Two days removed from capturing a 5-1 win in a near-perfect Game 1 performance, the Jets entered “The Fortress” again Thursday evening in search of a 2-0 lead in their first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights. They failed to do so, falling 5-2 to a much more engaged Golden Knights’ squad in a feisty Game 2.
Here, we’ll look at five takeaways from all the action.
1: Jets Couldn’t Handle the Golden Knights’ Push-Back
After holding the Golden Knights at bay Tuesday — especially in the third period, where the home side mustered only two shots — the Jets were expecting the Western Conference champion that captured 111 points in the regular season to make adjustments and put up a much tougher challenge.
““Getting win two will be harder than getting win one…. Regardless of who wins that first game, getting that second one is going to be tough, same as getting the third, same with the knockout game. We know how tough (Thursday’s game) is going to be,” head coach Rick Bowness said Wednesday. “This is the top team in the Western Conference for a reason.”Jets head coach Rick Bowness
The Golden Knights came out flat in the first period and again failed to play to their identity. The Jets had them on their heels, outshot them 17-8, and entered the first intermission up 1-0 on Adam Lowry’s third goal of the series.
After four periods dormant, the real Golden Knights finally showed up for the second. They were rewarded for their effort and energy, as William Karlsson and Jack Eichel scored within a five minute span to take a 2-1 lead. The Jets replied before the period was out, with Kevin Stenlund deflecting a Saku Maenalanen centering pass up and in to tie the game.
The Jets entered the third one strong period away from coming home with an unexpected 2-0 series lead, but the Golden Knights came out with more oomph and ran away with things. A net-front Chandler Stephenson banged in a rebound — Mark Scheifele’s had lost him off the faceoff — and Mark Stone followed that up with a tap-in goal off the rush for an insurance marker.
Stone — who had a disappointing Game 1 after coming off the long-term injured reserve — scored again late in the third to cap the proceedings.
“They took over in the second period and clearly they won the third period,” Bowness said postgame. “Our execution with the puck wasn’t very good. We got on the wrong side of them and let them play a lot faster than we want them to play. And we looked slow because of the execution.”
2: Jets Didn’t Fare As Well Without Ehlers
Nikolaj Ehlers sat out again despite declaring himself “good to go” prior to the series after being injured on a dirty hit by the Minnesota Wild’s Ryan Hartman on April 11.
The “Ehlers injury” storyline has been bizarre, considering Bowness publicly disputed the left winger’s assertion of being at 100 per cent but also has allowed him to practice in full. Nonetheless, Bowness opted once again to deploy Nino Niederreiter in the dynamic Dane’s stead.
The Niederreiter, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Blake Wheeler line combined for a goal and six points in Game 1, but were held off the scoresheet in Game 2.
The Jets desperately need Ehlers’ speed and skill to compete going forward, especially if the top line of Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Mark Scheifele fails to produce like it did in Game 2.
Ehlers’ absence has been especially evident on the power play. The Jets could have used his creativity during a four-on-three opportunity when leading 1-0 in the first, where they did a lot of passing along the periphery but not much else.
3: Jets Troubling Game 2 Trend Continued
The Jets 2.0 franchise’s penchant for losing in Game 2s continued.
With the loss, the Jets now have just a 2-6 record in Game 2s since relocating from Atlanta. They won Game 2 in the 2018 first-round series against the Wild and Game 2 in the 2020 best-of-five Qualifying Round against the Calgary Flames.
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They lost Game 2 in the first round of the 2015 first-round series against the Anaheim Ducks, lost Game 2 of the 2018 second-round series against the Nashville Predators, lost Game 2 of the 2018 Western Conference Final against the Golden Knights, lost Game 2 of the 2019 first-round series against the St. Louis Blues, and lost Game 2 in the 2021 second-round series against the Montreal Canadiens.
Losing against the Ducks and Canadiens put the Jets in a 2-0 series hole, while losing against the Predators, Golden Knights, and Blues made each series 1-1.
The only series they ended up winning of those five was the series against the Predators, which went to seven games. The series against the Ducks and Canadiens series ended in sweeps, the series against the Golden Knights ended in five, and the series against the Blues ended in six.
4: Golden Knights’ Bet on Brossoit Paid Off
After the Jets put four past Laurent Brossoit on 30 shots in Game 1, there was speculation Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy might turn to veteran goaltender Jonathan Quick for Game 2, who they acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Trade Deadline.
Instead, Cassidy gave Brossoit — who went 7-0-3 with a 2.17 GAA and .927 SV% in his final 10 regular-season starts — a vote of confidence and another chance to make good. Quick, in fact, didn’t even dress as Adin Hill backed up Brossoit.
The bet on the Jets’ former backup paid off as he made 31 saves on 33 shots in the victory. He had an excellent first period, making a number of key saves that ensured his team entered the first period down only one.
5: Jets Got the Split They Needed
Very few leave Las Vegas ahead. Most leave behind. The Jets will leave even, which is not bad for a team that went just 20-20-1 on the road in the regular season.
Of course, the Jets would have loved to head back to Winnipeg with a 2-0 series lead, but, as we wrote before the series began, they needed at least a split.
While they cannot be happy with losing complete control of Game 2 in the third, they will have a chance to retake the series lead at Canada Life Centre in Game 3 on Saturday afternoon, where they went 26-13-2 in the regular season.