The Winnipeg Jets are heading home with a split after dropping Game 2 of their first round playoff series to the Golden Knights in Vegas 5-2 on Thursday night.
The Jets opened the scoring for the second straight game and played a strong first period, but the Golden Knights grabbed the momentum in the middle stanza, before taking the game over completely in the third period.
“We let that one slip away a little bit,” said Jets forward Mark Scheifele. “We had a great start like we wanted to and we’re 1-1 in the series. It’s a best-of-seven for a reason, so we’re excited to get back home to our fans and excited to get going again. Put this one behind us, and get ready for Game 3.”
Adam Lowry and Kevin Stenlund scored for the Jets, while Winnipeg’s Mark Stone netted a pair for the Knights to go along with one assist to help sink his hometown team.
William Karlsson, Chandler Stephenson, and Jack Eichel also found the scoresheet for Vegas.
The Jets committed sixteen giveaways and weren’t nearly as sharp as in Game 1.
“Did we make it too easy on them?” asked Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “Yeah, we did. I think that’s what is the most disappointing thing is the execution.
“They took over in the second period and clearly they won the third period. So, our execution with the puck wasn’t very good. We got on the wrong side of them and we let them play a lot faster than we want them to play, and we looked slow.
“Giving up the goals that we gave up. The way we gave them up, that’s disappointing, but we’ll fix it and we’ll get ready for Saturday.”
For the most part the Jets dictated the pace in the first four periods of the series, but the Jets got on their heals in the second period.
“I think they were a little more aggressive,” said Lowry. “I think our execution could be better. I don’t think we played poorly by any means, but it’s two really good hockey teams. We knew this was going to be a tight series.”
It was an off night for the Jets top line of Scheifele, Kyle Connor, and Pierre-Luc Dubois. Scheifele finished the night with a minus-3 plus/minus rating.
“You can’t give up the goals we gave up tonight,” Bowness said. “You can’t lose a face-off like that and lose the guy going to the net. And then even the fifth goal, we got outmuscled behind the net. You can’t lose games there in the playoffs like that. And we did.”
Connor had eight shots on goal to tie a franchise record for most shots in a playoff game.
The Golden Knights would get the first power play chance of the game and for a brief moment they thought they had the game’s opening goal.
Stephenson blasted a one-timer on goal from the face-off dot but Connor Hellebuyck snatched the puck out of the air with his glove right as it reached the goal line. Officials look a quick look at the replay to confirm that the puck never went in.
Not long after that, Winnipeg had a chance with the man advantage and they made it count.
After the first unit put lots of pressure on Laurent Brossoit, the second unit came out, won a face-off and Lowry tipped a Neal Pionk point shot past Brossoit to open the scoring at the 9:18 mark, the third straight goal for Lowry after he scored two late ones in Game 1.
Connor then had two great opportunities to double Winnipeg’s lead but he was denied by Brossoit on a partial breakaway and then had his stick checked by Brayden McNabb as he attempted to bang a rebound into an open net, sending his shot harmlessly into Brossoit.
Defensively, the Jets picked up where they left off in Game 1. After the Knights managed just two shots in the third period Tuesday night, they put only two on Hellebuyck in the first 12 minutes Thursday.
After each side had an unsuccessful power play later in the first, Vegas got a third crack with the man advantage when Nino Niederreiter took a slashing penalty with 72 seconds to go in the frame, but again Vegas struggled to get set up before the horn sounded.
Winnipeg wound up with a 17-8 edge in shots on goal through 20 minutes and a 1-0 lead.
The power play time ran out for Vegas early in the second but they began to put more pressure on the Jets, leading to their opening goal just shy of the six minute mark.
After a long shift in the Winnipeg end, the puck pinballed in the slot amongst several players from both teams. Nobody could get a handle on it until Karlsson did as he collected the puck and snapped a wrister all in one motion, beating Hellebuyck to level the game with his second of the series.
Vegas would grab their first lead of the series about five minutes later when Eichel tipped an Alex Pietrangelo point shot past Hellebuyck at the 10:25 mark for his first career playoff goal.
The Knights kept the pressure up, looking to extend the lead but the Jets’ fourth line took was able to get an unlikely tying goal.
As Stenlund carried the puck through the neutral zone, McNabb stumbled and fell near centre ice, giving the Jets an odd-man rush.
Stenlund dished the puck to the wing to Saku Maenalanen, who sent it back towards the front of the net where a hard-charging Stenlund deflected the pass high over Brossoit to tie the game with 3:59 left in the second.
That kicked off a stretch of exciting, wide-open hockey but neither side could add to their total as the game stayed deadlocked at two through 40 minutes.
Vegas managed to tie the shot total at 27 through two periods, outshooting the Jets 19-10 in the second, and they continued to control play in the third as they poured shots on Hellebuyck.
That paid off at the 5:37 mark when a point shot from Pietrangelo produced a juicy rebound that was put home by Stephenson, who beat Scheifele to the front of the net to put Vegas back in front 3-2.
Stone put the game on ice when he scored his first goal since Jan. 5 following a long absence due to back surgery. After barely staying onside, Stone drove right to the crease and deposited a great feed from Stephenson into the back of the net with 6:59 remaining.
Stone grabbed his second of the night with 2:30 left when Karlsson won a puck battle behind the Winnipeg net and fed Stone in the slot where his shot deflected off the stick of Nate Schmidt and fluttered over Hellebuyck’s shoulder.
The Knights ended up outshooting the Jets 39-33 in the game, including a 31-16 disparity over the final 40 minutes to even the series.
Brossoit was rock solid for Vegas, turning aside 31 shots while Hellebuyck didn’t get a ton of help in making 34 stops.
The series now shifts to Winnipeg for Game 3 Saturday afternoon. Pregame coverage on 680 CJOB starts at 1 p.m. with the puck dropping shortly after 3 p.m.
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