If Friday's loss was viewed as a step in the right direction, then Sunday should count as two massive lunges back to reality for the Winnipeg Jets.

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This article was published 6/6/2021 (353 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Montreal Canadiens' Artturi Lehkonen, left, celebrates his goal with teammates Phillip Danault and Ben Chiarot during second period NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey action against the Winnipeg Jets, in Montreal, Sunday, June 6, 2021. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

Montreal Canadiens' Artturi Lehkonen, left, celebrates his goal with teammates Phillip Danault and Ben Chiarot during second period NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey action against the Winnipeg Jets, in Montreal, Sunday, June 6, 2021. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

If Friday's loss was viewed as a step in the right direction, then Sunday should count as two massive lunges back to reality for the Winnipeg Jets.

With their backs against the wall after dropping the first two games at home, including an uninspired 1-0 decision in Game 2 that somehow drew all kinds of positives from the Jets room, Winnipeg laid another egg in their most important game of the season. On a night Jets defenceman Derek Forbort called a "must-win" prior to puck drop, the Jets once again had their lunch money stolen and were pushed around all over the ice by the Montreal Canadiens en route to a 5-1 loss at the Bell Centre.

The Jets now find themselves in a deep 3-0 hole in the second-round, best-of-seven series and are facing elimination when the two teams meet again for Game 4 Monday night in Montreal. And after a night where the Jets were as bad as they've been all playoffs – and perhaps all season, considering the stakes – how refreshing it would have been for someone to take the opportunity to challenge themselves.

Montreal Canadiens' Ben Chiarot charges into Winnipeg Jets' Nate Thompson as Jets' Trevor Lewis plays the puck during the second period. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

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Montreal Canadiens' Ben Chiarot charges into Winnipeg Jets' Nate Thompson as Jets' Trevor Lewis plays the puck during the second period. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

Instead, the focus was on what they didn't get, mixed in with the little that they did.

"5-1 didn't feel like 5-1, you know what I mean? I feel like they forgot to count some shots on our side, too, and obviously their goalie is playing at a high level," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. "There's some things in our game that we really like, some things we can clean up certainly, and hopefully we get a bounce to go our way. Hopefully one goes off of one of their sticks and ricochets into the net and we'll take a lead and see how it looks from there."

Wheeler was faintly describing what happened on the game's opening goal, when Corey Perry put the home side up 1-0 just 4:45 in. His shot from in close deflected off the stick of Jets defenceman Jordie Benn and past Connor Hellebuyck. What was lost in translation, though, were the two other quality chances the Canadiens had before scoring, and the fact Wheeler and the Jets top line were being pinned in their own zone by Montreal's fourth trio.

One has to wonder if this team didn't like what they saw from a nine-day break between series. The Jets looked engaged against the Oilers, showing the kind of character required by a team to go on a deep run. They clawed back in games, scored by committee and got solid goaltending from Hellebuyck, who despite allowing four goals on 32 shots Sunday, still gave the Jets a chance to win.

Winnipeg Jets' Adam Lowry, left, watches the final seconds of Game 3 with teammates Blake Wheeler (26), Paul Stastny (25) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) during the third period. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

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Winnipeg Jets' Adam Lowry, left, watches the final seconds of Game 3 with teammates Blake Wheeler (26), Paul Stastny (25) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) during the third period. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

In the Edmonton series, the Jets looked like a team that was starting to finally gel after coming unglued at the end of the regular season. But none of that energy or excitement has crossed over in what's been mostly hard-to-watch hockey through three games.

"We’re on the wrong side of it now," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "In terms of quality of offense, Edmonton generated quite a bit more on us but in doing so, we were able to generate enough to win those games."

The Canadiens didn't have the luxury of a lengthy layoff after erasing a 3-1 deficit in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They played seven games in 12 days, finding their groove when they were desperate, eventually fighting back to eliminate the North Division's top-ranked team.

Because of the physical and mental wear-and-tear for the Canadiens, many predicted a quick series in favour of the Jets. Instead, Montreal has remained in the driver's seat, yet to trail once in the last six games.

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck watches the puck go into the net during the first period.  (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

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Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck watches the puck go into the net during the first period. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

Montreal has dominated all areas of the ice, with few playing as well as goalie Carey Price. While Price has the benefit of playing in front of a sturdy group of defencemen, he's come up big when needed, allowing just one goal over a stretch of 121 minutes and 42 seconds.

On Sunday, Price finished with 26 saves for a sixth straight victory. Following an up-and-down regular season, the future Hall-of-Famer has returned to form in the playoffs. Over the two series, Price has an eye-popping .937 save percentage.

"Earlier in the year I think everybody was ready to run Carey out of town and he couldn’t find his game," said centre Adam Lowry, who scored late in the second period off a slick backhanded pass from Mathieu Perreault to cut Montreal's lead to 3-1 through 40 minutes.

"He’s human, he’s going to let in some goals. We just have to create as many chances as we can to get some by him."

Winnipeg Jets' Adam Lowry (17) scores a goal against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) during the second period. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

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Winnipeg Jets' Adam Lowry (17) scores a goal against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) during the second period. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

Besides Lowry's goal, the Jets were able to beat Price on two separate occasions, only for the puck to ring off the crossbar. First it was Nikolaj Ehlers, who saw his shot ricochet off an errant skate and then hit iron. Not even a minute later, Wheeler made a nice move in tight, enough to freeze Price, but he, too, rung one off the top bar.

In fact, Wheeler thought he scored on the play, so convinced that he even raised his arms in celebration only to see the ref signal no goal.

"I was dead certain that it went in," Wheeler said. "I thought it hit the back-bar or the goalie camera, the camera in the net. It felt like I scored, t's a 1-1 hockey game, and it kind of changes the complexion of things."

Alas, the puck did not go in, and the Canadiens took control of play from there. But not before giving the Jets, down 2-0 at that point, a lifeline in the form of a too-many men penalty.

Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens players fight in the final minutes of the third period. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

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Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens players fight in the final minutes of the third period. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

But rather than gaining momentum, and maybe even a goal to cut the lead to one, a Paul Stastny turnover led to a 2-on-1 the other way. Joel Armia, a former Jet, opted to hold onto the puck, dragging it past a sliding Josh Morrissey before firing it top shelf to make it a 3-0 game. The goal looked eerily close to Tyler Toffoli's shorthanded goal in Friday's 1-0 Montreal win – and just as costly.

Armia added another shorthanded goal, depositing the second into an empty net that sealed the game. That set a new Canadiens franchise record for most shorthanded goals in a playoff series, with three.

The Jets were outshot 26-12 through two periods, with six of those coming from their defence. Winnipeg seemed all kinds of frustrated and that would continue into the third period.

The Canadiens continue to employ a game plan that is physical and tight checking. As Lowry mentioned, there is little real estate in front of their net and it was easy to see that constantly losing puck battles was weighing on the Jets.

After the Canadiens went up 4-1, with Nick Suzuki scoring on the power play following a questionable high-sticking penalty on Stastny, the Jets seemed to come unhinged.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, who continues to struggle in the absence of Mark Scheifele, took aN eyebrow-raising cross-checking penalty on Brett Kulak. And after he had already given Kulak a good shot in front of the net. Ditto for Andrew Copp, who, minutes later, laid the lumber to Paul Byron three times in front of the ref before he, too, was given two minutes for cross-checking

The good news is the Jets won't have to sit with this one for long. The two teams meet again in fewer than 24 hours. Another night like Sunday, though, and they'll have the entire summer to think about what could have been.

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.