Jets season ends with 4-1 loss to Golden Knights
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LAS VEGAS – Ravaged by injuries and facing a superior opponent, the Winnipeg Jets’ bid to hoist the Stanley Cup came to an early end.
The Vegas Golden Knights delivered the final dagger Thursday night, winning 4-1 in Game 5 to end the first-round, best-of-seven NHL series.
It’s the second time in six seasons the Golden Knights have spoiled the Jets’ post-season party.
Led by Winnipeg product Mark Stone, who finished the night with a goal and a pair of assists, the Golden Knights scored early in the game and then often in the second period en route to the dominating victory. Chandler Stephenson scored twice and William Karlsson added another to round out the scoring for Vegas.
Kyle Connor scored the lone goal for the Jets, which came in garbage time, their fate already sealed. Winnipeg head coach Rick Bowness pulled goalie Connor Hellebuyck with more than eight minutes left in the game, producing the only blemish on Vegas goalie Laurent Brossoit’s night.
The series was eerily similar to the Western Conference Final in 2018. The Jets, the higher seed that year, won the first game and then dropped the next four.
Winnipeg entered this post-season as the eighth seed, with Vegas clinching top spot in the West in its final game of the regular season. Despite the disparity in the standings, the Jets got off to a solid start in the series, posting a thrilling 5-1 victory in Game 1, on the road no less.
But the Golden Knights took control from there, evening the series with an equally convincing 5-2 win, before reeling off back-to-back victories in Winnipeg to take a commanding 3-1 lead. The Jets put up a fight in Game 3, forcing double overtime. But after losing 4-2 in Game 4, returning to Vegas proved a task too mighty to conquer.
“Obviously, that’s not a spot you want to be right now. We’d much rather still be playing,” said forward Nikolaj Ehlers, who finally made his playoff debut after returning from an upper-body injury. “We wanted to come in here (Thursday) and get a win and go back to Winnipeg and use our crowd and get another one at home and take it from there.
“But anytime you’re out, it sucks. There’s no other word for it. “
The Jets are left to lick their wounds in Sin City, where they’ll stay the night before heading back home Friday, with only a final “garbage day” media availability remaining before what should be a fascinating offseason. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights move on to the second round, where they await the winner between the Edmonton Oilers and L.A. Kings (the Oilers hold a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 in L.A. Saturday).
It’s a disappointing end to a roller-coaster run for the Jets, who looked to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders by the midway mark of the regular season. It was a much different story down the final stretch, however, as the Jets struggled to find the consistency and fight required to compete at the most intense time of year, falling from first in the Central Division to squeaking into the final wildcard spot in the second-last game of the regular season.
Unexpectedly, the mood in the dressing room was somber afterward.
“Yeah, not great. Pissed off,” said blue-liner Brenden Dillon. “After Game 1 you feel so excited, and even coming into (Thursday night) I was confident. I think a lot of us were confident. We feel as confident in the talent we have, the goalie we have, the players, like everyone was feeling good. We were in the game but we weren’t really taking it to them…”
So, how did the Jets last battle of the season play out?
1) The evening couldn’t have started much worse, as the Golden Knights opened the scoring just 50 seconds into the game. Stone kept the puck in at the Jets’ blueline and after a give-and-go with Brett Howden, another Manitoban, he found Chandler Stephenson behind Jets defenceman Neal Pionk for a tap-in backdoor.
“Yeah, I think giving up a goal in the first minute is not how you draw it up, obviously. It lets their fans really get into it. You start from behind the eight-ball, you’re already kind of behind the eight-ball missing two key players on our team,” said centre Adam Lowry.
Already without all-star defenceman Josh Morrissey and No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele, both of whom were sidelined with injuries suffered in Game 3 and Game 4, respectively, the Jets got another major scare just minutes after falling behind 1-0.
Ehlers took a Nicolas Hague shot off the leg and required help to get to the bench, where he could be seen in considerable pain. Ehlers would eventually return a few minutes later looking no worse for wear.
2) Somewhat unbelievably, the Golden Knights were even quicker to score in the second period, doubling their lead just 42 seconds into the frame. Less surprising was who led the charge, with Stone snagging a puck out of the air in the slot before firing a shot past the glove of Connor Hellebuyck.
Vegas made it 3-0 before the period was five minutes old and the rout was officially on.
The Jets streak of bad bounces in the playoffs continued, as an attempt by Reilly Smith to direct the puck towards the net deflected off the skate of defenceman Kyle Capobianco and onto the skate of Michael Amadio, who found William Karlsson with a cross-crease pass. Karlsson made no mistake from there, scoring his fourth of the series.
It was 4-0 by the midway mark of the second after Vegas capitalized on the power play, with Stephenson scoring his second of the game following a nice setup in front from Stone.
“They were able to find some timely scoring, some timely kills, things like that. I think the series was a lot closer than a 4-1, five-game series,” added Lowry. “Like I said earlier, we’re disappointed with the results. You battle so hard to get to the playoffs, you want to go on a run. You want to make a difference, you kind of want to make something magical happen. And we didn’t.”
3) People seemed to forget that the Jets were playing the top seed in the West after game 1, but the harsh reality is the Golden Knights are a significantly better outfit. Moreover, they know who they are and play to their identity.
It took Vegas four periods into the series to find its game, but once it did it seemed destined to take the series. A relentless forecheck, a transition game that rivals any in the NHL and a penchant for finding a way to succeed in the most critical moments, the Golden Knights looked and played like a true contender.
Perhaps most importantly, their best players played like their best players, led by their leaders in Stone (3G,5A), Stephenson (4G,4A) Karlsson (4G,1A) and Jack Eichel (3G,2A). They also got key contributions from less-heralded players, notably Howden, who had four points in the final three games of the series, including a pair of goals in Game 4 and Amadio, who was the OT hero in Game 3.
Meanwhile, the Jets top guns provided little ammo, and for long stretches in the series were borderline invisible. It says something that Pionk paced Winnipeg in points, registering eight assists, followed by veteran Blake Wheeler’s two goals and three assists and Lowry’s team-high four goals.
It clearly didn’t help that Morrissey, who had a career-best 76 points in the regular season, and Scheifele, who led the Jets with 42 goals but had just one in three full playoff games, were missing.
Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois combined for five goals and eight points in the series and were a combined minus-6, including a minus-3 in the most important game of the season Thursday.
4) One of the biggest questions heading into the playoffs was whether Hellebuyck, a perennial Vezina Trophy consideration and easily the Jets most valuable player, was capable of stealing a series. Many believed, and rightfully so, that Hellebuyck would have to will the Jets to the second round, especially as the injuries started to pile up.
Hellebuyck seemed in prime position to outduel his opponent in the opposite crease, as the Golden Knights were forced to lean on Brossoit after injuries to Robin Lehner, Logan Thompson and Adin Hill. Brossoit spent three seasons in Winnipeg as Hellebuyck’s No. 2 and even spent time this year in the AHL after struggling to find his groove.
In the end, it was the understudy that outperformed the lead, as Brossoit found ways to come up with key saves at key moments in the series. When his team needed him in the series-clinching game, Brossoit rewarded the Golden Knights with a 30-save performance.
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.
Updated on Friday, April 28, 2023 7:16 AM CDT: Minor copy editing change