The Washington Capitals had opened the scoring with a shot that came from behind Winnipeg’s net, pulled another puck off of their goal line with about a quarter-inch to spare and blocked one more Jets shot while goalie Braden Holtby wasn’t even in the TV frame.
It had all added up to a 5-3 Winnipeg loss, a crushing defeat for the fifth Canadian team trying to sneak into the post-season.
So when someone asked Claude Noel in his post-game scrum – “How big a blow is that loss?” – it came across as, well, fairly self-evident to the Jets head coach.
“That’s got to be the dumbest question in the world,” quoth Noel.
Well, it was perhaps the dumbest question in HIS world, an existence that suddenly has a golf course in its very near future.
Playoff Hockey Pick’em: Enter now!
On a night when the San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders each clinched playoff berths, the Jets kept reaching back for more at the Verizon Center, and finally found only an empty tank.
“We played too cute,” spat Noel. “There was no way we were going to be able to match their skill level and to play the way that they played. We had to do some things that to me we didn’t do. We tried to get it back between periods to get it to go but never got it done.”
Winnipeg weathered a tough (but accurate) call early when John Erskine pulled a puck off the goal line, and then four Jets were caught standing around while Jason Chimera stood in their midst, getting two cracks at a puck right in front of Pavelec’s goal to make the score 2-0.
After back-to-back March losses to the Caps in Winnipeg (4-0 and 6-1) in which the Jets had not managed to find a second wind, they did here, and found themselves tied at 2-2 on goals by Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler.
But if in the aftermath, with everything at 20-20, you can pinpoint a moment that Winnipeg failed itself, it came next:
On the very shift after Wheeler had quieted an electric building with the 2-2 goal, with the P.A. man still in mid-sentence announcing the goal, Washington scored. Kane back-checked a tad lazily, and Ron Hainsey somehow failed to intercept an Ovechkin centering pass that would bank in cleanly (and legally) off of Backstrom’s skate.
“The shift … was disheartening,” Noel said. “That’s a shift you’ve got to have … that’s just a play that you can’t make, or a situation that you can’t have.”
“Those things happen over the course of the game,” said Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd, pointless for a second straight game though he fought like a warrior throughout. “I thought we battled hard to even put ourselves back in a position to get to 4-3, we just couldn’t find a way.
“We had those two chances in the first (period) where pucks are sitting on the goal line and you know, maybe those go in it’s totally different. We battled hard and I thought a few defensive lapses ended up in our net and that’s the game.”
If it’s a game of inches, then it is also – eventually – a game of miles as well. The Jets, so close at the game’s outset to their first playoff berth since coming home to Winnipeg, are a long ways out this morning.
They are now 6-1-1 in their last eight games and it probably isn’t good enough, with just one to play (Thursday at home with Montreal), while everyone else has at least two. If the Rangers and Senators each win to gain two more points, the Jets are eliminated.
A point behind the pack with one more game played adds up to darned near hopeless, and everyone in this entourage knows it.
“It was basically our game seven in the playoffs,” Nik Antropov said.
“We’re going to need some help,” admitted Ladd, “so yeah, that’s pretty much it. We have to show up and make sure we’re ready for Montreal and give ourselves a chance to at least put ourselves in a situation where if those other teams lose, we can get in.”
Too bad. The MTS Centre would have been a sight to behold.