In the end, they went out with a whimper. And a stunning collapse by the Winnipeg Jets shows this club was far more pretender than serious contender.
From an unlikely first-round sweep of the Edmonton Oilers to an improbable second-round sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, it's hard to comprehend what we just witnessed here in the span of a few weeks. A roller-coaster of emotions, to be sure.
The autopsy of this particular patient is going to be complicated, and perhaps a bit messy. It will also take some time. Consider this the first of many deep but necessary cuts. But hard questions must be asked about how things went south so quickly. From the complete no-shows of several top-end players when the stakes were at their highest to the coaching tactics from Paul Maurice and roster construction from Kevin Cheveldayoff, no stone should be left unturned.
Winnipeg had a golden opportunity to do something really special this spring. And they blew it in rather spectacular fashion. Don't be fooled by Monday's result, a 3-2 overtime loss that might leave you thinking this was a close game that could have gone either way. It wasn't. At all.
Save for Connor Hellebuyck's heroics and two unlikely goals from Logan Stanley, the Jets would have been run right out of the Bell Centre. In a game with their season on the line, the Jets came out with one of their worst efforts of the year. Certainly the most uninspired of the series.
Yes, uglier than the 5-1 loss in Game 3, the 1-0 defeat in Game 2 and the 5-3 setback in Game 1.
Many of the flaws that got covered up by Hellebuyck's first-round play -- a .950 save-percentage is a helluva drug -- were exposed by a relentless Montreal club with a balanced forward group, a big, tough blue-line and a future Hall-of-Famer in net. Throw in a major dose of confidence after staving off elimination three straight times to their biggest rivals in Toronto and the Canadiens were unstoppable.
Not that Winnipeg made it very difficult for them, even though they had a major advantage in the rest department with a nine-day break between series. Trying to move the puck out of their own end should have been accompanied by Yakety Sax, the theme song from the Benny Hill Show, given what an adventure if often was. Completing basic passes, generating any sustained offensive attack or getting anything resembling traffic in front of Carey Price were all nightly struggles.
Maurice couldn't, or wouldn't, make the necessary adjustments. The more he threw his lines into the blender -- the invisible Pierre-Luc Dubois was bounced all over the place Monday night -- only led to more confusion, rather than the spark he was clearly trying to find. After the Game 3 stinker, he went back to the exact same lineup 24 hours later.
Remind me: What's the definition of insanity?
There was play, late in the third period Monday night, that perfectly summed up Winnipeg's play in this series. A promising odd-man rush up the ice ended at the blue-line when Jets captain Blake Wheeler somehow stepped on the puck and wiped out. It quickly turned the other way, with Montreal generating a chance of their own.
Just getting this one beyond regulation was nothing more than smoke and mirrors on Winnipeg's part. Extending the series would have been a case of larceny. But Tyler Toffoli made sure justice was served by putting the Jets out of their misery just 99 seconds into the extra frame.
They got outworked. They got outsmarted. They got outscored. They got outcoached. And, in the end, they got what they deserved.
Winnipeg, which didn't enjoy a lead in this short series for a single second, inexplicably came out flat once again. A high-sticking penalty to Andrew Copp, a failed clear by Nate Thompson and a power play goal by Erik Gustafsson just seconds later had the Jets chasing the game early once again. Rinse, repeat.
They'd surrender another in the final minute, as Artturi Lehkonen continued to make an impact since entering the series after Jake Evans was concussed by Mark Scheifele's senseless dirty hit in the dying minute of Game 1 which proved to be a pivotal point in this all-too-brief series. Lehkonen set-up Toffoli's winner in Game 2, scored the winner in Game 3 and scored the 2-0 goal in Game 4.
Scheifele, by the way, is now going to have to miss the 2021-22 season opener for what will be the fourth, and final, game of his suspension. Talk about adding insult to injury.
So how did Winnipeg respond by digging themselves yet another huge hole? By getting outshot by a whopping 27-9 over the final 40 minutes of regulation. Of course, two of those were off the stick of Stanley, who apparently is kryptonite to Price. But that was all the offence the Jets could muster.
Remind me: Which team was fighting for its playoff lives, and which one had the luxury of a three-game cushion? You'd be hard pressed to tell based on how they played.
Scheifele must take some blame for a foolish play that left his club shorthanded. But the team's other highest-paid players didn't exactly pick up the slack. Wheeler, Dubois, Copp, Nikolaj Ehlers and Paul Stastny had a combined zero goals in the series. Winnipeg got a pair from Stanley, a pair from Adam Lowry, one from Derek Forbort and one from Kyle Connor, who was a defensive disaster for much of the series including critical errors that led to goals against in Game 2 and Game 3.
When bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defencemen are leading the offensive charge, you're likely in big trouble. They also got slaughtered on special teams, giving up three power play goals and three shorthanded goals, while not scoring even once with a man-advantage.
Add it all up and you have all the ingredients for a swift and justified exit from the playoffs.
It's hard to fathom this was the same Winnipeg team that beat Edmonton four straight times, even if that series was truly much closer than it maybe appeared thanks to Hellebuyck and three overtime victories. Turns out that was likely the mirage, and a Jets team that struggled down the regular-season stretch re-appeared at the worst possible time, warts and all.
They really had us fooled for a bit there, didn't they?
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.