September 19, 2019

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Jets squander yet another early lead, lose 3-2 to Blues in Game 5 stunner

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) reacts after St. Louis Blues' Jaden Schwartz scored the game winning goal with 15 seconds left in third period. (John Woods/ The Canadian Press)</p>

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) reacts after St. Louis Blues' Jaden Schwartz scored the game winning goal with 15 seconds left in third period. (John Woods/ The Canadian Press)

This time, they didn't just blow it. They really, really blew it.

Yes, a Winnipeg Jets team that handles third-period leads with the elegance and grace of a bull in a china shop certainly outdid themselves Thursday night, turning a 2-0 advantage into a 3-2 defeat in stunning fashion.

A troubling pattern that had already played out an NHL-worst 10 times this season -- including once already these playoffs -- made yet another ugly appearance at Bell MTS Place. And unlike all the previous implosions, this one has put Winnipeg's season on the brink of elimination.

A Ryan O' Reilly goal at 1:29 turned up the heat. A Brayden Schenn tally at 13:52 tied it up. And a Jaden Schwartz deflection at 19:45 was the dagger.

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This time, they didn't just blow it. They really, really blew it.

Yes, a Winnipeg Jets team that handles third-period leads with the elegance and grace of a bull in a china shop certainly outdid themselves Thursday night, turning a 2-0 advantage into a 3-2 defeat in stunning fashion.

A troubling pattern that had already played out an NHL-worst 10 times this season — including once already these playoffs — made yet another ugly appearance at Bell MTS Place. And unlike all the previous implosions, this one has put Winnipeg's season on the brink of elimination.

A Ryan O' Reilly goal at 1:29 turned up the heat. A Brayden Schenn tally at 13:52 tied it up. And a Jaden Schwartz deflection at 19:45 was the dagger.

"Lucky pinballs," is how Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck would describe the game-winner, as Tyler Bozak's pass from the corner was tipped out of the air by Schwartz, who set-up directly in front of his crease, with the teams just 15 seconds away from going to overtime.

"Tough to eat that one, but I thought we were the better team. If we keep fighting here, it’s not over," said Hellebuyck.

St. Louis now lead the best-of-seven series 3-2, having won all three games on the road. They can clinch the series on Saturday night when Game 6 goes down at Enterprise Center.

"That’s tough to take. But we’ve got a simple, defined job now and we’ll have to regroup," said coach Paul Maurice. "You’re going to eat it for the rest of the night, and then we’ll go through the places in our game that we need to tighten up and get better at. We’ll deal with the goals so they understand it. And then you have an edge, certainly, going into the game in terms of — I don’t mean one team — but you’re going to be a little grumpy over that one."

Winnipeg must find a way to win for a third time in enemy territory if they hope to force a winner-take-all Game 7 on home ice, which would be played Monday.

"No different than being down 0-2. Happens all the time, man. Gotta win a hockey game. Won almost a hundred of them the last two years. So we're confident we can do that," Blake Wheeler said of the challenge ahead.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Connor Hellebuyck reaches to cover the puck against St Louis Blues' Robert Thomas in the second period.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Connor Hellebuyck reaches to cover the puck against St Louis Blues' Robert Thomas in the second period.

As for rebounding from a loss of this fashion?

"We've done that a few times this year. So if anything, we can figure it out," the captain insisted.

"Overall it was a good game. I mean, 2-0 at home, going into the third. Playoffs are a funny thing. You lose momentum and it can swing in a heartbeat. It's all about how we manage the next 24 to 48 hours. We're a confident group. We know we can win a game."

Winnipeg has now dropped six straight games at Bell MTS Place dating back to the end of the regular-season. They've also lost five straight playoff games on home ice dating back to the Western Conference final.

It looked like both of those streaks were going to come to an end Thursday.

Adam Lowry wasted no time planting some seeds of doubt in the minds of the Blues, scoring just 12 seconds into the opening period. He knocked in a rebound following a Brandon Tanev shot, and a rowdy sellout crowd had something quick to explode over.

It was the first goal of the playoffs for Lowry, who didn't score in 17 post-season games last spring or the first four of this series. And it was another strong example of why the so-called "TLC" line - Tanev, Lowry and Adam Copp — can be a force. Maurice opted to match them against the Blues No. 1 line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Schenn and O'Reilly off the opening face-off, and they quickly swung momentum in Winnipeg's direction.

Loud chants of "You look nervous" rained down from the rafters, directed towards rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. And it's true — both he and his teammates certainly did.

Winnipeg made it 2-0 at 13:35 of the first period as Kevin Hayes took a pass from Dustin Byfuglien, then muscled his way directly to the front of the net, burying a shot past Binnington. Blues defenceman Joel Edmundson didn't exactly put up much resistance on the play.

Hayes had another chance in the period, as a re-directed shot looked like it was going to cross the line, only to have his stick accidentally knock it away during a net-front battle with Colton Parayko.

"The puck went through his legs, Parayko lifted my stick and my stick came down and hit it out," Hayes explained after the game.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Fans prior to puck drop on Thursday.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Fans prior to puck drop on Thursday.

The Jets had another golden chance to increase the lead in the middle frame when Robert Thomas caught Dmitry Kulikov in the face with his stick, drawing blood. Winnipeg was given a four-minute power play, but could only manage one relatively harmless shot.

In hindsight, that proved to be a turning point. The Jets could have buried the Blues with a goal there, but instead let them hang around.

A Jacob Trouba roughing penalty in the final seconds of the second gave the Blues their first power play of the night, and O' Reilly scored early in the third on the ensuing advantage cut the deficit in half. The Jets failed to clear the zone seconds earlier.

Schenn's tying goal was not without some controversy, as he went hard to the net and re-directed a pass. The net came off right around the same time, prompting a video review of the goal. Officials allowed it to stand, ruling Dustin Byfuglien caused it to come off by taking Oskar Sundqvsit into the post (he was getting a penalty on the play).

"I’m not happy about it. I can’t push off the post. I understand we pushed a guy into it but the net’s off the moorings. It should be no goal, but they called it," said Hellebuyck.

Still up 2-1, another power play came up empty at a time when a goal could have been the difference. The door remained wide-open for St. Louis, and they walked right through it with both the tying and winning goals to follow.

"We’ve got to stay positive in this room. We’ve been down before in this series and we’ll have a good game next game," said Hayes. "If we lose, we’re done. That’s enough motivation. Game 6 will be our best game."

Trouba had the puck on his stick in the far corner with the clock ticking down in the third, but gave it up during a lost battle that proved critical.

"It was probably just a little too much time on the clock to be eating the puck there. We can move it. But when you’re not sure where you want to put the puck then the next best thing is to hang onto it and we came out with it. It’s on our stick when the scrum is over" said Maurice.

Binnington finished the night with 29 saves, while Hellebuyck made 26 stops.

"It’s bitter, but it’s playoffs. We’ve got to put it behind us. We’ve got a big Game 6 coming up, and a big Game 7," said Hellebuyck.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

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.

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History

Updated on Thursday, April 18, 2019 at 11:39 PM CDT: writethrough

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