Jets’ goaltending fails them just as offence shows up to play

The Winnipeg Jets battled back and forth with the St. Louis Blues but two goals from Oskar Sundqvist lifted St. Louis to a 4-3 win and a two-game series lead over Winnipeg.

WINNIPEG — “I really don’t like that question.”

Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck was taking on the media on a night when his team lost 4-3. He had been undoubtedly the second-best goalie in the game, and wasn’t going to go 0-2 against a bunch of guys with digital recorders in their hands.

The whiff of the game-winning goal, however, still lingered after a 4-3 loss. It was a semi-distant wrist shot from Ryan O’Reilly that had eluded Hellebuyck to the far side, eliciting the old hockey cliché from Paul Maurice:

“Yeah, he’s going to want that back,” winced the Jets coach.

Earlier, in fact, a scribe had asked Hellebuyck if there were “one or two” goals that he may have “wanted back.” Combative to the end — which we like about Hellebuyck — the goalie fired back.

“I would like every single goal I ever let in back,” he reasoned. “That’s kind of a loaded question.”

The Jets are down 0-2 and heading out on the road to St. Louis, their playoff lives hanging by a thread, and suddenly the goalie is a giving a master class in journalism instead of stopping pucks. Nice.

Beaten by three clean wristers — two by Oskar Sundqvist — we’re not saying that Hellebuyck can’t let in a puck or two over the course of a game. But an NHL team needs saves on two of those three shots — any two, pick ’em — if they’re going to win in April or May.

“I’d rather watch video before I discuss it,” Hellebuyck said. “That’s all I’m gonna say.”

Harumph!

After blowing a 1-0 lead after 40 minutes in the series opener, the Jets and Blues were tied 3-3 heading into the most important third period of Winnipeg’s season on Friday night. Once again, St. Louis pulled away from Winnipeg in the Jets’ own barn, as Jordan Binnington stopped all 15 Jets shots in the third period, while Hellebuyck let one of nine volleys elude him.

“If your recipe is your goaltender is going to have to be the best player on your team,” said a protective Maurice, “it won’t be a long playoffs. You’ve got to have some nights where you either give him run support, or block enough shots, or play tight enough that on maybe an off night, it (stops at) two and not four.”

The fact is, the Jets gave Hellebuyck plenty of run support, sifting three past the hottest goalie in the world of late, young Binnington. The tandem of Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler arrived for work, with a goal and assist apiece, and Patrik Laine scored his second of the series on a signature one-timer on the power play.

Then Game 2 was, alas, a metaphor for a Jets season that has seemingly rumbled along on six of eight cylinders since October. Needing the big boys to show up and produce offensively, Scheifele, Wheeler and Laine obliged — but then the goaltending goes south on them. And their five-on-five play also dips, outscored 4-1 by St. Louis during even-strength play.

The Jets are 0-2, a deficit from which 87 per cent of NHL teams do not survive, and if you think all of those numbers look bleak, these next few digits won’t make you feel any better:

• Six: the number of consecutive playoff games the Jets have lost at home.
• Five: the running number of consecutive losses at home this season.
• And nine losses in 11 games, the skid the Jets are currently riding since a season-ending dive right into this fruitless playoff season.

“It’s not just breaks. They’ve been playing well,” said Adam Lowry of the Blues. “They’ve made some great plays behind the net, off the rush. They’ve defended extremely hard. They’re a hard team to play against. They don’t give you a lot. They deserve a lot of credit there, too.”

The Blues, as we’ve chronicled, spent the first three months of the season searching for their game. But they’ve found it, and they’re confident that the game they can lay down is going to be better than the other guy’s almost every night.

The Jets are confident their game can win, too. If only they could find it. Or find all of the elements on the same night.

After a trip to the Western Conference Final last season, 2018-19 was supposed to be a coronation for the NHL’s most patient build, a franchise that drafted and developed its way to being one step away from a Stanley Cup a year ago.

Now, this.

They’re 0-2 against the West’s hottest team since Jan. 1, and every element of the Blues game is just that much better than Winnipeg’s. Especially the goaltending.

Now we go to St. Louis. The two teams, and even the damned journalists.

“They haven’t won,” said a staunch Hellebuyck. “We’ve got a lot of heart in here, and we’re gonna fight. Every inch, every battle.

“Nothing’s over. Two-oh is not the end of the world.”

No, it’s not the end of the world. But the Winnipeg Jets can probably can see it from here, if they squint real hard.

It’s right over there. On the other side of that big, silver arch.

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