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Jets Come Back From Three Down, Force Overtime, Lose to Vegas 5-4 in Heartbreaker

Golden Knights Celebrate after double-overtime win (Photo by Scott Stroh)

Jets Come Back From Three Down, Force Overtime, Lose to Vegas 5-4 in Heartbreaker

Never give up, never surrender.

That was the Winnipeg Jets’ motto on Saturday afternoon and even through they lost Game 3 of the Opening Round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Vegas Golden Knights in double overtime, the Jets have to be given a boatload of credit for never giving up.

After all, this was a game in which the Jets fell behind 4-1 after two periods, were playing horribly and then scored three unanswered goals in the third period to tie the game and send it to extra time.

The Jets eventually lost 5-4, the result of a Mike Amadio goal at 3:40 of the second overtime after Jets defenceman Dylan Samberg was checked from behind by the Knights’ Ivan Barbashev and coughed up the puck to Amadio. The big Vgas forward had a wide open shot from the slot at Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck, and he buried it..

It was a heartbreaking way to lose after playing so well for the final 43 minutes of the game.

Amazingly, the first 40 minutes of the game was dreadful and in the second period the Jets might have played their worst 20 minute segment of the entire season.

On a day when Jets fans were pumped from the early hours of the morning and not only filled up two street parties and then loaded Canada Life Centre to the rafters, their beloved home team played as if it was a 10:30 beer league battle at the hockey for all centre. Not only was there little enthusiasm on the ice, but it seemed that just the thought of moving their feet to create some offence would be asking too much. The only thing the Jets did quickly was change lines and even that was lackadaisical at times.

In a nutshell, 15,328 people bought expensive hockey tickets to watch their team barely work up a sweat for 40 minutes.

In a word, it was embarrassing.

At the end of the second period, the faithful finally had enough and booed the Jets power play. After two periods, the Jets had been outshot 25-11 in their own building — 16-5 in the second period.

Brenden Dillon and Keegan Kolesar open the game with a bang (Photo by Scott Stroh)

When Brenden Dillon and Brandon’s own Keegan Kolesar dropped the gloves just 49 seconds into the game, the Jets fans were right into it. The fans were definitely ready. Sadly, Vegas scored on its first two shots on goal — Chandler Stephenson at 2:52 and Jack Michael, on the power play at 6:18 — and the Jets were ready for summer.

It didn’t help that Winnipeg’s all-star defenceman and Norris Trophy candidate Josh Morrissey went down with a right knee injury at the 1:14 mark of the first period and did not return. Without Morrissey, the Jets D had no one who could start a rush or anchor the power play.

Now, to be fair, when Connor scored on a tip-in at 9:07 as Dylan DeMelo and Brenden Dillon drew the assists, it looked, for a moment at least, as if the Jets still had some fight left in them. They went to the break down 2-1, having been outshot 10-6, but they seemed to have some life.

However, in the second period, they played like zombies. Outshot 16-5 and outscored 2-0 on goals by Eichel and Kolesar (yeah, that was embarrassing, too), the Jets trailed 4-1 after two periods and the fans were rightfully incensed. They answered the bell. They bought the high-priced playoff tickets, but their team was horrible. Losing is one thing, but losing without putting up a fight, is unforgivable.

Then came the turnaround. Then came the third period and a fight for a team’s playoff lives.

At 2:04, Nino Neiderreiter fired what looked like a harmless wrist shot at Vegas goalie Laurent Brossoit, but it fooled Brossoit and suddenly, unexpectedly, it was 4-2. Pierre-Luc Dubois and Neal Pionk drew the assists and the crowd had something cheer about.

Still, despite creating a number of scoring chances and at least giving it a solid effort, the Jets became living proof that you don’t win a hockey game by playing hard for 20 minutes. Or did they?

With 5:52 to play, Mark Scheifele fired a laser beam under the bar on the power play to make it 4-3 and the crowd suddenly forgot it had booed the Jets’ power play about 40 minutes earlier. Pionk and Connor drew the assists and suddenly it was a playoff game again.

Lowry’s goal nearly brings down the building (Photo by Scott Stroh)

But Winnipeg still couldn’t score and things looked bleak. With about 1:35 left in regulation time, Connor Hellebuyck left the net and the Jets went with six attackers, but the Vegas forecheck seemed to tie up Winnipeg in its own end. Finally, with only a few seconds left, Pionk started a rush, the Jets kept the puck in the Vegas zone and Adam Lowry went hard to the net. Vladislav Namestnikov took a shot, Lowry banged home the rebound and Canada Life Centre nearly crashed to the ground. The crowd went berserk. The Jets had tied it with 22 seconds left. It got loud. Really loud!

However, with 22 seconds left, Vegas made a concerted effort to cut off any thought of overtime and had two good scoring chances. With five seconds left, the Jets’ Dubois was called for tripping and Winnipeg would start the overtime a man short.

To their credit, the Jets fought off the penalty and for the next 18 minutes, the pace quickened, ended-to-end rushes were the order of the day and fans were exposed to one of the best OT periods in recent memory. There were plenty of chances and while Vegas outshot Winnipeg 6-5 in the period, there were at least two dozen scoring chances es that either went wide, hit a post or were blocked by the defence. It was a dynamite period of hockey.

In the second overtime, Samberg coughed up the puck, Amadio scored at 3:40 and Canada Life Centre fell silent. It was a terrible way to lose and after the red light went on, you could see the soul being sucked right out of Samberg, who had, otherwise, played a decent hockey game. Especially with Morrissey in the infirmary.

Neal Pionk clearly had the best stats line of the night. He had three assists and was plus one with four shots, seven hits, five blocks and a takeaway in 41 minutes and eight seconds of ice time. That’s right — 41 minutes of total ice time.

The Golden Knights outshot Winnipeg 48-34 and won 51 per cent of the face-offs. Vegas was two0-for-five on the power play while the Jets were one-for-four. As usual, the officiating was an embarrassment to the National Hockey League. The Jets outhit Vegas 69-39 (really?) and Vegas backed 30 shots to Winnipeg’s 29.

Game 4 in the series goes Monday night at 9 p.m. at Canada Life Centre. Wear white and get an afternoon nap.

Covered his first junior hockey game for the Sarnia Observer in 1968. Covered his first Jets game for the Winnipeg Free Press in 1980. Still thinks hockey is the bees knees.


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