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Jets' playoff hopes dealt fatal blow

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It could have — perhaps should have — ended in a much more dramatic fashion for the Winnipeg Jets, with the heroes valiantly swinging their swords until the very life oozed from any number of their mortal wounds.

Instead, let history show the 2013 playoff dream officially died with a whimper, not a flash of glory, and with the fatal blows coming courtesy of the out-of-town scoreboard and a pair of losses in their final two games, including Thursday’s 4-2 finale to the Montreal Canadiens at the MTS Centre.

In the end, a recent 6-0-1 dash to keep themselves in the post-season discussion was framed by a critical five-game skid in late March-early April and the two crucial defeats at the end of the campaign that mean this franchise has now missed the playoffs six years running.

Clearly, that scenario is getting very old for those who are living it.

"I’m sick of it. I’m sick of going home right now, and I think we have a lot of guys who are sick of going home right now," said Blake Wheeler.

"I’m going to have a hard time drawing on any positives when you’re going home and you’re watching the important hockey being played from your couch again.

"That’s going to be tough to swallow. Hopefully, we can all look in the mirror and make a change. I think we’re on the right path, but ninth place is a first-class ticket home."

Yes, it could be said the end of the 2013 campaign looked frighteningly familiar to what unfolded last year — sick bay overflowing with regulars (this year it was Zach Bogosian, Toby Enstrom, Olli Jokinen, Kyle Wellwood and Jim Slater), the same questions about special teams, overall team defence and some offensive pop missing from the second line again plaguing the franchise.

The fact the end came in the finale — last year, the team was eliminated in Game 79 — will signify progress to many. And there were signs of growth by the talent core, albeit sporadic.

But again, that meant little in the immediate aftermath late Thursday night.

Asked what stood out most about the 2013 season, captain Andrew Ladd summed up the collective mood perfectly.

"Not getting in... that’s the thing that will stand out for me," he said. "You’re either in or you’re not. You want to be a team that’s in the playoffs every year and competing for a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Not having that chance the last three years (in his time with the franchise) is frustrating. We need to find some way to get in."

The detailed autopsies will come in the following days, but this remains a franchise in transition, with none of the current regime’s draft picks yet in the team’s colours, with the farm club in St. John’s still short of developing future stars.

That said, what the Jets flashed off and on this year, especially in that 6-0-1 streak down the stretch, was encouraging — from the emergence of Wheeler, Ladd and Bryan Little as a No. 1 line to the bright futures of young stars such as Zach Redmond, Bogosian and Evander Kane.

But there just wasn’t enough of just about everything. And now the organization faces another off-season that is too long with a number of unanswered questions, first and foremost what to do with the nine players who become unrestricted free agents — Nik Antropov, Grant Clitsome, Ron Hainsey, Al Montoya, Derek Meech, Antti Miettinen, Aaron Gagnon, Wellwood and Mike Santorelli.

And so as the Jets raised their sticks in a final farewell to their faithful late Thursday, it’s hard not to wonder who will be back on the ice for the season opener come next October.

"We’re trending upwards, that’s the glass-half-full approach here," said Wheeler. "Did we make progress this year? I would say yes. But it wasn’t good enough to reach one of our goals, and that’s the bottom line.

"The lows were just too low. We got into a few funks this year and every season is like a roller-coaster where you’re going to have your peaks and your valleys. I just think some of our valleys were too deep. You look at those five games where we don’t get any points... that realistically probably did us in.

"The fact that we’re going to finish in ninth place just sort of adds to the disappointment."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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History

Updated on Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 5:54 PM CDT: updated pre-game report

7:49 PM: after 1 period

8:44 PM: after 2 periods

8:56 PM: updates with Jets eliminated from playoff race

9:51 PM: game over

11:12 PM: adds video

11:19 PM: game over rewrite with quotes

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