Record: 52 – 20 – 10
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Now's when all that the Winnipeg Jets learned during a fantastic regular season about rallying from adversity and bouncing back from sub-par performances should come in handy.
The Minnesota Wild stormed back Sunday night to regain relevance in their Western Conference opening-round series with Winnipeg — most of it earned but some gift-wrapped by a far less speedy and physical Jets squad.
Six different scorers hit the sheet for the hosts, who posted a resounding 6-2 victory in their own roaring, rambunctious barn over the Jets, who leads the best-of-seven series 2-1.
To a man, the Jets blamed the loss not on effort but a shortage of quickness in all aspects of their game against a desperate Wild team that simply couldn't afford another defeat.
"We just kind of lacked our speed. The first two games we seemed to be on pucks and causing turnovers. For whatever reason we didn't have it," said centre Adam Lowry. "You have to give them some credit. They played a good game. They're a good team at home. We'll put this one behind us and move on to Game 4."
That pivotal fourth game, also scheduled for Xcel Energy Center, goes Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Jets captain Blake Wheeler, who opened the scoring with an early power-play goal, his first tally of the playoffs, echoed Lowry's sentiments.
"It’s one game in a seven-game series. We didn’t play anywhere near our level (Sunday), and it’s a fine line for us. We need to play with team speed, like we were able to accomplish the second half of both games 1 and 2," he said.
Trailing 3-1 early in the second period, the Jets closed the gap on defenceman Tyler Myers' second goal in as many games. But Eric Staal, Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno beat goalie Connor Hellebuyck before the middle frame was over for a hungry Wild team that did its finest work during the regular season on home ice (27-6-8).
"(Trailing 2-1 after 20 minutes) is not a death sentence by any means in this building. But when that second period started, we weren’t able to get faster. And that’s when the game changed. They stuck with it, and we just weren’t able to get to our speed we needed to get to," Wheeler said.
Myers was hurt with 4:19 left in the second period and did not return after getting pushed to the boards by a falling Foligno, likely injuring his leg or foot. The towering blue-liner lay motionless and had to be helped off the ice, but walked down the tunnel on his own steam.
He was later seen in the bowels of the arena walking gingerly to the team bus. Head coach Paul Maurice had no update on his condition, however, losing Myers for any length of time would be a huge blow to a squad already down defencemen Dmitry Kulikov and Toby Enstrom.
Maurice offered a hint of frustration on the play by Foligno.
"I didn’t love it," he said.
Hellebuyck had a rare off-night, allowing four goals on just nine shots in the second. Staal's first of the playoffs, in particular, looked entirely stoppable as the veteran centre's bad-angle shot found a gap between the post and the netminder's shoulder.
Winnipeg's 44-game winner and Vezina Trophy candidate was asked if he demands much more from himself than he displayed in Game 3.
"I don't really like that question. We're in a series here. We're going to lose one once in a while. It's how we respond to the next one," said Hellebuyck, who stopped just 16 of 22 through 40 minutes. He was replaced by Steve Mason, who blocked all seven drives he faced.
"We don't expect to sweep a team and they don't expect to get swept. I like our position right now and I think we have to look forward here," added Hellebuyck, who offered no opinion on getting the hook.
Only once before had Hellebuyck yielded six goals in a game this season, that coming in late February at home in a 6-5 loss to the Nashville Predators. He had given up just three goals in the first two games of this series.
Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise and Matt Dumba also scored for Minnesota.
After two games of fruitless frustration, the Wild finally penetrated the Jets zone with some consistency and effectiveness. The trio of Staal, Granlund and Jason Zucker, silenced in games 1 and 2, buzzed the visitors' end, while Mikko Koivu and Parise — easily Minnesota's best forwards in back-to-back defeats last week in Winnipeg, ramped up their intensity.
The Jets had trouble finding any room to move in the slot, testing Devan Dubnyk mostly from the outside and a couple of times from in tight while on the power play. Dubnyk finished with 29 saves.
His club's collective lack of playoff experience continues to be a non-factor, said Maurice.
"It’s got nothing to do with playoff experience. (Going) 4-0 (in the series) isn’t the standard that any team should be held to. You just go out and play your game," he said. "We were good in the first two, (the Wild) didn’t like their game. They were good tonight and we didn’t like our game. Play out the string."
Lowry said the Jets have shown resiliency all season long, and expects a similar response in the post-season.
"It's only one game. We weren't going to go 16-0 in the playoffs. It's all about how you respond. We've done a good job of responding and finding our game for the next one. So that's what we're going to do," he said. "We're going to watch some tape and see what we can do better and try and improve that for Game 4."
There's playing on the edge and there's playing with negligence — and the Jets were guilty of the latter early in the game as referees Wes McCauley and Tim Peel implemented a far different standard of officiating, treating the rulebook as gospel.
Tagged for a couple of foolish infractions in the first period, the Jets' over-aggressiveness led to a pair of power-play goals by Granlund and Parise.
Ben Chiarot cross-checked Staal in the crease and then Lowry roughed up Jason Zucker after the whistle — one of several post-whistle scrums in front of Hellebuyck in the opening period — leading to the Granlund goal at 9:47. Later, Chiarot applied some heavy lumber on Charlie Coyle in the corner, resulting in a trip to the box and Parise's tally at 17:50. Koivu set up both goals.
Wheeler had given the visitors an early 1-0 lead. Parked in the corner, Wheeler fired the puck from a bad angle and it skipped off the stick of Jonas Brodin, skidded toward Dubnyk and bounced in for a power-play goal of his own, with Minnesota's Matt Cullen serving a slashing penalty.
"It was called a bit tighter. There wasn't a whole lot of penalties the first two games. They let a lot more go. It took us after that first period to kind of figure it out, what we could get away with. It was totally different," said Jets centre Bryan Little. "Hopefully, there's a bit more consistency in the next one."
Winnipeg had five man-advantage opportunities but succeeded just once, while Minnesota finished 2-for-3 on the power play.
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).