By Carter Brooks
Photos by James Carey Lauder
That's all she wrote. The highly-anticipated 2018-19 season has come to an end for the Winnipeg Jets. An early end. A bitter end.
After beginning the year with such promise and hype, the Jets fell apart in the second half of the season, never quite finding their way back up on the wagon. With losing streaks, home losses and a brutal playoff record at home in Winnipeg, Saturday evening's 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues in game six of the opening round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs really did not come as a surprise to many.
The Jets found themselves down two-games-to-none after ending the season tied with the Blues with 99 points. The home ice advantage went to Winnipeg, but it hardly served as that. Taking the series back to Missouri down a couple games, the Jets did fight and claw to earn two victories - their last of 2018-19 - but then came home to Winnipeg and squandered another lead, giving the Blues a 3-2 win with 15 seconds remaining in the third period.
Saturday's game six contest from St. Louis was just another example of a tired, worn-out, and hurting team unable to deliver when it matters most. As has been the case essentially since the calendar flipped the page to the new year, Winnipeg's inability to close games once again proved costly in game five, giving the Blues a three-games-to-two series lead, and ultimately boosted the Blues' performance in game six.
Sure, injuries proved costly through the postseason, as Jets' Head Coach Paul Maurice indicated to in his post-game media availability.
"I had two guys that I wasn’t sure on tonight," he reflected. "It was a pretty courageous effort. We’ll give you a list when we get back. (Ehlers) sucked it up and I'm proud of him for doing it. But be careful with excuses. We got beat. I didn't think we had that sustainable gas for the whole series. I didn't feel we had it coming into it."
Maurice made his fair share of tough calls in the series as well, everything from who to dress when, to what netminder to consider starting, and when to challenge a play on ice. The later coming into plain sight very visibly Saturday.
After Jaden Schwartz gave the home team a 1-0 lead half a minute into game six, Maurice opted to challenge the call on ice for goaltender interference - a challenge that was discredited and resulted in the loss of a timeout and further challenge later in the game. The decision proved costly, as Schwartz's second goal of the game came off of blatant goaltender interference by a quick-thinking Patrick Maroon.
Unable to challenge, and with the call on the ice being a good hockey goal, all that coach Mo and the Jets could do was watch the replays of Maroon's hand pulling on Jets' backstop Connor Hellebuyck's glove prior to the puck entering the visitors' net. Schwartz's second marker of the game was his third-straight goal after picking up the game-winner on Thursday from Winnipeg. He later added a third goal on a solo effort after walking around the Winnipeg defence, giving the Blues a 3-0 lead just four minutes into the third period.
The Wilcox, Saskatchewan product took it to his provincial rival team, with the help of fellow Saskies Brayden Schenn and Tyler Bozak. Schenn - the former Saskatoon Blades' captain - was inserted onto Schwartz's line for game five, and never looked back, picking up his first three points of the series in games five and six. Meanwhile, Regina's Tyler Bozak picked up the game-winner in the series-opener, while adding two more assists by it's end on Saturday.
Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little responded with late third period goals Sunday, making the score seem a lot closer than it was. Winnipeg put up a one-shot second period, beginning the third with just six shots on red-hot netminder Jordan Binnington. The Jets did turn it on in the third frame, finishing the game with 20 shots, but it was not enough, as 2018's Western Conference finalists dropped out of the postseason in just six games in 2019.
With much uncertainty regarding the contract situations of Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba, Kyle Connor, Kevin Hayes, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Andrew Copp and Brandon Tanev, the Winnipeg Jets will look very different come October of 2019.
Winnipeg joins the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins and Calgary Flames as series favourites to be eliminated from the postseason. Other than the already second round-bound New York Islanders, the Washington Capitals are the only remaining favourite to be in control of their first round series. Playoff hockey at its finest.
The Jets will hold their final media availability in Winnipeg early this coming week following locker clean out. Training camp will begin in mid-September.