Ryan Kesler scored twice, while Sami Vatanen added an empty-netter late as the Anaheim Ducks fended off a late surge Wednesday night, defeating the Jets 5-2 and, in the process, winning the best-of-seven series 4-0.
Bryan Little and Mark Stuart scored for the Jets, while Ondrej Pavelec made 30 saves in a losing effort.
“It’s disappointing,” Stuart said. “I didn’t want this to end. We had a really good thing going. The guys battled all year to get in and we did some really good things, but weren’t able to get over the hump. I’m proud of how everyone played. We battled to the end. Even though we lost four, it was fun. Our crowd was awesome again, especially at the end when (Anaheim) had it won, they were still cheering for us.”
Head Coach Paul Maurice revealed post-game that a number of Jets (“eight”) have been playing with significant injuries for some time now.
“Four of those [injuries], we brought into the series,” he said.
“We’ve got guys playing with broken bones,” Maurice said, adding that Adam Pardy was among them and because of that, did not play tonight. “It’s a good learning experience for your room because it sets a level of willingness that you get to carry with you. … You never quit on a brother. You’ll do what you have to do for family.”
Andrew Ladd, in particular, hadn’t participated in a morning skate for several weeks, if not months. More will be revealed in the coming days, but for now, Maurice described his ailment as a medical issue.
“He made a decision,” Maurice began. “You could go in and have it looked at, but it was going to cost you two months, possibly. Or you can grind your teeth and play through it. From the day he stopped practicing, he’s been playing through it – and you need that from your captain. You need that guy in the room doing what he can to stay in and he did. … I’ve had some good captains — guys in the Hall of Fame — but I’d never question his willingness, his grit and determination.
“These guys wanted to play for each other and they did.”
With their season on the line, the Jets got the start they were looking for, opening the scoring with a power-play goal off the rush at 16:26. Taking a feed from Mathieu Perreault, Little took a step to his right before snapping a shot top shelf on Frederik Andersen, lighting the lamp for the second time in as many games.
Spearheading the rush with a beautiful carry up ice, Dustin Byfuglien recorded the second assist for his first point of the playoffs.
However, the Ducks – like they have all series – fought back to level the score soon after. Slipping by the defensive efforts of Jacob Trouba, Emerson Etem chipped a backhand shot over the glove of Pavelec with 2:08 to play in the period, pausing the festivities of the opening tally moments earlier.
Shots were even at 10 apiece after 20 minutes of play.
Andersen was sharp early in the second, preserving the 1-1 tie with a couple of beauties in tight. First, it was a wide-open Tyler Myers vigorously denied by the sliding left pad of the goaltender. Moments later, Little and Toby Enstrom were greeted with a similar fate as the Jets’ went on a 7-0 run in shots to open the period.
The Jets had a great opportunity to go out in front with a power-play chance midway through the second, but the advantage came up empty. Fifty-nine seconds after the penalty expired, the Ducks made them pay, turning the tide for good. Andrew Cogliano was the recipient of a beautiful play by Corey Perry, finishing it off on one knee at the lower left circle to give the visitors a 2-1 lead.
The Ducks finished the period on a 12-2 run in shots before registering the first four of the third.
“They scored key goals at key times and made big plays when they needed to. We couldn’t get one to go,” Ladd said. “You’ve got to give them credit. We threw a lot at them but they handled it pretty well.”
Ladd is confident that moving forward into next season, the Jets have the right pieces in place when it comes to standards of work ethic.
"Now it’s up to us to keep that standard and get back here next year,” he said. “I’m proud of the way the guys played. It’s the best way of learning a lesson, to go through it and feel how you feel right now.
“It’s an empty feeling, but you learn from it.”
Kesler put the game (and the season) on ice at 6:41 of the third, finishing off a 3-on-1 by cleaning up a loose puck in the blue paint. Pavelec made the initial save off Jakob Silfverberg in spectacular fashion, but couldn’t handle the next one. Stuart electrified the crowd one last time with a goal at 10:27, but Kesler sealed it with his second of the night with 4:29 to play.
Vatanen made it 5-2 with an empty-netter at 19:33.
After the game, the crowd gave the Jets a beautiful send-off, cheering as loud as they have all series before breaking out into an emotional ‘Go Jets Go!’ chant.
“Our fans were amazing,” Little said. “I knew we had great fans and had a lot of support here, but the playoffs really showed that this is one of the best, if not the best hockey city to play in. They’re so passionate about the team and about hockey here. It made it really fun to play.”
“I would have liked for them to be cheering at the end of the game for a different reason, but we weren’t able to do that," Maurice added. "It was special and the players appreciated it. The number of unsolicited comments by the players to me about how great (the crowd) was… It wasn’t the result we wanted or the series we wanted to give our fans, but that, at the end, was great.”
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com