ST. PAUL — Here is what having a few playoff series under your belt teaches you, because, my goodness, have we watched this movie a few times over the years:
It is impossible for the team with a 2-0 series lead to match the desperation of the club that is trailing 2-0. Players on both teams can say they’re desperate, but only one roster is looking at a 3-0 series deficit.
Throw in the fact that, most often, the team that’s trailing is playing at home in front of their own fans, and the 6-2 spanking that befell the Winnipeg Jets Sunday evening in St. Paul was, well, sort of predictable.
Right, Bryan Little?
“You try,” he said when asked about matching desperation levels. “You don’t come out, up 2-0, saying, ‘Let’s relax and see what happens.’ We had every intention of coming out hard and putting the pressure on them and keeping it simple, like our first two.”
But then the Wild came out and made things complicated. Suddenly, the Jets’ zone entries weren’t so smooth. And that squeaky clean area in front of goalie Connor Hellebuyck, a virtual no-fly zone through the first two games?
Yeah, not so much in Game 3. It was packed with green jerseys.
Minnesota wired 29 shots on the Winnipeg goal, just eight fewer than they had in Games 1 and 2 combined, to chase Hellebuyck after 40 minutes. Eric Staal, the 42-goal man who had been quiet as a mouse, sniped one. Mikko Koivu, quietly one of the true leaders in hockey today, was fabulous in Game 3.
“Well I think everybody knows, if we lose Game 3, how difficult it is,” said Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau. “I think desperation is the best word. When we’re down 0-2 it’s still a big hurdle. They will be a lot better next game.”
Suddenly there are two teams in this series, not just one, with a Game 4 on tap for Tuesday that will likely define everything we love about playoff hockey.
“This win, this gives us a lot of confidence. We can beat this team,” declared Wild winger Marcus Foligno. “That team’s skilled. And they’re big. They’re fast and strong. They’re a heck of a team. Now it moves to Game 4 where we have an opportunity to tie the series.”
The opponent is off the mat, Jets fans, but don’t fret. It was inevitable. Your team wasn’t going to go 16-0, and they’ll likely still win this series. It just won’t happen before Wednesday.
The Wild lost just six games in this building this season. Did we really think the Jets would walk in here and win Games 3 and 4?
“It’s one game in a seven-game series,” said captain Blake Wheeler. “We didn’t play anywhere near our level tonight, and it’s a fine line for us. We need to play with team speed, like we were able to accomplish the second half of both Games 1 and 2. It’s not a death sentence by any means in this building.”
The Jets had spent Saturday trying to fly into the snowbound Twin Cities, only to spend four hours on a tarmac in Duluth before turning around and sleeping in their own beds back in Winnipeg Saturday night. They took another run at it Sunday morning, and touched down here around 10 a.m.
It’s not an excuse, but a day like that can’t help the cause either.
“I don’t know if it made us worse,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “But I can say for a fact that it certainly didn’t make us better.”
Alas, it was an experience, and that alone can help these Jets. There are some players here who have played a few playoff games, but as a group everything beyond the first week of April is brand new, right down to the travel dysfunction.
“You can’t really talk about experience when a lot of guys don’t have it,” Little admitted. “We’re going through this together, leaning on some of the older guys, like Buff, who’ve been there before and been on that journey. We’re a group that learns day-to-day, and we talk to each other about it.
“We’re forgetting about this one and getting ready for the next one.”
That’s another post-season lesson: The playoffs are no place for an elephant. Win and forget, lose and forget.
It’s a race to four, so don’t worry, Jets fans. Your team is just fine.