently, to train differently, to be aware of their summer program and how that affects what they’re able to do in camp. They needed a place to understand that.”  

No one likes to skate that hard, especially at the end of a gruelling season. Question now is: what effect, if any, will it have on tonight’s game?

Not so home-sweet-home

The 2013-14 season has been a difficult one for the Jets at the MTS Centre.

Following Monday’s 1-0 loss to the Wild, the Jets fell to 17-17-6 at home, a record that ranks near the bottom of 30 teams.

It’s the worst home record for the Jets in three seasons since the move from Atlanta. What makes it worse is Winnipeg has proved progressively worse at home with each year that’s passed.

The Jets finished the 2011-12 season with a 23-13-5 record at home. Not too bad. But that was followed up with a 13-10-1 in last year’s lockout shortened campaign. Now, the Jets have a chance to, with a loss tonight, finish the season below .500.

“I truly believe there will come a time that we will get the benefit of home ice advantage in this building,” said Maurice. “I don’t know what it was this year.” 

Maurice added there has been a growing commitment from the team to become better in front of their fans. The goal, he said, was to play a game the home crowd could be excited about.

“We will play a style of game in this building that will benefit [us],” he said. “The crowd will be into it here.”

Where it all began

Monday’s loss to the Wild marked the NHL debut for Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson, who was called up from the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps on March 30.

The 24-year-old goalie was one of the few bright spots in the game, allowing just one goal on 17 shots.

Maurice said after the game that Jets fans hadn’t seen the end of Hutchinson this year, declaring he’d play at least one more time in the season’s final two games.

And although Hutchinson isn’t picky at this point in his career, he admits it would be nice to play against a Boston team that cut ties with him at the end of last season, after drafting him in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. 

“If I get a chance against Boston, that would be awesome to play against them,” said Hutchinson. “With them not signing me last year it would be definitely nice to play them and play well.

“Whenever you play an old team you always want to try and show them up. If I get that opportunity it will be great but going into it you just want to take it like any other game.”

Rask's stock rising

Things may not have worked out with Hutchinson but Boston is anything but hurting between the pipes.

Bruins’ No. 1 'tender Tuukka Rask has emerged into one of the league’s most elite goalies. Rask, 27, leads the NHL in shutouts with seven, is third in save percentage with an impressive .929, and his 2.03 goals-against-average also cracks the top-5 among his peers.

In 57 games this season, Rask is 35-15-6. In 25 of those games he’s allowed one or fewer goals.

The Jets peppered 37 shots on Rask in their only game this season, beating him just once.

If there was ever a test for the Jets offence, it would be tonight.

About the Author

Jeff Hamilton

Winnipeg Jets

Jeff Hamilton is an award-winning journalist born and raised in Winnipeg. Jeff is a graduate of the Carleton University journalism program and has worked for CBC in Ottawa and Manitoba. This will be his second year covering his hometown team. Jeff is passionate about hockey, playing and has studied the game his entire life.