Tyler Myers knows he’s about to take part in a marquee playoff matchup that will send one very good team home for the summer.
The Winnipeg defenceman just hopes it’s not his Jets.
Winnipeg takes on the Nashville Predators in the NHL’s best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final, a second-round clash that pits the top two regular-season teams against each other.
“I understand it’s going to create more buzz given how well both of us did in the regular season,” said Myers, who was made available to the media on Monday, although the team didn’t skate.
“You’ve got one and two playing each other in the second round. We know a lot of people were wanting this series and were very excited about it. Players are, too. It should be very exciting.”
Nashville finished first over all with 117 points, but the Jets were right behind them with 114. Winnipeg went 2-3-0 against the Predators in their regular-season meetings, with a total of 41 goals scored.
Myers said it’s not disappointing one of the top two teams will get eliminated so early in the playoffs.
“You’re going to run into a good team at one point or another in the playoffs,” he said. “Every team has a chance to win any given series.
“For us, it doesn’t matter who it’s up against. It just so happens the one and two are playing in the second round, and that’s more than fine with us.”
The start of their series hasn’t yet been scheduled, but will begin later this week in Nashville as they hold home-ice advantage.
The Jets bounced the Minnesota Wild out of the playoffs in Game 5 last Friday, while the Predators needed six games to eliminate the Colorado Avalanche.
While hockey fans have lamented the fact the playoff format doesn’t allow for Nashville and Winnipeg to meet in the conference final, Jets head coach Paul Maurice said he’s fine with that.
“[The Predators] were the eighth seed last year and got to the [Stanley Cup] final,” said Maurice, whose team won the franchise’s first playoff series. “They earned that right to get there from that seed.
“If you’re a team that had more points than another team, maybe missed out, that might be hard to take. That happens. So I don’t think it matters.”
The matchup features two physical, fast clubs with four lines that can score. They each, coincidentally, come into the series off 5-0 series-clinching victories.
“They’re high-event games because something is happening all the time, right?” Maurice said. “They’re either very physical, I think really fast, great saves. Neither team is passive in how they play.”
The teams are backstopped by Vézina Trophy finalists, the award handed out to the league’s top goalie.
Connor Hellebuyck boosted Winnipeg up the standings with a 44-11-9 record, 2.36 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne went 42-13-4 with a 2.31 GAA and .927 save percentage.
“You got to get some traffic to [Rinne] and get some second and third opportunities,” Jets forward Adam Lowry said.
“He’s nominated for the Vézina for a reason. He’s the backbone of their team and he bails them out on occasion. He’s a world-class goalie.”
Hellebuyck is on a roll, putting up consecutive shutouts to end the series with Minnesota.
“The thing that sticks out to me is you look at those games after a game that [Hellebuyck] didn’t necessarily like, his mental toughness was unbelievable,” Myers said.
“The way he rebounds and the way things don’t faze him, it’s exactly what you want to see from your goalie, especially this time of year. He was not only good for us all year, he was awesome for us in Round 1.”
Maurice added that success doesn’t hinge only on the goalies.
“It’s on the shooters,” he said. “You’ve got two [goalies] with spectacular numbers and when they meet each other, you’ve got a lot of people that can score on the ice, so everybody’s going to have to be good. The team that wins the series is going to have more guys going.”