The Winnipeg Jets lost a game they could have — and probably should have — won on Thursday night. Regardless, they accomplished the goal of every team that starts a Stanley Cup playoff series on the road.
They’ll head home for Games 3 and 4 with the series tied at one win apiece.
Thursday night in Las Vegas, the Jets grabbed a quick 1-0 lead and then played a slow, hesitant hockey game and fell 5-2 to a Golden Knights outfit that simply wanted it more.
The Jets certainly had enough chances to score more than two goals. Heck, Kyle Connor, who scored the opening goal of the series, had eight shots on goal himself (he’s had 13 in the last two games). But after taking that 1-0 first-period lead into the intermission, the Jets came out in the second period playing so defensively that it appeared as if they hoped they might be able to hold on and win 1-0.
For the next 40 minutes, they gave up control of the series, control that they had earned with speed and hard work for the first four periods (period one on Thursday combined with Tuesday’s impressive 5-1 win) and then, inexplicably, played like a team that had lost all of its confidence. They stopped attacking, let Vegas come at them in waves and for the most part, just stopped moving their feet.
As a result, Vegas won Game 2 and the two teams headed off to Winnipeg with the series tied 1-1.
Adam Lowry got the Jets on the board at 9:18 of the first period with his third of the playoffs on the power play, tipping home a Neal Pionk shot. Nate Schmidt also drew an assist as the Jets looked like real Stanley Cup contenders. They controlled the play, outshot Vegas 17-8 and took a 1-0 lead into the locker room after 20 minutes.
But then, the team that came out in the second period didn’t even resemble the team that wore Jets jerseys in the first. They sat back. Didn’t take any offensive chances at all and virtually stopped shooting the puck at an obviously beatable Laurent Brossoit.
William Karlsson and Jack Eichel gave Vegas a 2-1 lead in the second, but even though Winnipeg was outshot 19-10 in the middle period, Kevin Stenlund did make a brilliant play off a pancake pass from Saku Maenalanen to score at 16:01. Dylan DeMelo also drew an assist as the fourth did something the first and second lines were unable to do — score a goal.
So, even though they faded badly in the second period, the Jets were still in the game.
However, they were not in the game at all in the final period and goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who suffered a cut over his eye when he took a 95 mile per hour shot off the face mask in the first period, wasn’t at his best to bail them out. Chandler Stephenson scored one Vegas goal while Winnipegger Mark Stone scored two as the Golden Knights turned a close game into a rout. Vegas outshot Winnipeg 12-6 in the third period as the Jets showed neither urgency nor sustained effort in the final 20 minutes.
Vegas outshot Winnipeg 39-33 and won 52 per cent of the face-offs. The Jets were one-for-three on the power play while Vegas was zero-for four. Winnipeg outhit Vegas 73-64 (really?).
Stenlund had the best stats line for Winnipeg. He had a goal and was plus one with one shot, two hits and a blocked shot in just 11 minutes and three second of ice time. Mark Scheifele, who was hard to find on Thursday might have had the worst stats line. He had no points and was minus-three with two shots, four giveaways and a 38 per cent face-off record in 20 minutes and 30 seconds of ice time.
Once again, the Jets lost because the players on whom the organization spends $US37 million of its US$81 million salary cap, can’t muster any kind of offensive attack at all. It cost the Jets in the month of March, nearly cost them a playoff spot and definitely cost them in Game 2 of the opening round of the playoffs.
However, the Jets big shooters will have a chance to redeem themselves on Saturday afternoon. It will be Game 3 of the First Round — Golden Knights at Jets — at Canada Life Centre and it starts at 3:10 p.m. CDT. Remember to wear white.