WINNIPEG — "I feel we believe we’re right there in the series. I don’t think it feels like it’s a 3-1 series."
Adam Lowry echoed what an entire city is thinking this long weekend, with their Jets’ magical run all of sudden running out of runway.
The Jets haven’t played poorly. They just haven’t played well enough to beat a Vegas team that doesn’t make many mistakes, and has the best goalie in the National Hockey League playoffs behind them when they do.
So how have the Jets found themselves here, one game away from a Stanley Cup run closing seven wins short of the goal? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, let me count the ways.
Connor (31 goals) and Ehlers (29) gave the Jets 60 goals this season. In the playoffs they’ve scored three — all Connor’s — and just one goal in this Round 3 series.
It was fine when pucks were going in for guys like Brandon Tanev, Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Stastny and Blake Wheeler, and the Jets were winning. But now that the scoring from those sources has dried up, the Jets need their 60-goal duo to provide. The offence has dried up. It is their turn.
We’ve beaten this one up this week, but when you lose the goaltending battle, you lose the series. Hellebuyck has been, well, fine. But a giveaway goal in Game 3, and the bad rebound that led to the Game 4 winner are simply two goals that can’t happen if you’re going to win.
"You know what," said Jets coach Paul Maurice, "both teams are going to ask a lot of their goaltenders, all four teams left. That’s because every shot now that gets to the net is a potential (goal). That’s the pressure that those guys operate under."
Hellebuyck has to take this series away from Fleury. If he doesn’t, the Jets are done.
The Jets second line centre cemented himself as the coup de gras of Trade Deadline additions when he had two goals and an assist in Game 7 at Nashville, mixing a rock solid defensive game with 14 points in Rounds 1 and 2. But the playoffs are "what have you done for me lately" country, and but for an assist in Game 1 vs. Vegas, Stastny’s offence has dried up in Round 3.
As a productive option to the Mark Scheifele top unit, the Jets second line — with wingers Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers — was what made Winnipeg so dangerous offensively all season. They’ve combined for two assists at even strength in this series, with Laine’s two goals coming on the power play.
Support scoring. Teams that get it win. Teams that don’t, don’t.
The Karlsson Line
The Golden Knights line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith has scored in every game this series, and as a trio they’ve piled up some insane numbers: seven goals, eight assists and 15 points.
That is more than half of the 12 goals Vegas has scored in this series, and it is simply killing Winnipeg. Paul Maurice needs to figure out a matchup that contains this trio. Hint: He’d better hurry.
Jets Depth Scoring
Among the Bottom 6 forwards, Joel Armia has the only goal in this series, a carom off his skate in Game 1. The Jets need a hero not named Mark Scheifele, and usually that guy comes from the pool of players named Tanev, Adam Lowry, Jack Roslovic, Armia or Andrew Copp.
That depth goal hero has won many a playoff game over the years.
"I think it’s just the combination of they have really good defence, obviously their goaltender playing really well," Armia said. "I don’t think it’s us getting overly nervous or overly anxious to put the puck in the net. I think it’s a factor they’re a great defence.
"Obviously Fleury is playing great. We had a lot of great chances, a lot of good O-zone time. We feel like the bounces are going to come our way at some point. If we keep getting that zone time, getting those pucks to the net, they’re going to start going in."