Jets lose third straight jousting match, face elimination
Winnipeg's storybook season faces a conclusion on Sunday against the unlikely contenders from Las Vegas
The greatest NHL season in the history of the Winnipeg Jets is one game away from a potential end.
Thanks to their third consecutive loss to the Vegas Golden Knights — a 3-2 emotional rollercoaster of a defeat in Sin City on Friday — the Winnipeg Jets face elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs on Sunday afternoon, when the Western Conference finals return to Manitoba.
The Jets' storybook 2017-18 season saw a franchise that had never enjoyed respect — nevermind success — finish second in the National Hockey League, plow through the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the playoffs and defeat the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in the second round.
It now may end thanks to an expansion franchise expected by most observers to be a joke before the season began.
An entire city and its fanbase are now reeling at the realization.
"I think they didn't have as much time to rest as the Golden Knights," theorized Jets fan Aaron Perlov, referring to the short turnaround between the second-round series against Nashville and the Western Conference finals.
He also blamed the Jets' fortunes on bad luck during this series.
"There's been some unfortunate opportunities and they've had unlucky bounces," he said
Luck, however, can not explain how Vegas continues to win. For the third straight match, the Knights got on the board early, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury performed exceptionally well and a late Jets press fell short of a comeback.
The Jets also committed errors.
Two minutes into the game, Jets defenceman Tyler Myers decided his true name ought to be Shovey McShoves-A-Lot and interfered with Knights winger Ryan Carpenter on a seemingly non-threatening play. The resulting penalty led to an easy-looking William Karlsson power-play goal.
The Jets wound up shorthanded again after Knights defenceman Brayden McNabb toss Mark Scheifele to the ice and tried to keep him there by scraping his stick against the Jet centre's nostrils. But it was Scheifele who went to the box after he retaliated against McNabb with a slash of sufficient force to break his stick over his opponent.
The Jets nonetheless appeared to generate more offensive chances in the first period and held on to the puck more often. This hard work paid off when Winnipeg tied up the game halfway through the second period on the power play, thanks to a Patrik Laine snipe from his favourite perch at the circle.
The tie lasted all of 43 seconds. For the third time in as many games, the Golden Knights answered a Jets goal with a momentum-killing score of their own.
After a Connor Hellebuyck bobble on a hard shot, household name Tomas Nosek received the puck in front and slid it into the Jets' goal.
Only two days prior, Jets coach Paul Maurice spoke about the need to avoid precisely this situation.
The Jets continued to press in the third period, peppering Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with a barrage of pucks with no success until Tyler Myers sneaked one through so stealthily, the refs didn't see it. A video review confirmed it as a good goal.
But as the defence giveth, the defence taketh away. Seven minutes left in the game, Dustin Byfuglien misfired on a point shot, allowing Knights winger Reilly Smith to race up the wing and place a fatal blow behind Hellebuyck.
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Jets fans nonetheless remain optimistic.
"We're going to win three in a row," said Shawn Sage, a former Winnipegger who lives in Sacramento, Calif.
When informed only 9.4 per cent of the NHL clubs who go down three games to one in a best-of-seven series come back to win the round, Sage quoted the the wise sage Jim Carrey from the ancient text known as Dumb & Dumber.
"So you're saying we got a chance. You're saying we got a chance," he said, "That's all we need, baby."
That, and the successful placement of more pucks behind Marc-Andre Fleury.