EDMONTON - The time in the bubble has come to an end for the Winnipeg Jets.
They gave it everything they had, injuries to forwards Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Mason Appleton and all, but it wasn't enough.
The Calgary Flames scored twice in the opening period and held off the offensive push of the Jets in the final 40 minutes to eliminate Winnipeg in four games.
Two empty net goals in the final four minutes of regulation rounded out the scoring in a 4-0 final.
"It's tough to put into words," said Adam Lowry, who finished with three points in the series. "We faced a lot of adversity throughout the year, whether it was losing a lot of guys to free agency or other circumstances, or throughout the year to injury. It just never seemed like there was an easy night for us in the NHL."
It was a tough finish to a season that was unlike anything head coach Paul Maurice has ever seen.
"It starts from July 1 last year to August 6. I've never had a group go through what this group has gone through. The loss of key people and the injuries on top of that," said head coach Paul Maurice.
"I thought tonight looked like our season. They played as hard as they could. They truly did."
To try and stave off elimination, Maurice shifted his line-up, moving Blake Wheeler to the middle of the ice between Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor.
The trio combined for 12 of Winnipeg's 31 shots on goal. One of those was a partial breakaway for Ehlers, another was a Connor one-timer.
No matter what they did, they couldn't beat Cam Talbot - who earned the shutout with 31 saves.
"Quite frankly, sometimes the puck needs to bounce the right way too. You factor all those things in, losing two of your top offensive players, it's a grind," said Wheeler. "They allowed us to move the pucks back to our defencemen, and from there they just collapsed. Whether it was blocking shots from the point, us not doing a good enough job of getting in the goaltender's eyes."
Dillon Dube buried his own rebound 3:21 into the opening period to give the Flames the game's first goal, the first time Calgary had opened the scoring in the series.
The Jets fired 11 shots at Talbot in the opening period to try and find the equalizer, but instead, Calgary added to their lead with 0.3 seconds left in the first. Sam Bennett whacked home a loose puck just outside the crease as the seconds ticked down, putting the Flames up 2-0 after 20 minutes.
"When it was 2-0 it was right there," said Lowry. "We felt if we were able to get one, we had a good chance at tying this thing up and going to overtime. It just wasn't meant to be."
It stayed that way until the third, when the Jets had two power play opportunities that came up empty, and also had a backdoor pass that went off Jack Roslovic's backhand and the outside of the post.
It just wasn't their night.
But they didn't give up until the final buzzer, even after Sean Monahan and Rasmus Andersson potted empty net goals with less than four minutes left in regulation.
The loss stings, but the thought of what could have been might sting even more.
"Realistically there were plenty of opportunities for us to fold it in and chalk it up to a lost season and move on to next year," said Wheeler. "I'd say I'm proud and I'm very disappointed that we couldn't catch a break. I'm not saying this series gets flipped on its head by having Mark and Patrik, you have to give Calgary a lot of credit, I just would have loved to play this series with those two guys and see how that would have shaken out."
Now the evaluation and reflection process begins for the Jets players and coaches as they prepare for another season unlike any other in 2020-21.
"The feeling now is complete emptiness," said Maurice. "The payoff for it was nothing, other than we'll find it in a couple weeks, a couple months. The growth of these young men that will learn to be stronger and heavier players in the playoffs and will develop."
Maurice offered an update on the injuries to Scheifele, Laine, and Appleton after the series was complete.
"Mark finished with a second opinion today. We don't think there is any Achilles damage," said Maurice, saying it wasn't a cut that Scheifele suffered, more of a "crush" injury.
"Patrik sprained his hand and it's the top hand on his stick, so he couldn't hold his stick," Maurice said. "Mason Appleton suffered a shoulder injury."