The sweepers have become the swept.
The Winnipeg Jets were brusquely evicted from the NHL playoffs Monday night after falling 3-2 in overtime in Montreal, their fourth consecutive loss to the unquestionably superior Canadiens.
Tyler Toffoli’s fourth goal of the postseason just 1:39 into the extra session — the result of some diligent work down low by youngsters Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield — capped off the Habs’ impressive sweep of the best-of-seven North Division final series.
And it came two weeks after Winnipeg did likewise to the Edmonton Oilers in an opening-round matchup.
Montreal, winners of seven straight after falling behind 3-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1, moves into the NHL’s Final Four with the survivors from the West, Central and East divisions.
Jets captain Blake Wheeler, held pointless during the sweep, said the Canadiens are entirely deserving to represent the nation as the chase for the Stanley Cup continues.
"They’re playing at a really high level right now. You just have to give them all the credit. They’re playing a really good game. With the goaltending (Carey Price) they have, any breakdowns, he’s putting out those fires. And we just couldn’t get the first goal. We just couldn’t do it all series," said Wheeler. "That plays right into their hands. Especially their top four defencemen, they’re big and heavy and they do a good job of just clearing pucks and throwing them out of the zone.
"I really felt like in any of these games probably outside the first one that Games 2 through 4, if we could have just found a way to get that first goal, it could be a different series but we didn’t. You just have to give them so much credit. They’re playing unbelievable right now."
The nature of the series-clinching tally was appropriate, generated off a dogged forecheck and a series of Jets turnovers. Caufield found Toffoli alone on the doorstep, leaving goalie Connor Hellebuyck with no chance to make a stop.
He made so many before that — 27 stops through the final 40 minutes — to provide hope to a squad under siege.
"I’m never going to fault Helly on anything. He’s incredible. What he does for our team, he’s incredible, he’s an awesome guy. He’s such a competitor, he battles so hard for us," said centre Adam Lowry. "He gives us a chance to win every night and, unfortunately, we weren’t able to score enough for him this series. But he gave us a chance every night to be in the game and we just weren’t able to buy a couple."
Montreal caused turnovers all night — all series, in fact — bottled up the neutral zone, snuffing out any opportunity for the Jets to muster offence.
Mercifully, the Canadiens didn’t let the Jets linger, pulling the plug on their temporary division rivals at the earliest opportunity possible.
Winnipeg now shares a rare distinction with the Buffalo Sabres (1993) and New York Islanders (2019). They’re the only teams since 1987 (when the NHL expanded the first round to a best-of-seven series) to blast through an initial series undefeated before being shot down four times in a row in Round 2.
"It was extreme ... the story of the year," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice, commenting on the dichotomy of the two playoff matchups. "You roll through four games against a team with the two best scorers in the league and you like the defensive game, and then you get beat four straight times. (The Canadiens) were good. They were better than we were in this series and they deserved to win."
Logan Stanley played the role of unlikely sniper, scoring twice in a span of three minutes, 49 seconds early in the second period to pull the Jets even. Kyle Connor helped set up both goals.
The 6-7 blue-liner had just one tally in 37 games during the regular season.
Just as shocking was goalie Carey Price’s resemblance to a mere mortal during that stretch. The future Hall of Famer couldn’t handle Stanley’s dart from the left wall that glanced off Paul Byron at the 1:40 mark and then completely whiffed on his shot from the opposite side at 5:29.
Stanley acknowledged the joy of contributing offensively dissipated the moment Montreal began celebrating.
"Yeah, I think it’s all bitter right now," he said. "In the playoffs, it doesn’t matter who scores. You win as a team and you lose as a team. I’m glad I got a couple by him to try and help the team, but at the end of the day we lost to the team, so it stings right now."
Maurice made the decision to go with the same lineup that was significantly outplayed just 24 hours beforehand. Veteran defenceman Jordie Benn stayed in, while mobile youngster Ville Heinola watched from the press box.
The Jets pushed the pace early, however, the Canadiens gained an early power play after an errant high stick by Andrew Copp caught Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the face, and blue-liner Erik Gustafsson drilled a point shot behind Hellebuyck as Montreal to opening the scoring for the seventh consecutive outing.
"They’re such a good team when they get the lead that they play a frustrating brand of hockey. They don’t give you a lot. They make it tough to get to the net," said Lowry.
"Obviously, that was a big difference in the series was scoring first. Part of our game plan was to come out and get off to a good start but unfortunately we didn’t get that one killed and the puck is in the back of the net and we’re down one."
Late in the period, Artturi Lehkonen freed himself from the coverage by Derek Forbort to deflect in a shot to increase the lead for the hosts.
It’s officially next-year time for the Jets organization, and myriad questions about the future of the management and coaching staff, and the on-ice personnel, will begin in haste.
One thing’s for certain. Top-line centre Mark Scheifele won’t be in the starting lineup on the opening night of the 2021-22 campaign. The 28-year-old product of Kitchener, Ont., must serve out the last of his four-game suspension.
Scheifele was slapped with the harsh punishment for charging forward Jake Evans in the late stages of Game 1 at Bell MTS Place. He chose not to appeal the decision to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Indeed, the Jets floundered badly without their offensive driver. Up front, Wheeler and Andrew Copp contributed no points, while Nikolaj Ehlers, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mason Appleton each had a lone assist.
The impact of losing Scheifele was immeasurable, said Wheeler.
"I mean, he’s a top-10 player in the NHL. I’m not saying we would win the series in five games because he was in the lineup but it just changes our team. He makes me better. He makes Kyle better. As a line, we’re able to do some things that are pretty dynamic and from there the matchup just works a lot better for us because I think then we can rely on our depth a lot more," he said.
"We can rely on Adam Lowry’s line coming out third and they dominate in that three hole. It just makes our team look a lot different. So, it’s a damn shame."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).