Down 3-1 in their series against the somehow-always-surprising Vegas Golden Knights, can you really blame the Winnipeg Jets for being frustrated?
By just about every available metric, the Jets have dominated the Golden Knights for long stretches, especially in Games 3 and 4 (both wins for Vegas in Vegas). You really have to stretch things by hammering faceoffs or maybe stretching to criticize Connor Hellebuyck. While Hellebuyck’s endured some moments he likely regrets, his biggest sin is probably “not being Marc-Andre Fleury.”
Winnipeg generated more shots on goal than Vegas for five consecutive periods, sometimes to an extreme, but Fleury continues to stop just about everything. It’s all-too-fitting that even the Jets didn’t realize that Game 4’s 2-2 goal was a goal.
During a three-game winning streak, Fleury’s made 30 saves or more, often in spectacular fashion.
The Jets aired frustrations right after Friday’s Game 4 loss, generally expressing the belief that they should be winning these contests.
“We win that game nine times out of 10. Tonight was the one,” Blake Wheeler said, via Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. “[We] had some looks where their goalie made some extraordinary saves. You’ve got to sometimes take your hat off to a good player stealing a game.”
Wheeler was discussing Fleury, perhaps omitting his name because of the whole … wet willy thing from Game 3.
Myers was in the thick of things during Game 4, too. Along with scoring the 2-2 goal that briefly tied the contest, he also was quite unhappy about a penalty he took, which opened the door for William Karlsson to open the scoring with a power-play goal. Myers echoed Wheeler’s thoughts after this painful defeat.
“For the last five periods, we’ve been the better team,” Myers said, according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli.
There’s little denying Winnipeg’s point, much like it’s easy to understand the Washington Capitals’ frustration in being tied 2-2 with the Tampa Bay Lightning despite carrying long stretches of play. About the only team-wide things the Bolts and Golden Knights can hang their hats on is winning recent games and drawing certain high-danger chances even.
As the Capitals can attest with bleary eyes and bad memories, sometimes that’s how the cookie crumbles in the postseason, at least in the NHL.
The Golden Knights boast a goalie on one of the all-time great runs when you combine Fleury’s regular-season work and his nearly flawless 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs run. The top line of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault just keep getting the job done. Remarkably, the Golden Knights always seem to answer back potential “momentum-turning” goals by the Jets with spirit-crushers in response.
Consider this: Vegas can at least muster an argument that they’re adept at “flipping the switch” when needed.
Either by design via Gerard Gallant or because the Jets turn it up to 11 when down (most likely both), Vegas has seemingly been occasionally guilty of sitting on leads. There haven’t been many 0-0 stretches lately, as Jonathan Marchessault scored about 30 seconds into Game 3 while Karlsson’s Game 4 1-0 tally came about two-and-a-half minutes in. The differences in aggression have been especially stark during the third periods of the past two contests, as Winnipeg’s generated a 28-15 shots on goal edge while rarely breaking through.
Are the Jets generating more chances and hogging the puck? Absolutely, and there’s only so much rationalizing that can be made about playing to the score.
Moral victories mean very little when you need to win three consecutive games while on the brink of elimination.
The Jets have shown that they boast a lot of the elements to put together such a run, but pulling that off against Fleury and the Golden Knights looks like no small feat. Winnipeg can’t let up if the Jets want to get back into the 2018 Western Conference Final, so it’s promising that they believe in themselves. An angry, frustrated reaction is probably more productive than a downtrodden, hopeless feeling.
Whatever the case may be, they need to get to Fleury and get some wins.