If the Winnipeg Jets are going to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they’re going to have to overcome some serious odds.
The Jets dropped a 4-2 decision to the Vegas Golden Knights Monday night in Winnipeg to fall behind 3-1 in their best-of-seven series, and they also lost another key player in the process.
Already without Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, and Cole Perfetti due to injuries, Mark Scheifele left Game 4 in the first period with an upper-body injury after he was sent crashing into the end boards. He appeared to be favouring his shoulder and will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, but it appears unlikely he’ll be ready to go in just 72 hours for the do-or-die matchup.
“It’s unfortunate, obviously, to lose Mark, a guy we really rely on,” said forward Blake Wheeler. “The guys battled extremely hard, and yeah, we just couldn’t get a bounce 5-on-5. I think 5-on-5 we really liked our game.
“We just couldn’t get the extra one we needed.”
“Our team played very hard tonight,” said head coach Rick Bowness. “We’ve been through this before. Earlier in the year we had five or six guys out, key guys. And now we’re faced with it again.”
The Jets have just one win in their last eight playoff games overall. They’ve lost 11 of their last 13 post-season games on home ice, and are now winless in seven straight playoff games in front of the whiteout going back to 2018.
Oakbank’s Brett Howden scored twice on his hometown team, including an empty-netter, and the Manitobans on the Golden Knights roster continue to haunt the Jets after Mark Stone and Keegan Kolesar scored earlier in the series.
Despite being down numerous key players, the Jets hung tough right to the bitter end, while getting outshot 30-26.
“Sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it doesn’t,” said forward Pierre-Luc Dubois. “We got opportunities, just how it goes.”
The Jets struck first in Game 4, but the Knights reeled off three straight goals to push the Jets to the brink of elimination.
“There’s no quit in the guys,” Bowness said. “There’s lots of fight left. You saw the effort. And they’re giving everything they can.”
The Jets now face the prospect of having to win three straight games to keep their season alive.
“We have two options,” said Dubois. “We can either feel bad for ourselves or we can have a positive mindset. We won one in Vegas before. We feel like we have the recipe to do it again.”
Trailing the series three games to one, the odds are certainly stacked against the Jets after losing both games on home ice.
Only 31 teams have ever rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series in NHL history out of 330 such circumstances, and of those 31 comebacks, only 13 were made by the lower seed in the series.
“The odds and all that stuff, and the history, it means nothing to us,” said Bowness. “It means nothing of the odds of coming back. The only thing that matters is finding a way to win Thursday night.”
It was the second straight game the Jets lost a key player in the first period, and it seems like they just can’t catch a break.
“Bad luck, I don’t know, whatever you want to call it,” Wheeler said. “But it’s not something we can really dwell on. We got to focus on the bodies we have available and certainly we feel we have enough to win on Thursday.
“We’d really like to have the guys that aren’t able to go, but we believe in the group we got that will go out there on Thursday and we’re gonna fight like hell.”
The first glorious chance of the game belonged to Winnipeg when Scheifele got in alone on Laurent Brossoit but after making a couple moves, Scheifele was denied by the pad of the Vegas netminder before tripping over Brossoit and tumbling awkwardly into the boards.
Scheifele stayed in the game temporarily, but during a power play a few minutes later, Scheifele attempted a one-timer and got very little on it, immediately grimacing and doubling over in pain. He skated right to the Jets bench and bolted down the hallway into the locker room, not to return to the game.
While Scheifele was getting looked at in the locker room, his teammates picked up the slack and opened the scoring on that power play. Blake Wheeler ripped a shot from the faceoff dot past Brossoit to open the scoring at the 5:53 mark.
The lead lasted exactly four minutes. Howden attempted a shot in transition that was blocked but he got to the loose puck first and beat Connor Hellebuyck to tie the game.
The game remained tied after one with Vegas holding a 10-6 edge in shots on goal through 20 minutes.
Early in the second, the Golden Knights got their first power play opportunity of the game but thanks to several good saves from Hellebuyck, the Jets were able to kill it off.
But later in the period, Dubois was called for tripping Jack Eichel, and just as the power play expired, and after the Jets failed to clear the puck, William Karlsson redirected a Jonathan Marchessault shot with his skate, sending it through the legs of Hellebuyck to make it 2-1 at the 13:32 mark.
The uphill climb got even steeper for the Jets just 47 seconds later when Ivan Barbashev tipped a Shea Theodore shot over the glove of Hellebuyck to make it 3-1.
Winnipeg had a great chance to cut the lead in half just moments later when a point shot bounced off the end boards behind Brossoit and landed on the stick of Brenden Dillon at the side of the net but he was robbed by Brossoit.
Vegas carried a 21-16 edge in shots on goal along with their 3-1 lead on the scoreboard into the third, looking to avoid collapsing like they did on Saturday.
But early in the third, Winnipeg earned their second power play of the game and once again they cashed in, scoring one of the most bizarre goals you’ll ever see.
Dubois got a stick on a puck at the side of the net that Brossoit stopped, sending it fluttering into the air. A Vegas stick then knocked it high above everyone and as the puck fell back to the ice, Alex Pietrangelo tried it vain to glove it down as it hit the back of Brossoit and landed in the net to make it a one-goal game just 2:56 into the period.
That goal brought the sold-out crowd to life as they began taunting Brossoit, chanting his last name as well as ‘you’re a backup.’
As the clock ticked down, Howden had a golden opportunity to put the game on ice when Stone made a great play to set him up with an open net but he slid it wide and looked to the sky in disbelief.
The Jets got Hellebuyck to the bench with just over a minute left but Vegas was able to take the puck away and Howden made amends when he buried the puck into the empty net to seal the win with 16.4 seconds left.
Hellebuyck gets charged with the loss, allowing three goals on 29 shots, while Brossoit picks up his third straight win, making 24 saves.
Either the comeback will begin or the season will end Thursday night in Vegas when the puck drops on Game 5 a little after 9 p.m. Pregame coverage on 680 CJOB begins at 6:30 p.m.
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.