The Stanley Cup playoffs are a cruel and unforgiving arena. Just ask the Winnipeg Jets, who, after sweeping the heavily favoured Edmonton Oilers, lost four straight to bow out of the postseason. Losing four consecutive to the Montreal Canadiens is a painful enough thought without acknowledging the emphatic way in which they were dispatched.
The postmortem is now underway in Winnipeg, with the top brass wondering how their hockey club, after picking up an impressive head of steam in the first round, were derailed in such swift and devastating fashion. Playoff hockey is like the natural ecosystem in Africa’s wild savannah. The vulnerable get quickly found out and are ruthlessly put down. There are no mulligans, no do-overs. And you cannot conceal your susceptibilities for long, as Winnipeg was harshly reminded of.
Jets Enjoyed a Dream Start to the Postseason
The Jets, thanks to opportunistic scoring, executing a solid defence-by-committee game plan, and Connor Hellebuyck – Winnipeg’s version of the Great Wall of China – standing tall, managed to brush aside Edmonton, rewriting playoff history in the process.
The first-round sweep of the Oilers, at a superficial glance, looked like a relatively rudimentary conquest for the Jets. The fact three of the four games went to overtime, with the series-clinching win nearing the midway mark of the sixth period, tells an altogether different story.
But the Jets persevered in each game, showing the resilience and mental strength of a team with one ultimate goal in mind. Able to exorcise their Oilers’ demons while putting the miserable final month of the season behind them, Winnipeg had all the momentum going into the second round, resembling a runaway locomotive.
The Perfect Storm That Led to Winnipeg’s Second Round Exit
Momentum in the playoffs is a beast like no other. Both the Jets and Canadiens galloped into Round 2 on their noble steeds, heads held high and riding a tsunami-size wave of positive emotion. Something had to give and,
unfortunately for the Jets, the derailment of their high-flying train started when Dylan DeMelo was forced out of Game 1 with a lower-body injury.
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DeMelo, one of the team’s most mobile defenceman, did not return for the remainder of the series. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a moment of utter madness from Mark Scheifele in the dying embers of the game ensured Winnipeg’s alternate captain would, for entirely different reasons, follow in DeMelo’s footsteps. Scheifele’s late hit on Jake Evans turned out to be his last on-ice act of the playoffs.
His premature exodus was a sign of things to come for the Jets, who, like an injured fawn, were prime for the taking. The Canadiens carried their momentum into Game 2 and punished Winnipeg to the full extent of the law. Along with a clear depletion of momentum, Winnipeg had also lost their collective confidence. And those are two invaluable intangibles no team participating in the NHL playoffs can do without.
The Canadiens dominated the rest of the series, outshooting Winnipeg in three of four games. The Habs outshot Winnipeg 42-16 in the clinching game, a testament to the away team’s capitulation. While they had no intention of throwing in the white towel, the combination of losing DeMelo and Scheifele, along with an insufferable loss of momentum and confidence, led to Winnipeg’s ultimate demise.
The eminent high of ousting the Oilers in the first round was met head-on by an even stronger opposing force. It was yet another example of the playoffs callous nature. Winnipeg is now left to pick up the pieces and find solutions to the sobering questions that are assuredly forthcoming.