A Paul Martin power play goal 11 seconds in to a Mark Stuart hooking penalty in the third period proved to be the winner in a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night at the MTS Centre.
The loss mathematically eliminated the Jets from the playoff race; making it the third straight year Winnipeg won’t see any game action past the scheduled 82-game season.
“We’ve got a week to do the autopsy,” said a dejected Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice, when asked about his team’s elimination from the post season. “Lets do it later.”
Maurice was in no mood to talk formalities. After all, it was an inevitable course for the Jets, whose chances for their first playoff berth in three seasons since the move from Atlanta were drastically hindered by their inability to perform after the Olympic break.
Late season collapse
The Jets went 9-3-1 under Maurice leading up to the Olympics, a stretch that saw them in playoffs contention, tied for eighth in a tough Western Conference.
After the break, however, the wheels began to fall off. With Thursday’s loss, the Jets are now 6-8-4 since.
"It’s obviously disappointing,” said Jets winger Evander Kane, who extended his goalless drought to seven games.
“It was looking pretty promising going in to the break and we didn’t get the results that we needed coming out after that break in order to put ourselves in the position to be playing meaningful games this time of year.”
In 44 of the Jets 78 games this season, the score has been decided by just a single goal. It’s the third most one-goal games played by a team this season.
Only the New Jersey Devils (45) and Calgary Flames (46) have more.
Same old story
In those 44 games decided by a single goal, the Jets are 20-14-10, losing more games than they’ve won.
"Even if you can push those games in to overtime and get that extra point we could be in a different position,” said Kane.
“We sat back a lot early in the year when we did have leads. Of late we’ve tried to push but some of those old habits have been creeping in a little bit.”
It’s the third straight season the Jets have faltered heading in to the last month of play. Last year, the Jets were atop the Southeast Division in late march before a late-season collapse.
In 2013, Winnipeg went on a 9-3-1 streak in late February to make an honest bid for the playoffs.
But that was followed up by five straight losses, and the Jets finished the rest of the schedule with an 8-9-1 record - good enough for ninth in the conference, four points shy of the final playoff spot in the East.
“It’s kind of been the story here for the last month,” said defenceman Adam Pardy, who earned the game’ third star Thursday as one of the better Jets to hit the ice.
"It’s not like we’re playing bad. We’ve done a lot of things. We’re working our asses off. We’re just not getting results. It’s frustrating.”
So what is it about the Jets and their difficulties in closing out a season strong?
Veteran forward Olli Jokinen signed with the Jets prior to last season, he offered his take on late season struggles.
“It always gets harder at the end,” said Jokinen, before refocusing his attention to the Jets slow start to the year.
“Those games early in the year are really important too cause every point counts. It’s been a learning process for a lot of the guys.”
A strong finish
With four games left on the schedule, attention for the Jets now turns to the role of “spoiler”.
Winnipeg will have the chance to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs when they visit the Air Canada Centre on Saturday.
Either way, it’s about finishing strong, and restoring some pride in the locker room.
Zach Redmond scored his first goal of the season and second with the Jets, capping off a pretty play in to a wide-open net. It was just the second of his NHL career.
Maurice and rookie Jacob Trouba put a whole new meaning to “using your head” Thursday.
Both were seen nursing cuts during the first period.
Maurice had a two-inch gash on his forehead after an errant puck struck him. Despite being in clear visible pain, Maurice quipped about the incident, suggesting he “felt just great.”
Later on, Trouba needed a cloth to clean up the blood off his face after taking a hard hit from Penguins’ Tanner Glass. Trouba appeared no worse for wear by game’s end.
With two assists on goals in the first and third period, Crosby now has 102 points, 18 more than Anaheim’s Corey Perry who has the second most with 84.
First star – Sidney Crosby, PIT
He’s the best player in the world and he proved why in this one. Crosby was impossible to move in the offensive zone. He collected two assists in the game, adding to his league best 102 points.
Second star – James Neal, PIT
He just seems to be in the right place, pretty much all the time. If he had a little more finish on the night, it would have been a blowout for the Penguins.
Instead, he finished with one assist, which came on the deciding goal.