The Winnipeg Jets find themselves, after being downed 5-1 by the Montreal Canadiens in Game 3, entrenched in the exact opposite scenario from their first-round sweep of the Edmonton Oilers. Facing a 3-0 series deficit to a Montreal side that hasn’t trailed since Game 5 of the opening round against the Toronto Maple Leafs has Winnipeg ensnared in a desperately perilous position.
Only four times has a team come back from a 3-0 series deficit, suggesting the Jets are now condemned to a disappointing second-round exit. Teams leading a series 3-0 boast a staggering 193-4 record, exacerbating Winnipeg’s current tumult.
Crossbar Contributes to Jets’ Crossroads
While Winnipeg was comprehensively and inarguably outplayed in the Game 3 loss, the complexion of the game might have taken a swift turn had the Jets received a bit more puck luck. Nikolaj Ehlers hit the crossbar early in the second off a wicked wrist shot, which was followed shortly thereafter by Blake Wheeler’s clanger.
Pouring Himalayan salt on Winnipeg’s already gaping and infected wound, Montreal darted down the ice and scored less than a minute after Wheeler’s wicked shot was denied by the crossbar.
Artturi Lehkonen’s goal was the irrefutable turning point of Game 3, which put the Canadiens up by two and, just as importantly, handed the home team all of the momentum.
Jets Let Carey Price Off the Hook
The Jets mustered a measly 13 shots on goal through two periods, an insufficient amount against any NHL goaltender, let alone Carey Price, who is in impenetrable form.
Aside from the two crossbars Jets hit, Carey Price was in complete control of Game 3, mirroring closely his shutout performance in Game 2. At least the Jets peppered Price for 30 shots in the 1-0 Game 2 loss.
Winnipeg was kept off the scoresheet, prior to Adam Lowry’s goal at 17:51 of the second period, for 99:33, a shutout streak similar to Connor Hellebuyck’s 98:09 against the Oilers in the first round.
While the Jets, more out of pure desperation, picked up production in the third period, they didn’t as a collective do nearly enough to trouble Price or impede his sightline. The Canadiens haven’t trailed at any point since Game 5 against the Leafs, a span of 376:14. That staggering tally is clearly affecting Paul Maurice’s team, who, before it’s too late, must find a way to score the opening goal and get the lead in a game. It will take a more concerted effort to get back to the basics and irrepressibly fire pucks on goal, hoping for a fortuitous bounce.
Defenceman Neal Pionk had five shots on goal, testing Price more than any other Jets’ player. With due respect to Pionk, he shouldn’t sit atop any offensive category. No other Winnipeg player had more than three shots on goal, with Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor level on three apiece.
Mark Scheifele’s Absence Irreparably Damaging Jets’ Hopes of Advancing
Even if we didn’t want to admit it, everyone knew what it meant to the Jets when the NHL decided to suspend Mark Scheifele for four games after his late hit in Game 1. Whether a fair or a disproportionately harsh sentence, pundits and fans alike knew the K2-sized task the Jets were affronted with.
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Akin to last season’s first-round loss to the Calgary Flames, Winnipeg is unable to cope with the loss of their top centre and most influential player. Scheifele is the lighter fluid Winnipeg needs to set the offensive embers alight.
The Jets have managed a single goal in 120 minutes of hockey since Scheifele was condemned to the press box. Pierre-Luc Dubois, acquired in a trade for Patrik Laine, was brought in to help with secondary scoring. Unfortunately for Maurice’s team, the 22-year-old hasn’t stepped up in Scheifele’s absence. Dubois mustered just three shots on goal (two in the Game 3 defeat) since Scheifele was forced onto the sideline.
And while it’s still too early for a grand inquisition, Winnipeg, unless a miracle is forthcoming, will have an introspective offseason ahead, in which the club must find a way to stay afloat even when their most prized asset is tossed temporarily overboard.