The Winnipeg Jets have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Now the questions begin.
Obviously, the off-season is about to bring major changes to a Winnipeg hockey club that looked like the next big thing in 2018, but is now just a shell of what might have been.
Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the Jets were beaten 4-1 by the Vegas Golden Knights. With the win, the heavily-favoured Knights won the best-of-seven Opening Round series four-games-to-one.
“Overall thoughts?” asked head coach Rick Bowness rhetorically. “I’m so disappointed and disgusted right now., That’s my thoughts.
“There was no pushback. It’s the same crap we saw in February. As soon as we were challenged when we were in first place and teams were coming after us, we had no pushback. Their better players were so much better than ours, it’s not even close. There has to be pushback when things aren’t going your way. There has to be pride. They had the better players tonight. They were the better team in the regular season. they were the better team in this series and they were the better team tonight.”
It was a sad ending to a series that started with a 5-1 Jets victory on the road. Sadly, it all but ended in Game 3 when the team’s best defenceman, its all-star and Norris Trophy candidate, Josh Morrissey, suffered a knee injury just a minute and 14 seconds into the game and was lost for the remainder of the playoffs. In Game 4, it’s top scorer, Mark Scheifele, was lost to a shoulder injury after being tripped by Knights’ goaltender Laurent Brossoit.
Without two of their best, the battered, beleaguered and undermanned Jets were no match for the first place team in the Western Conference, as Vegas won the final four games to clinch the series.
Now, team president Mark Chipman has to make some very tough decisions. Does he keep going with GM Kevin Cheveldayoff? Does he bring back 69-year-old Rick Bowness to coach another season (actually, Bowness did a pretty good job with the talent he had)? What will happen to the core of the team — Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois, goalie Connor Hellebuyck, every D-man other than Morrissey, veteran Blake Wheeler, the bottom six forwards who worked hard but didn’t have the skill to score on a soccer net? There is little doubt that this team is going to look markedly different when training camp opens in the fall.
After all, what happened on Thursday night was not only a devastating loss but a message to the people in charge: It’s time for a change.
In Game 5, Vegas scored quickly. Chandler Stephenson found himself all alone to Hellebuyck’s right with a wide open net when a perfect pass from Winnipegger Mark Stone landed neatly on his stick. It was 1-0 Vegas at the 50 second mark of the opening period as Oakbank’s Brett Howden drew the second assist.
Vegas outshot Winnipeg 7-5, although to took nine minutes for Winnipeg to get its first shot on goal. The Golden Knights had the play power play of the period thanks to a chintzy tripping penalty to Dylan Samberg. In all, the Jets played the Knights evenly, but without Morrissey and Scheifele in the lineup, their opportunities to score were severely limited.
In the second period, the Jets season ended. Stone scored at 42 seconds, William Karlsson scored at 4:41 and Stephenson scored his second of the night at 8:37 and it was time for the Jets to think about golf and lazy afternoons at the cabin.
To be fair, the Jets gave it a shot in the third. Bowness pulled his goalie with more than eight minutes to play and got a goal from Kyle Connor at 14:22. He got another goal from Dubois at 16:48 but Vegas challenged and the folks in Toronto decided that Wheeler won the face using his glove so the goal was disallowed.
It ended 4-1 as the Jets outshot Vegas 31-25, 17-2 in the third period.
The Jets would certainly have been better with a full roster throughout the series, but that didn’t happen and now it’s on to an off-season full of questions with very difficult answers.