It is officially do or die for the Winnipeg Jets. Following two-straight losses at home, the Jets travelled to Quebec on Sunday for Games 3 and 4 in a back-to-back against the red-hot Habs. Despite a slightly different storyline, Winnipeg was once again unable to muster up much offence, ultimately falling 5-1 to the Montreal Canadiens Sunday evening.
“We have to win the game tomorrow and then hopefully take the series back to Winnipeg,” Adam Lowry said post-game. “You can’t look too far ahead, or the hole that we’ve dug ourselves. It’s about showing up tomorrow and putting our best foot forward, our best effort of the series and continuing that on. Down 3-0, there’s been teams that have been down 3-0 and come back to win the Cup. That’s what we’re going to have to do if we want a chance.”
In winning its final three games against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round, Montreal has now picked up another three-straight wins against Winnipeg for a collective six-game winning streak this postseason, and is now one victory away from the Conference Final.
“Having to sit in a hotel room all day tomorrow and stew on that one, you would have a lot of guys burning inside,” captain Blake Wheeler said. “So it’s nice to get right back at it tomorrow. Hopefully we get a good feeling in our room and start to rebuild ourselves. We’ve got to win a hockey game. No different than it was today. We’ve got to win one game and then we’ll see what happens.”
In looking for a different result than the two losses suffered at Bell MTS Place, Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice was able to insert injured forward Paul Stastny back into the lineup for Game 3. Slotting in alongside centreman Andrew Copp and winger Nikolaj Ehlers, Stastny’s most notable play, unfortunately, was a giveaway that led to Montreal’s third goal of the game. Jansen Harkins was pulled from the lineup, while defenceman Jordie Benn remained inserted in place of injured blueliner Dylan DeMelo.
Much like the two games prior, Montreal continued its goal scoring ways in picking up the game’s opening goal for the third-straight time. The Habs’ veteran fourth line got things going for the home team, continuing its postseason dominance Sunday evening. In picking up his third goal of the playoffs, Corey Perry gave the Habs a 1-0 lead just 4:45 in.
Collecting a bouncing puck off the sticks of Eric Staal and former Jets forward Joel Armia, Perry, looped around the Jets’ net and threw the puck on net, which beat Connor Hellebuyck midway up the net, glove side. The goal came on Montreal’s third shot of the game, less than five minutes into the action. With the goal, the always noticeable Perry now has points in six of his last eight outings.
Unable to solve Carey Price in the opening frame, Winnipeg really didn’t give the Habs’ star netminder many looks. Finishing the period with a three-shot deficit, the Jets’ best chances came on one-timer shots from Copp on a setup play from Ehlers, and a Blake Wheeler shot from a Kyle Connor drop pass with just one second left in the period.
The Jets put together a number of quality chances in the second period, two of which found iron. A strong Nikolaj Ehlers rush up ice led to the dashing Dane wiring a long-range wrist shot off the crossbar. Four minutes later, Blake Wheeler hit his second post of the game, this time nearly fooling himself into believing it actually went into the net after finding the crossbar.
Just moments after, Montreal collected its second goal of the game, with Artturi Lehkonen being the last Habs skater to touch the puck on a lengthy goalmouth scramble in front of Hellebuyck. A falling Neal Poink left his partner Derek Forbort out of position and unable to defend a crowd atop the crease.
“Those guys that hit those crossbars, they get paid to score goals and they take a lot of pride in that so that’s frustrating,” Paul Maurice said. “The tight checking would be playoff hockey. There wouldn’t be any more frustration in tonight’s game than any other games against Edmonton. That’s the way the game is played.”
The Jets were then awarded a power play with 7:11 to go, as Montreal was caught with six players on the ice. But much like Friday’s game, the Canadiens were the ones to find a goal. With Stastny turning the puck over to Joel Armia inside the Habs’ zone, the former Jet broke up ice, and toe dragged around Josh Morrissey before putting the puck past Hellebuyck, giving Montreal a commanding 3-0 lead.
Winnipeg was able to get one back late in the frame, however. Mathieu Perreault found Adam Lowry cross-crease on a strong backhand pass, where No. 17 found his second goal of the playoffs on an easy tap-in. The goal came on just the fourth shot of the period by the Jets. It also broke a span of 99:33 to which it hadn’t given up a goal.
“It’s nice to get one behind him,” Lowry said of the late-period tally. “Earlier in the year I think everybody was ready to run Carey out of town and he couldn’t find his game. Now he’s back to the form that they all expect. It’s in our best interest to chip away at that confidence and you just continue to get bodies to the net. He’s as world-class goalie for a reason… He’s human, he’s gonna let in some goals. We just have to create as many chances as we can to get some by him.”
Despite trailing by two goals, Winnipeg’s two second period crossbars loomed large heading into the third period. The shot differential also didn’t help the Jets, as Montreal held a significant 25-13 lead through 40 minutes of play.
With 11:08 to go in the game, Nick Suzuki gave the Habs a 4-1 lead on a cross-crease tap in. Following a high-sticking minor to Stastny on Shea Weber, Montreal’s power play came back to life. Tyler Toffoli collected the puck behind the Jets’ net, before dishing it to Cole Caufield. The youngster put it on the stick of Suzuki for an easy redirection, ultimately sealing Winnipeg’s fate.
On a late-game penalty to Josh Anderson, Winnipeg opted to pull Connor Hellebuyck for an extra attacker with just over four minutes left. The decision did not pay off, as Joel Armia found his second shorthanded goal of the game on a long-ranger from his own zone, finishing off the Jets, 5-1.
“I don’t think our mentality changes at all from 2-0 to 3-0,” Wheeler reflected. “Obviously, if you lose one more game, we all know the consequences of that, but I think the thought process is very much the same: we’ve got to just stay together. I think that’s the strength of our team this year, and certainly when you lose Mark. We’ve got to rely on the depth of our team; that has been the strength of our team all year. We have four lines that can be effective and produce and get the job done.”
Connor Hellebuyck was only able to stop 28 of Montreal’s 32 shots on the evening, while Carey Price stood tall, turning aside 26 of the 27 pucks directed his way. He has now made 82 saves on the 86 shots he’s faced this series. The two netminders will duke it out for the fourth time on Monday in what will be a do-or-die contest for Winnipeg.
Game 4 will be played less than 24 hours after the conclusion of Sunday’s match. The two teams will look to regroup in time for an all-important fourth game of the series. Puck drop is set for 7:00 PM. The potential final game of the series can be found live on Sportsnet and CBC.