That’s all she wrote. There will be no more hockey played at Bell MTS Place during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. On Monday evening, the Jets fell 3-2 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens, becoming just the sixth team since 1992 to sweep a series before being swept in the following round.
Just 24 hours after losing Game 3 by a lopsided count of 5-1, the Jets and Habs were back at it from the Bell Centre for Game 4. With nothing left to lose but their place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Winnipeg put together a lacklustre effort in a do-or-die battle with the Canadiens, but ultimately fell in putting up a significantly weaker performance than the home team.
“Their forecheck was very, very quick on our D and that was a place that we struggled with clearly,” Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice said post-game. “And then, they have those top four guys, minus tonight, that made it very difficult to get to the net. It was the tough match, which I still think we had a chance to win but I think it would have been difficult. When you lost Mark, that was a difficult problem.”
Maurice opted to go with the same lineup he laced in Game 3, only changing up changing up his top-two forward line combinations. Paul Stastny started the game between Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor, while Andrew Copp centred a line consisting of Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler.
Montreal saw defenceman Jeff Petry suffer a bizarre injury to his right hand in Game 3, as two of his fingers got caught in a camera hole in the glass. After skipping out on the end of Sunday’s game, Petry did not dress for the Habs on Monday, with youngster Alexander Romanov making his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut.
Following the pattern set in the opening three games, Montreal scored the first goal of the game for the fourth time this series. With Andrew Copp in the box for high sticking Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Habs put their hot power play to work in the early going. With Nate Thompson attempting to carry the puck out of the defensive zone, Montreal poked the puck away and moved it to Erik Gustafsson, who beat Connor Hellebuyck with a long-range wrist shot that hit the post before finding the net 8:01 into the game.
Another Winnipeg turnover late in the period led directly to the Canadiens’ second goal of the game. This time it was Ehlers who took a healthy poke at a loose puck in the defensive zone, which landed on the stick of Brandan Gallagher. He moved it to Brett Kulak, whose wrist shot was deflected by Artturi Lehkonen for his second goal in as many days.
Finishing the period up by two goals and a handful of shots, the Habs seemed to have the game in the bag through just 20 minutes of play.
But just 1:40 into the middle stanza, Jordie Benn set up Logan Stanley, who absolutely ripped a wrister top-shelf, short-side past Carey Price. It was Stanley’s first Stanley Cup Playoff goal in just his eighth game. Kyle Connor picked up the secondary assist on the play.
And then just 3:49 later, Connor picked up the puck from Mason Appleton and set up the Jets’ goal scorer with a one-timer. Big Stan hammered his second of the game past Price, once again high, short side. This time it was from the opposite side of the ice, as the hefty blueliner blasted the puck past Price’s typically consistent glove hand.
Coming just 5:29 into the period, the Jets evened up the score with goals on two of their first three shots of the frame. With just one goal in 37 regular season games, Monday marked Stanley’s first career multi-goal game.
“In the playoffs, it doesn’t matter who scores,” Stanley said. “You win as a team and you lose as a team. I’m glad I got a couple by him to try and help the team, but at the end of the day we lost to the team, so it stings right now.”
Despite allowing a crossbar against to Gustafsson earlier in the game, Winnipeg found that same bar late in the period, as an odd-man rush up ice led to Mason Appleton finding the iron behind Price. Finishing off the frame without allowing a goal against while putting up two, the Jets entered the final period deadlocked at twos, with their season waiting in the balance.
With 13 minutes to go, Winnipeg had just 12 shots to its name on the night, including just one shot in the opening seven minutes of the final frame. The best opportunity in the first half of the period came off the stick of Nik Ehlers, who fired a hard wrist shot wide of the net – much to the dismay of Jets fans far and wide. Despite Winnipeg’s offensive struggles, Hellebuyck remained air tight between the pipes in the Jets’ end of the ice.
With just over eight minutes remaining in regulation, Kyle Connor dropped the puck to Paul Stastny who took a on Carey Price, before putting two further rebound chances into his pad/glove. The chances by Stastny were the first shots in nearly 10 minutes for Winnipeg in what had quickly become a ‘next goal wins’ mentality late in the game.
Montreal hemmed the Jets in their end for the majority of the final five minutes of the third, but were unable to get the puck past Hellebuyck, who stood on his head to help send the game to overtime. Heading into the extra frame, the Habs led Winnipeg 39-16 on the shot chart.
Needing just one goal to prolong their season, the Jets (3-0 in overtime) were facing a team that also had not yet lost a game in the extra period (2-0 against Toronto in the opening round). Unfortunately for Winnipeg, it didn’t take long for the Habs to strike.
“Even coming in down two after the first, I think we had a lot of belief in our group,” Lowry said. “And Stan, he scores two huge goals for us and gets us right back in the game. They turned the pace up in the third period a little bit but you get the game to overtime and you have a chance to win the game and that’s all you can ask for.”
Finishing off the Jets in just 1:39 of overtime, Cole Caufield found Tyler Toffoli wide open in the slot, who hammered a one-timer past Hellebuyck, sealing the deal on a four-game sweep for Montreal.
“I really felt like in any of these games probably outside the first one that Games 2 through 4, if we could have just found a way to get that first goal, it could be a different series but we didn’t,” Wheeler said. “You just have to give them so much credit. They’re playing unbelievable right now.”
Hellebuyck turned aside 39 of Montreal’s 42 shots on the evening, while Carey Price made 14 saves on the 16 pucks fired his way. It wasn’t even close.
“He’s incredible, he’s an awesome guy,” Lowry said of Hellebuyck. “He’s such a competitor, he battles so hard for us and he won the Vezina last year for a reason. I think he probably should have been up for it again this year. He’s that important to our team. He’s that good of a goalie. He gives us a chance to win every night and, unfortunately, we weren’t able to score enough for him this series. But he gave us a chance every night to be in the game and we just weren’t able to buy a couple.”
The Jets will now return home to Winnipeg and clean out their dressing room stalls, while the Canadiens will battle the victor of the series between the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights, which is currently deadlocked at twos. Mark Scheifele remains suspended and will miss the first game of the 2021-22 season for Winnipeg to fulfill his four-game ban handed out following Game 1.