It just wasn’t meant to be. After such a strong start to the season, the Winnipeg Jets have driven the 18-wheeler straight off the cliff. It is not the most opportune time to be struggling either. With just three games left in the regular season, Winnipeg welcomed Vancouver to Bell MTS Place for the penultimate matchup between the two western Canadian clubs.
Unfortunately for the Jets, Monday’s game between the two combatants followed the same script that the majority of the season series had with the road team taking the victory more often than not.
“It’s just one of those nights,” Kyle Connor said post-game. “I mean, I thought we had great zone time. We gave them a couple of 2-on-1s there that we have to sharpen up. Even their goals, a couple of bad bounces. We’ll take that offensive zone generating. I think we’re going to score more than one time playing that way and creating that many chances.”
Entering the game losers of eight of their past nine, the Jets fell behind early on Monday and just couldn’t seem to get any sort of momentum going, once again. Only managing one goal for against the North Division worst Canucks, Winnipeg dropped its ninth game in its last 10 tries, this time by a score of 3-1.
A spectacular performance from netminder Thatcher Demko and a two-goal effort from rookie Nils Hoglander did the trick for Vancouver, which was officially eliminated from the postseason between the second and third periods Monday.
Much like recent outings, the Jets gave up two quick goals to start the game. This time it took just 3:04 of game time, as Ville Heinola made a poor decision to drop the pass to Morrissey along the offensive zone blueline, where Canucks’ rookie Nils Hoglander intercepted the play and carried the puck all the way up ice. Driving the net, Hoglander took a quick shot that Laurent Brossoit saved, but the speedy winger put the rebound past the diving Jets backstop.
Then four-and-a-half minutes later, captain Bo Horvat gave the visitors a two-goal lead, finishing off a strong Vancouver rush up ice. Tanner Pearson took a shot low off the end boards, where Matthew Highmore collected the bouncing puck. He turned and put it back towards the net, where Pearson redirected the puck to Horvat, who wasted little time hammering his 17th of the year into the cage.
However, Winnipeg was able to respond moments later. Following a successful penalty kill, Mark Scheifele got the puck to Mathieu Perreault, who put a nifty move on the Canucks’ defender, before finding Kyle Connor all alone in front of the Vancouver net. In snapping an ugly eight-game scoring drought, KC put his team-leading 23rd past Thatcher Demko and into the Canucks’ net, cutting the lead in half.
“It was a big goal to make it 2-1,” captain Blake Wheeler said of Connor’s goal. “I thought the momentum got shifted a little bit there. Kyle had a really good game, lot of opportunities tonight for him. He was kind of the victim of some of the bad puck luck. There was two or three I can remember in the third period right around the crease with an empty net came right to him and they just kind of bounce over his stick or that kind of stuff. It was a good game for Kyle.”
The opening frame finished with Vancouver holding the slight 2-1 lead, while also remaining one shot up on the home team, 14-13 through 20 minutes.
The second period saw Winnipeg grind out a better effort, but a strong performance from Thatcher Demko was the difference, holding off the Jets’ potent attack. Three power play chances for the Jets saw a Mark Scheifele post, before a diving Demko stop brought all Canucks players to their feet on the bench in admiration of their netminder. Nate Thompson may have had the best Jets chance in the frame, but the ever-patient Demko calmly turned him aside from inside the crease.
Winnipeg outshot the Canucks in the middle stanza, heading into the third period with a slight 27-24 lead in that department. Also during the intermission, the Canucks found out that they – alongside the Calgary Flames – had officially been eliminated from playoff contention with Montreal collecting one point in an overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
Midway through the third period, Hoglander collected his second unassisted tally of the game, restoring Vancouver’s two-goal lead. Carrying the puck up ice on a two-on-one, the rookie’s cross-ice pass redirected off the stick of Morrissey and into the net past Brossoit, putting the Canucks up 3-1 with just 9:44 to play.
“He’s been great,” Horvat said of Hoglander. “He keeps getting better and better. It takes a little bit for as young guys to figure things out. I think he’s improved immensely over the season so he’s just going to continue to get better and he showed that again tonight.”
Moments later, Demko robbed Kyle Connor not once but twice on a breakaway and follow up chance with just over seven minutes to play. It wasn’t for lack of trying, as Connor had four shots on the night at that point – trailing just his linemate Mark Scheifele (6) for the team lead through 55 minutes of the game.
Despite an empty-net effort, the Jets failed to get anything else past the red-hot Canucks’ netminder, ultimately dropping their ninth game in their past 10 outings.
“The offensive part of our game at least looked right until the goalie stopped the puck,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ve played some games where I didn’t think we generated nearly as much as I hoped to, but I thought tonight we seem to have gotten that part, with better traffic at the net. And we had some pretty good looks, he made three or four really good saves on something through the seam. So there’s a starting point there.”
Brossoit stopped 28 of Vancouver’s 31 shots on the night, while seeing his record drop to 6-6-0 with the loss on Monday. His counterpart Thatcher Demko turned aside 40 of Winnipeg’s 41 shots, who saw his record improve to 14-17-1 on the season. With the loss, Winnipeg’s record now sits at 28-23-3 through 54 games, keeping the team stuck on 59 points.
“We had our chances tonight,” Scheifele said. “We made some good plays, we made bad plays but I think it’s a matter of figuring it out and bearing down. We’ve got to put it in the back of the net, that’s what it comes down to. We’ve got to put some pucks in the back of the net and score some goals. We have two more games to figure it out. We’ve got the guys in this room that can do that and I have faith in us.”
The Jets and Canucks turn right around and get back at it on Tuesday evening. In the second of the two rescheduled COVID games, Winnipeg will host Vancouver again at 7:00 PM central on Tuesday evening from Bell MTS Place. The Jets will then wait until Friday to conclude the season against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, also in a 7:00 PM showdown. Both games can be found live on TSN.