Despite a valiant effort, the under-manned Winnipeg Jets just couldn’t find a goal scorer.
Playing without Paul Stastny, Dylan DeMelo, Dominic Toninato and the suspended Mark Scheifele, the Jets took Game 2 of the North Division final right to the wire against the heavily-favoured Montreal Canadiens. However, while they completely dominated the third period, outshooting Montreal 14-6 over the final 20 minutes, the Jets fell 1-0.
“I thought it was a great step in the right direction,” captain Blake Wheeler said post-game. “I thought we played a great game and unfortunately it was one of those games where whoever scores first is going to win. I thought we got off to a way better start and had quite a few looks to tie the game up and unfortunately it was just a matter of being unable to get that bounce to go our way.”
With the loss, Winnipeg now trails Montreal 2-0 in the series and without four of its better NHL-level players, the Jets comeback chances look slim. Montreal, meanwhile, has won five-straight games for the first time since 2017.
“It’s a challenge, for sure,” head coach Paul Maurice reflected. “We’ve been a better road team than we’ve been a home team all year. We’ve got some confidence going into the other team’s building and there’s a chance we might get Paul (Stastny) back, which will probably help our group up front.”
In the first period, the Jets came out with a flourish and quickly took the play to Montreal. Eight minutes in, the Jets had outshot the Canadiens 5-1.
The first 20 minutes expired with the game scoreless, but on the bright side, there weren’t many whistles and it only took 31:54 of real time to play the entire period. The Jets probably had the best chance, but there weren’t very many. Winnipeg outshot Montreal 8-7 and outhit them 27-14. There were no penalties.
In the second period, Montreal broke the deadlock when Tyler Toffoli ripped a high shot past Jets net minder Connor Hellebuyck. It was an unassisted shorthanded goal at 1:41 and when the puck went in the net, you could see the Jets bench visibly sag.
Still, for the next few minutes the Jets battled hard, taking over territorial control. And that’s when the two referees, Eric Furlatt and Kevin Pollock, in an effort to even up the penalties charged Mathieu Perreault with interference on a play where Jeff Petry initiated the contact and then took a big swan dive as if he’d been shot from the 15th row. This was an “NHL-is-a-mess penalty.” Or it could have been called, “Tim Peel told the truth.”
Later, Jets D-man Josh Morrissey avoided a serious injury when Montreal’s Artturi Lehtonen, carrying his stick way to high, caught it in the corner of the boards beside the Canadiens bench and almost chopped Morrissey’s head off.
Fortunately, Morrissey did come back, and, all things considered, the Jets played well for the rest of the period. Montreal outshot Winnipeg 11-8 (18-16 through 40 minutes and Cole Caufield had five of them) and the Jets outhit the Canadiens 17-2 (44-16 through two periods). After 40 minutes, the Jets had also won 58 per cent of the face-offs.
How under-manned were the Jets? Tucker Poolman led all Jets in ice-time with 15:13 TOI after two periods.
In the third period, the Jets came out quickly and took the play right to the Canadiens. They outshot them 5-0 in the first seven minutes and had total territorial control, but without Scheifele and Stastny, the lines simply couldn’t get things together around the Habs net. They had chances but fanned on shots, missed passes and on one occasion Andrew Copp — lying on his side — blocked a Kristian Veselainen snapshot right in front of Carey Price.
Montreal laid back for the period and were content to jump on Jets mistakes and get some great chances. However, Hellebuyck was superb and kept his team in the game.
“Bucky is great, he’s been great for us all year,” Nikolaj Ehlers said. “You feel so confident when you’ve got a guy like him in the net. Obviously, you don’t want to give up two-on-ones or breakaways, but it’s going to happen once in a while. That’s hockey. He’s been outstanding for us and he’s going to keep doing what he’s doing, and we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
In the end, Winnipeg outshot Montreal 30-24 and the Canadiens also blocked another 19 Jets shots. Winnipeg won 55 per cent of the face-offs and outhit Montreal 49-20. But they just couldn’t find a player who could beat Carey Price.
“I think we had a lot of great chances,” Ehlers added. “So if we can keep doing what we’re doing, it’s going to go in. We’re a confident, confident team. Obviously you want to score goals. That’s part of hockey. But it’s not the first time that we haven’t scored a goal in a game. It is playoffs. You want to score. But we’re confident in what we do.”
This isn’t the first time that Winnipeg has found itself down 2-0 after opening a series at home. Back in 2019, the team trailed the Blues by two games in the opening round. It headed out to St. Louis where it won Game 3 and 4 before going back home to Winnipeg with the matchup deadlocked at twos.
“I think we can take a lot of positives out of this game,” Andrew Copp said. “They just went through a seven-game series and we’ve got a back-to-back coming up. Those top four D of theirs are logging an awful lot of minutes. They’re big boys, they’re physical, so we’re just trying to wear them down over the course of a seven-game series. Obviously, tonight we didn’t get the result we wanted but we thought tonight was a good template for us moving forward.”
The two teams will now head to Montreal for Game 3 on Sunday at 5 p.m. CDT on Sportsnet and CBC.