The taste of 3 consecutive defeats burned in the back of Winnipeg’s throat. A team that had existed for less than a calendar year had taken them to the brink of elimination in the Western Conference Finals. Despite dominating the overall play, the Winnipeg Jets found themselves down 3 games to 1 at the hands of Marc-Andre Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights. Somehow, someway, the Jets had to dig deep and pull out a huge win in the biggest game in franchise history. Did they save the season, or were we disappointed once again?
Things got off to a rather inauspicious start. Winnipeg was immediately pressured by the Knights, and surrendered a handful of shots on goal. A few early scoring chances came from guys who’ve been the Jets’ kryptonite thus far. After the first 5 minutes were over, a Josh Morrissey turnover conveniently landed right in front of Alex Tuch, who buried the puck behind goalie Connor Hellebuyck. Stop me if you’ve heard this before; the Jets were down 1-0 to start the game. Morrissey was visibly rattled on the bench, with coaching staff members and players attempting to console him.
A Winnipeg power play a few minutes later began to restore order to the game. The Jets generated several scoring opportunities but couldn’t quite connect. Fleury denied several good shots, as he’s been wont to do this series. It felt like deja vu once again, until a Morrissey slapshot off a Bryan Little face-off knuckled right over Fleury’s glove-hand. Game score, 1-1.
You’re probably expecting to read that Vegas scored less than a minute later to retake the lead, but the last 3 minutes in the period were surprisingly positive for the Jets. They held the tie and continued to push play against the Knights. All in all, it was as strong a recovery as one could hope, given the pressure of this elimination game and the Tuch goal.
The Jets were not particularly great this period. After a strong start in which Winnipeg pushed the pace and created quite a bit more offense in the slot against Fleury, the Jets just seemed to die down a bit. Vegas had the bulk of the scoring chances and cut through the Winnipeg neutral zone set-up like a hot knife through butter. Hellebuyck was able to stop the majority of shots against.
We can’t have nice things, because a Luca Sbisa shot was tipped bardown by Ryan Reaves. The goal came at the 13:21 mark, and Winnipeg started to look a bit dead in the water afterwards. Tyler Myers and Joe Morrow did not have the best of frames clearing their own zone while the power play continued to suck. The second power play unit, in particular, has been hot garbage. It was especially terrible this period, with largely ineffectual passes and virtually no scoring chances created.
Ugh. Just ugh.
Whelp. Winnipeg was out of gas. You could feel it for the entire period. Despite earning a power play in the first 8 seconds, the Jets were too far-gone to pull out the miraculous victory. The Jets weren’t able to scratch out many dangerous scoring chances, and on the few that they did, Fleury stood tall.
Sometimes, your best just isn’t enough, and that was the theme of this series. No matter how hard Winnipeg pushed, or how often they pressured the Knights goaltending, Vegas always had the answer. The Jets had a tremendous season, and it’s a shame it had to end here. The positive perspective is that Winnipeg defied expectations and dared to stand against what appears to be a team of destiny. The Jets impressively dominated throughout the season, and the future looks bright on this young, dangerous roster.
- Regardless of how this series ended, this season was a smashing success. Winnipeg ousted the Cup favorites in Nashville and, truly, got out-lucked and out-goalied by the Knights. Nothing to be ashamed of here.
- Hellebuyck probably needs more rest next season. The Jets had a lot of issues with a rotating cast of back-ups, but locking down that second goalie slot will be important next season.
- The off-season will need to see some work on the PK and PP2. Neither was particularly good, and the emergence of Kristian Vesalainen should give the PP2 unit a dangerous one-time option.
- A lot of roster moves are likely to take place, and it’ll be curious to see what the Jets do with their depth players.
- Laine has to be injured. He didn’t look right this post-season after the series against Minnesota, and his skating was particularly noticeable against Vegas.
- The Jets blueline should see some huge improvements with Sami Niku and Tucker Poolman serving as potential replacements for traded or retiring vets.
- Much will be made about Vegas getting softer match-ups and eating the Pacific playoff teams alive, but they ultimately took the series on the back of Fleury. Just an incredible playoff run from him.
- I’m so glad to have experienced the Winnipeg Whiteout in-person against Nashville. I hope to repeat the trip next season!
- Thank you for reading Arctic Ice Hockey and following along this season. We’ll have plenty of off-season content to keep you sated until next season!
- Good luck to the Knights, who will have their hands full against one of Tampa Bay or Washington. Go Jets Go!