Jets weren’t bad, but for the biggest game in franchise history, they needed to be great

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/05/2018 (1675 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

We’ve got the loudest fans, we tell ourselves.

We’ve got the most passionate fans, we tell ourselves.

We’ve got the most patient and deserving fans, we tell ourselves.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The fans remaining stood stunned at the Jets 4-0 loss against the Nashville Predators after the 3rd period Monday night.

And maybe we do.

But someone forgot to tell the Nashville Predators.

For all the self-congratulating we’ve been doing in this town the last few weeks about the spectacle of the Whiteout, fans don’t win Stanley Cups, the players do.

And in the biggest game in franchise history on Monday night, the Winnipeg Jets simply didn’t.

A 4-0 Predators victory in Game 6 at Bell MTS Place — the Jets second straight loss at home this series — let Nashville off the ropes and sent the series to a seventh and deciding game in Nashville Thursday night.

For all the self-congratulating we’ve been doing in this town the last few weeks about the spectacle of the Whiteout, fans don’t win Stanley Cups, the players do.

It says something about where these two franchises are in their development curves that Nashville brought their very best game to their very biggest game, while the Jets didn’t.

Down 3-2 in this series and facing elimination Monday night, the Predators — from netminder Pekka Rinne out — were superb in Game 6, looking every bit like what they are: a seasoned and experienced team that had been in plenty of games just like this one during a run to the Stanley Cup final last season.

And the Jets? They also looked every bit like what they are: a young and inexperienced team that had never played in a game with this kind of magnitude.

Make no mistake, the stakes were huge for the Jets Monday night: a win by Winnipeg would have eliminated the best team in the NHL during the regular season; secured Winnipeg home-ice advantage through the rest of the playoffs; and, in all likelihood, prompted bookmakers in Vegas on Tuesday morning to make Winnipeg — yes, Winnipeg! — the new favourite to win this year’s Stanley Cup.

With all that on the line Monday night, the Jets wilted.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods Nashville Predators' Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen celebrate Forsberg's goal against Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck during second period on Monday.

Now, the Jets weren’t bad, by any means, on a night they didn’t get the breaks and the Predators did — a fluky first goal for Nashville set the tone for the night.

But the Jets weren’t great, either, and on this night — and in this moment — they needed to be.

To me, they looked like a team that still lacks the killer instinct, although head coach Paul Maurice specifically rejected that assertion after the game, mumbling something about how nobody would say Pittsburgh lacks killer instinct simply because they were eliminated by Washington Monday night.

Well, no — nobody is saying that about the Penguins because the Penguins won the last two Stanley Cups in a row and have already demonstrated a killer instinct that would make Ted Bundy a little uncomfortable.

Maurice left unexplained how anything Pittsburgh has done — or hasn’t done — is relevant to the Jets, who to this point have proven nothing more than that they are a very good regular-season team with loads of potential.

Three times in this series, the Jets have had a chance to put their foot on Nashville’s throat– in Game 2, in Game 4 and in Game 6 — and all three times they couldn’t do it.

What is relevant, however, is that three times in this series, the Jets have had a chance to put their foot on Nashville’s throat — in Game 2, in Game 4 and in Game 6 — and all three times they couldn’t do it.

And because they couldn’t, it’s the Predators who now have a chokehold on this series, headed back to Tennessee for a Game 7 that sports history tells us the home team wins more than 75 per cent of the time.

Those aren’t great odds for the Jets, but then this hasn’t been a typical series.

The Jets, who had the best home record in the NHL this season and had won 12 in a row at home coming into this series, lost two out of three at home to Nashville — and would’ve lost all three were it not for a historic comeback in Game 3 that saw the Jets storm back from a 3-0 first period deficit.

Meanwhile, Nashville, who had the third-best home record in the NHL during the regular season, hasn’t been any better, also losing two of three at home during this series.

Nashville Predators' Viktor Arvidsson (33) and Filip Forsberg (9) celebrate Arvidsson's goal against the Winnipeg Jets as Mark Scheifele skates away during first period NH playoff action in Winnipeg on Monday, May 7, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

It may be that the Jets have the Preds right where they want them in Game 7 — which is to say in Nashville’s building rather than their own.

Or maybe — and it’s probably not a bad idea for this city to at least prepare itself for the possibility — this is just the ghost of Oilers past playing out in this city all over again: another great division rival standing in the way of another promising Jets team fulfilling its potential.

If that turns out to be the case and the Jets’ season ends prematurely Thursday night, well, you can blame it in part on Gary Bettman and a dopey playoff format that forced the second best team in the NHL this regular season — the Jets — to play the best team in the NHL this season — the Predators — in the second round of the playoffs.

In no other major professional league in North America would that be allowed to happen. But then in no other major professional league in North America would a player like Brad Marchand be allowed to make the league look like a joke.

But that’s an excuse. The fans in this city did for the Jets these last few weeks what every parent hopes to do for their children — create an environment that gives them the very best chance to succeed.

If they handed out Stanley Cups to fans, the parade down Portage Avenue would be today. But they don’t, and so now we wait.

If they handed out Stanley Cups to fans, the parade down Portage Avenue would be today.

But they don’t, and so now we wait.

For weeks, there has been a singular refrain in this town: Go Jets Go.

Well, they’ve gone all right — to Nashville. The question now is whether they’ll keep going after Thursday.

email: paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The Nashville Predators schooled the Winnipeg Jets Monday on what it takes to win the biggest game of the season.

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

History

Updated on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 11:38 AM CDT: Adds images, pullquotes.

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