“Well, they were the better team.”
Sometimes that phrase is a dodge when a player or team believes they were the equal of their opponent. Most times, though, it’s accurate.
The latest case in point: The Winnipeg Jets, who ended their memorable NHL playoff run with a 2-1 loss on home ice to the Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets had a head of steam coming into the series, thanks to their near-flawless play in the opening round against Minnesota and a gritty seven-game series win against President’s Trophy winner Nashville.
Against Vegas, though, the Jets just didn’t have it.
Oversimplifying things (largely because I listened to most of the games instead of watched them), goalie Connor Hellebuyck was more tentative than he had been in the first two rounds and stars like Mark Scheifele, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrik Laine never got on track the way they did in the first two series. Honestly, though, what appeared to do the Jets in more than anything else were turnovers.
If you needed any proof, Justin Marchessault’s two goals in Game 2 should serve as your lab example.
Marchessault’s goals looked like they punctured the Jets’ collective psyche, but again those were only representative. Winnipeg turned the puck over. A lot. That creates a lot of pressure on your netminder. And eventually, your goaltender will crack under all that pressure.
Besides the simple pressure placed on the defense, the Golden Knights took advantage where Winnipeg couldn’t.
And another thing that wore on the Jets was constantly playing from behind, or as one NHL broadcaster said this weekend, chasing the lead. Those of you familiar with basketball realize teams expend a significant amount of energy trying to erase double-digit leads, and often trailing teams come close or take brief leads but can’t sustain them in the end.
And so it ends, three wins short of an historic run to the Stanley Cup. Disappointing in that Vegas played the Jets’ game better than Winnipeg did. Hopeful, however, because this deep run in the playoffs could make the Jets the better team come Stanley Cup finals time in June 2019.