WINNIPEG – In spite of everything that happened in the 55 minutes before it, the final five will, at least for the next little while, live in infamy in what was a crazy, wild finish Tuesday at MTS Centre.
With Tyler Myers off serving a major penalty for cross checking, Blake Wheeler scored what appeared to be the tying goal with just a few minutes to play, but it was thusly washed out by a tripping call to the hero mid ecstasy.
San Jose goaltender Alex Stalock came out to play the puck to help set up the power play, but was promptly stripped by a hard-charging Wheeler, who made slight contact with his left foot, tumbling the six-foot netminder.
More than 15,000 stood and cheered, but No. 26’s backhand shot into the open side did not count.
Elation to angst, all in an instant.
Joe Pavelski (PPG) and Joel Ward (EN) scored moments later, sealing a 4-1 Sharks win.
“He put himself in a bad spot,” Wheeler said. “I’m just looking all puck there and he knows he’s in a bad spot. He’s in the corner; I make a turn… I can be man enough and admit if I slew-footed him, but look at my left foot. It’s turning right the whole way. It never moves in his direction at any point in time.
“It’s hard to have that one go against you.”
On a night when the Jets just weren’t at their best, it was a tough pill to swallow.
“We weren’t as good as we needed to be to beat that team, from the start all the way right through the game,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We had some chances to tie the game, it was a 2-1 game, so it wasn’t out of reach at any point, but they were faster.”
Chris Tierney opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal late in the first period, but the Jets replied on the same power play, just 23 seconds later. Drew Stafford delivered a beautiful pass across to Nikolaj Ehlers, who made no mistake on the backhand, heaving the puck into the open side.
The Sharks took a 2-1 lead with just 46 seconds left in the period as ‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton jumped on a loose puck in tight, plunging it five hole on Connor Hellebuyck, who initially stopped Tomas Hertl on a partial break.
Hellebuyck finished with 23 saves.
Neither team generated much outside of that in the opening 20, as the fish carried an 11-7 shot lead into the middle frame.
Things didn’t get better much in the second, as the Jets had great difficulty creating offence, let alone any sort of continuous pressure deep in enemy territory. Passes were off, and when they finally did connect, the Sharks were already there, circling the waters and clogging up the neutral zone.
They just couldn’t find a way to break through.
Out of the box, Adam Lowry had the Jets’ lone chance for the tie early in the period, but his breakaway try sailed wide. It was just one of 16 shots on the night that were either blocked or missed the mark altogether.
It was that kind of game.
“We’ve played better games but you’ve got to find a way to battle through those nights when you’re not snapping it around as crisp as you want to,” captain Andrew Ladd said. “You’ve got to find a way to get that goal when you need it.”
Looking for a spark, Maurice shuffled the units midway through the second, promoting Ehlers to the second line alongside Alexander Burmistrov and Andrew Ladd. On the back end, Dustin Byfuglien was reunited with Ben Chiarot, while Mark Stuart and Jacob Trouba were put back together.
Hellebuyck was doing his part at the other end, making a key stop off Ward midway through the third after the longtime Capital was sent in alone.
Then it all happened.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com