WINNIPEG - They say football is a game of inches. Well, Friday night's tilt between the Winnipeg Jets and San Jose Sharks proved that hockey fits in that category as well.
With the Jets trailing 3-2 in the final minutes of regulation, Kyle Connor - already with a goal in the game - found himself with an open net. The puck was rolling, Sharks defenceman Brent Burns dove toward Connor's stick blade just as the Jets sniper released the puck from just outside the crease.
And that's as close as the Jets would get, as the Sharks left the ice with a 3-2 victory.
"We just couldn't find a way," said a frustrated Connor.
Video: POSTGAME | Kyle Connor
Connor, of course, wasn't the only member of the Jets with chances. He and Patrik Laine each had six shots on goal, Mark Scheifele had a team-leading seven. Captain Blake Wheeler had four shots of his own, with another attempt from the slot hitting the post in the first period.
It was a frustrating end to the night, as the Jets (29-25-5) suffered their first loss in a game where they held the lead through 40 minutes. They're now 19-1-0 in that scenario.
"We're not sitting there going this is going to be an easy night at any point," said head coach Paul Maurice. "I don't think we ever got to the arrogance portion of the game, or thought we had full control of it. I didn't feel that.
"Maybe we didn't keep the hammer down on that one."
Marcus Sorensen put San Jose on the board with 5:09 to go in the first period. He wrapped the puck around the Jets net creating a scramble in front of Connor Hellebuyck. Sorenson was the last to touch it before it slid through Hellebuyck's pads. The Jets challenged, but the call on the ice stood.
Hellebuyck felt two Sharks sticks prevented him from closing the five-hole in time.
"If they didn't push my pad off, I would have just covered it. It would have been a simple play," Hellebuyck said. "But they threw me completely off and one guy, there was two sticks, one guy pushed me off the post, which was my anchor. The other guy pushes my pad straight in. I'm trying to hold my balance and fight it, but there's really no play for me to make."
Video: POSTGAME | Connor Hellebuyck
Winnipeg was outshot 13-3 in the opening period but a number of their best chances didn't hit the net. In terms of shot attempts, the Sharks held a 15-12 edge.
"They went on the power play and that kind of tilted the ice a little bit in their favour. That's a team that's throwing a lot of stuff at the net," said Wheeler. "The shot quality versus quantity might not have been that high. We only had three in the first period. That's not a high number for us. We'd like to get that number up a little bit."
The Jets used their first power play of the night, the result of an Evander Kane interference penalty, to tie things up - and Connor made sure it was highlight reel worthy.
He took a pass in tight on Aaron Dell and instead of spinning in front, he put the puck - and his stick - through his legs, and flipped it top corner for his 29th of the season.
"It was just kind of instincts," said Connor. "I just caught the puck and he drops down there, you just have to get to the other side right? It was just instincts to throw it between the legs."
Video: SJS@WPG: Connor nets incredible between-the-legs PPG
Just 1:26 later, Wheeler posted up at the top of the right circle and snapped a pass from Andrew Copp past Dell's stick side to give the Jets a 2-1 lead.
In the third period, the Jets offence hit a snag.
"I thought we got hung up in the neutral zone an awful lot tonight," said Maurice. "We were away from the puck, so we couldn't get anything clean in short support to get through with speed. There are things you have to do to get through the neutral zone trap. It's the easiest, actually, of the systems to get through. We wouldn't put the puck in deep and go get it."
Two quick goals from the Sharks (25-28-4) in the third period put the visitors up 3-2. First Melker Karlsson tapped his fourth of the season past Hellebuyck's outstretched right leg, then 1:29 later, Timo Meier slid home a rebound for his 19th of the campaign.
That's when the flurry started. The Jets even had a late power play when Kane was handed his second minor penalty of the game.
"Fourteen shots is what we ended up with. It might have been more on a bunch that we missed on," Maurice said of the power play, which finished one-for-four.
"They were at the right speed, at the right pace."
Now sitting with four of a possible eight points so far on the six-game home stand, the Jets prepare for a Central Division tilt with the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.