EDMONTON – That sound you hear is the curtain coming down on an adversity-filled season for the Winnipeg Jets.
No matter what a team goes through or how much they overcome, the sting of defeat is undeniable.
This Jets group did its best to fight to the finish, but there were no reinforcements coming out of the infirmary and the injury-depleted lineup was unable to force a fifth and deciding game as the Calgary Flames exorcised a playoff demon of their own with a 4-0 victory on Thursday night at Rogers Place.
“There’s nothing left in the tank. Our team left it all out there,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “It was a year that was a test from Day 1. I couldn’t be more proud of this team. Realistically there are plenty of opportunities for us to fold it in and chalk it up to a lost season and move on to next year.
“I would say I’m proud and I’m very disappointed that we just couldn’t catch a break. I’m not saying that this series gets flipped on its head by having [Scheifele] and [Laine] — you’ve got to give Calgary a lot of credit — but I would have loved to have played a series with those two guys and seen how that would have shaken out. Put our best foot forward and from there you never know what’s going to happen.”
While the Jets shift over to dissecting a second-straight early exit, the Flames advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs and will face either the Vegas Golden Knights or Colorado Avalanche.
Given all of the obstacles the Jets had to overcome to get to this point — from a blue line overhauled in free agency and trade, the unexpected departure of Dustin Byfuglien, to a season-ending injury to veteran centre Bryan Little and everything in between — this loss is going to leave some significant scars once the healing process begins.
“It starts from July 1 of last year to Aug. 6. I’ve never had a team go through what this group’s been through, the loss of just key people and then the injuries on top of that. I thought tonight looked like our season. They played as hard as they could, they truly did,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “This one’s not like any other. Truly.
“I’ve never had a season like this where you’d faced so much adversity and not quit, right? So that’s the value of… That’s how you should value yourself — how hard you compete in dire circumstances — and we just had a year of it.
“So the feeling we have now is complete emptiness. The payoff is nothing. Other than [what] we’ll find it in a couple of weeks, a couple of months — the growth of some of these young men that will learn to be stronger, heavier players in the playoffs and will develop.”
For the fan base and the organization alike, the focal point quickly shifts to Monday’s NHL Draft lottery, where the Jets have a one in eight chance (12.5 percent) to land the first-overall pick in 2020.
In a draft where the Jets are currently limited to only four picks (first round, second round, fifth round, sixth round), the sting of this defeat could eventually be reduced by the opportunity to select talented left-winger Alexis Lafreniere.
In the aftermath of a gut-wrenching loss, Maurice wasn’t ready to consider the prospect of a silver lining — and you can’t blame him for that.
“Yeah, I’m going to have to give that one a little time before I appreciate the value of it,” said Maurice.
Injuries were an issue during the regular season and that overarching theme spilled over into the qualifying round, where the Jets lost top centre Mark Scheifele just under six minutes into the series opener, then lost sniper Patrik Laine and checking-line winger Mason Appleton in the same game.
Following the game, Maurice said Laine was dealing with a sprained left hand (his top hand) and that Appleton suffered a shoulder injury.
As for Scheifele, it was an Achilles’ injury and while some further tests are required, Maurice didn’t think there was any long-term concern on the health front.
“It was a crushing injury,” said Maurice. “It was not a cut, it was a crush.”
After nearly five months between games after the pause, the Jets went from being mostly healthy to the walking wounded, as 15 forwards suited up against the Flames – and a 16th would have been required had Mathieu Perreault not been able to battle through a lower-body injury that knocked him out of Game 3.
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Jets defenceman Nathan Beaulieu tried to give his team an emotional lift when he challenged Flames tough guy Milan Lucic off the opening faceoff.
Lucic got the better of the fight, but Bealieu nodded with appreciation as the duo made their way to the penalty box to serve their major penalty.
The Flames delivered an absolute haymaker with .7 seconds left in the opening period as Sam Bennett beat a back-checker to the net and jammed home a rebound that made it 2-0.
Winnipeg made a push in the third but were unable to convert and the Flames put the series on ice with a pair of empty-net goals.
Flames goalie Cam Talbot put an exclamation point on his sound effort throughout the series with a 31-save shutout.
Connor Hellebuyck did his part to keep his team in the game and the series, but the Jets were simply unable to generate enough offensively to make life difficult enough on Talbot, who has turned out to be a valuable insurance policy for the Flames.
“Well, I learned how to find my game real fast. I wouldn’t say I lost it at all, but I definitely got better every single day,” said Hellebuyck. “And that was really exciting and really fun for me. Not only that but I’m going to really analyze my game and see what’s cost me, because I want to be able to do more, and do more from the guys in front of me.”
The Jets managed to score only six goals in the series, four of which came at even strength.
That’s just not enough, no matter how you slice it.
In a series that was supposed to basically be a coin flip between clubs that finished a single point apart in the standings and met on only one occasion, one of the obvious storylines related to special teams.
The Jets lost the special-teams battle in dramatic fashion, scoring twice with the man-advantage while giving up five power-play markers and a shorthanded goal.
Surviving a mostly ineffective power play is possible, but when it’s coupled with a leaky penalty kill, that’s a recipe for disaster.
“We faced a lot of adversity throughout the year, whether it was kind of losing a lot of guys in free agency or other circumstances. And then throughout the year, to injury. It just never seemed like there was an easy night for us,” said Jets centre Adam Lowry. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go on that run that we had envisioned.
“The best way to sum it up is a whirlwind. You work so hard, you put in the time and the effort to try and put your best foot forward under these difficult circumstances, and I think we all did that. There’s no one hanging their head in our locker room. We had some real tough circumstances we were faced with, and we came out and played real hard. Unfortunately, our time in the bubble has come to an end.”