RALEIGH, N.C. - After playing their 17th game in the past 29 days, the Winnipeg Jets will finally get a reprieve.
And it couldn't have come at a better time.
The drowsy Jets, playing their third of a season-long five-game road trip, gave what they had but it wasn't enough, as they dropped a 3-1 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena.
The club has now dropped three straight, but will get a few days to rest up and get a full team practice in (their first in more than a month) before their next test, Wednesday in Minnesota.
"That team played 17 games in 29 days and has been all over God's green earth," said Head Coach Paul Maurice. " They're beat up, they're sore, they're tired and they gave what they had.
"We've played 21 games. We won't put that one down as a perfect game by any means. They played as hard as they could. It wasn't as well as we would normally play, but we've been grinding this grind for so long, and you need different people each night to pick you up and it's tough when seven of them are out [due to injury]."
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
Trailing by two in the third period, Mark Scheifele pulled the Jets within one off a great feed from Nikolaj Ehlers at 9:31 of the third, but that was as close as the Jets would come, as Noah Hanifin's power-play marker with 1:43 to play restored the 'Canes two-goal lead.
Connor Hellebuyck was excellent, stopping 37 shots in the loss.
"We wanted to come out here and play like men tonight," captain Blake Wheeler said. "The circumstances really weren't working in our favour, especially with how we played last night, but overall what we could control I thought we did a good job of. I thought we battled pretty hard tonight.
"It's going to be pretty big to get a couple days between games here. It's been a pretty big grind here, almost like I've never seen before. We're a tired hockey team, there's no question about that. We've got a group that will fight through it but we need to get our rest."
Video: POSTGAME | Blake Wheeler
Elias Lindholm opened the scoring for the Hurricanes with his first of the year, 6:45 into the game. Lindholm maneuvered his way through traffic before bringing the puck to the front of the net and firing a shot past Hellebuyck.
Less than 24 hours after citing "preparation," or lack thereof, in a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins, the Jets were on their heels out of the gates, recording just two of the first 11 shots of the contest.
Overall, the Hurricanes outshot the Jets 18-11 in a one-sided opening frame. Hellebuyck kept his team in it with a number of key stops off redirections in tight.
Hellebuyck came up with another big save midway through the second period after Andrew Copp sought retribution for a big hit on Toby Enstrom, but the instigator - Brock McGinn - didn't bite. On the ensuing Carolina power play, Hellebuyck made dazzling glove save, point blank, on Jordan Staal to keep the Jets within one.
Video: WPG@CAR: Hellebuyck does a split, makes a great save
"Our hearts were there," Hellebuyck said.
"It's a tough loss because we wanted it so bad."
Moments later on the very same power play, Mark Stuart - who returned after missing 11 games with a lower-body injury - made a goal-saving shot block on the opposite side before freezing it near the goalmouth.
The physical play ramped up late in the middle frame, but the visitors took it a step too far. Scheifele and Dustin Byfuglien were tagged on the same play in the offensive zone at 19:39, but after that power play was killed off early in the third, Stuart put the Jets back on the PK with a cross check on Staal.
That ornery behaviour was a staple in Scheifele's game all night, as he was credited with a team-high six hits in 22:54 of ice time.
"It wasn't the result we wanted but we worked hard tonight," he said. "It's tough to come back after a loss like that and play a five o'clock game, but we battled for each other."
Victor Rask put this one away with a PPG at 2:39, roofing a shot past Hellebuyck after getting a pass from former Jet Lee Stempniak in the deep slot.
"I thought for the most part we gave ourselves an opportunity," Wheeler said.
"Walking into this game, it's probably the one you circle as being the most difficult. … We battled."
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com