Jets tailspin hits six games with 5-3 loss to Habs

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Two weeks ago the Winnipeg Jets looked to be serious contenders in the Canadian division, knocking on the door for first place following a convincing 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was the Jets fifth victory in six games and the feeling was this team that many predicted to struggle this season might actually be a much better outfit than first thought.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/04/2021 (575 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Two weeks ago the Winnipeg Jets looked to be serious contenders in the Canadian division, knocking on the door for first place following a convincing 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was the Jets fifth victory in six games and the feeling was this team that many predicted to struggle this season might actually be a much better outfit than first thought.

Fast forward to Friday, following a 5-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, in a game where the Jets held 2-0 and 3-1 leads, and Winnipeg is starting to look like pretenders. The defeat was their sixth straight dating back to that win over the Leafs, and the free-falling Jets (27-20-3) are now in danger of the Canadiens (22-18-9) surpassing them for third place.

It was the kind of evening that would have even the mild-mannered fan wanting to pull out their hair. What made it troubling was that nearly every goal the Jets allowed was self-inflicted, and those goals make up just a small picture of an evening filled with giveaways and uninspiring play.

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen gloves the puck away from Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Copp, centre, and Kyle Connor during the third period in Montreal on Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

What’s even more troubling, though, is the Jets don’t appear to realize or care to acknowledge their lacklustre effort at a time they’re supposed to be hungry and desperate. While there might be time to take off before playoffs — a grand total of six games, to be exact — it’s becoming harder and harder to believe they will with such little runway left.

“We missed the puck on the first one, you’re right. The second one wasn’t a lazy change, it was a late change,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said when asked where the progress could be seen. “The third goal is the power play goal, and I’m not too worried about where we are. I wouldn’t panic yet.”

Captain Blake Wheeler, looking more defeated than we’ve seen him this year, contradicted the look on his face by saying he viewed the game as an even fight from both sides. Yet, the Jets didn’t score a goal past the 11:47 mark of the second period and were outshot 35-22, with just six total shots in a third period in which they were outscored 2-0.

“Yeah, I mean, mistakes happen all over the ice. That’s the name of the game. To be honest with you, I can’t pinpoint exactly what happened where, what mistakes were what, but they make mistakes no different than us,” Wheeler added. “Maybe we made a few more than they did tonight. I’m not exactly sure but they capitalized on it, so you got to give them credit.”

The Jets remain in third place and are almost sure to secure a playoff spot, possibly even if they lose their remaining six games, given how terrible the bottom feeders of the division have been this season.

The Edmonton Oilers, who beat Winnipeg for a sixth straight time on Wednesday and are likely to meet the Jets in the first round of the playoffs, are three points up with two games in hand. The Canadiens are just four points back of Winnipeg but also have a game in hand.

Things are suddenly getting tight — a little too tight.

CP Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck makes a save off Montreal Canadiens' Cole Caufield while he is covered by defenceman Josh Morrissey during the first period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

“I think adversity’s a good thing. It’s a good thing we’re going through it right now and not in a couple weeks so I just think we learn from it. It doesn’t come easy sometimes,” said veteran Jets forward Trevor Lewis, who scored twice despite logging just 10:40 of ice time playing on the fourth line. “You just got to find a way through. I think everyone’s got to simplify things and get back to the grind and what got us here and I think we’ll be better for it.”

The Jets came out of the gate slowly, with the Canadiens dictating play through much of the opening 20 minutes.

But it was Winnipeg who escaped with a 1-0 lead thanks to strong play by Connor Hellebuyck, who finished with 30 saves, and a goal from Paul Stastny late in the frame. Stastny knocked down a Dylan DeMelo pass at his knees and without losing a stride beat Jake Allen low with just 1:35 remaining.

The Canadiens led in shots, 13-8, with Hellebuyck needing to stop a number of quality chances. Jeff Petry had three shots in front of the net, all of which were dangerous and all in the same shift. Hellebuyck was even more impressive turning aside Michael Frolik late in the period, which was another point-blank shot from the slot, not long before Stastny registered his 13th of the season.

A slow opening period was followed by a five-goal affair in the second.

Lewis scored twice for Winnipeg, putting the Jets up 2-0 and then 3-1 after Nick Suzuki capitalized on a misplay by Neal Pionk on the sideboards to extend his current point streak to four games (3G, 1A) and put the Canadiens on the board. Lewis looked more like a pure sniper, beating Allen with two shots to the top shelf.

CP Winnipeg Jets' Trevor Lewis scores one of his two goals of the game against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen during the second period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Right when it looked like the Jets were in the driver’s seat, the wheels started to fall off.

Artturi Lehkonen made it 3-2 with a high shot that beat Hellebuyck, capitalizing on an odd-man rush thanks to a lazy change by Mark Scheifele and Mason Appleton. The Canadiens tied it on the power play with 1:46 remaining in the period, with Joel Armia pouncing on a whiffed shot from Suzuki that could have been cleared by the Jets.

It could have been worse. With the Jets holding the puck behind the Canadiens net with 11 seconds remaining, and a seeming unwillingness to backcheck following a turnover, Montreal made its way up the ice. If not for a toe save by Hellebuyck and a fanned chance by Petry, the Canadiens would have taken a lead into the third period.

“You get to 3-1 and you’re feeling good about your game and normally, there’s enough of a positive feeling on the bench that if one bad thing goes on you, you’ll be able to hold on,” Maurice said. “So, even coming out into the third at 3-3, you’re not dejected by it. They’re going a little better. But yeah, that’s a tougher one for sure.”

The Canadiens would take advantage again of the Jets usually strong, but struggling of late penalty kill, with Suzuki’s second of the night. Winnipeg has now allowed four power-play goals in the last two games. Tyler Toffoli then sealed the game by scooping up a Wheeler turnover at the Canadiens blue line and backhanding a trickling puck the distance into an open net.

The Jets will get their next chance to find the winning recipe when they travel to Ottawa to play the Senators Monday. Despite no chance to make the post-season, Ottawa has been one of the hottest teams in the league, winning five of their last six games.

CP Montreal Canadiens' Nick Suzuki, left, celebrates his goal against the Winnipeg Jets with teammate Jeff Petry during the third period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

“We have a good team here. We’re going through a real struggle,” Maurice said. “You can panic on your own time, but we won’t here.”

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

History

Updated on Friday, April 30, 2021 10:55 PM CDT: Adds photos.

Updated on Friday, April 30, 2021 11:33 PM CDT: Updates to final version.

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