Once the sting of elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Anaheim Ducks wears off, the Winnipeg Jets can begin to prepare for what could be a bright future.
The franchise reached the playoffs for the first time since 2007. A month-and-a-half stretch run and four games against elite competition in the Western Conference First Round can provide an effective, if painfully blunt, blueprint for a growing team.
A stretch drive to the playoffs is one thing; the Jets learned that a best-of-7 series is a different experience altogether.
Here are five reasons the Jets were eliminated:
1. Pace -- Winnipeg brought a speedy group of forwards into the series. The Ducks did as well, but the Jets learned that they needed more than speed to counter the Ducks. Anaheim combined its speed with an ability to move the puck quickly to open up shooting and passing lanes as well as to push back against Winnipeg's aggressive defensive approach.
Winnipeg had no answer for Anaheim's tenacious forecheck. One split-second mistake was all that the Ducks needed to exploit the Jets, and they did so repeatedly.
"The speed, you can deal with speed, but we had a difficult time with the quickness of the puck," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "We did it for stretches, we did it for long stretches, but overall they were more consistent with that than we were."
Accustomed to dictating the pace and style of play, the Jets instead found themselves having to adjust to the Ducks.
2 Board play -- All season long, the Jets won games in part because their size allowed them to win battles along the boards. They combined a mix of immense size in players like defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers outmuscling opponents with the tenacity of small forwards like Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault quickly digging loose pucks out of scrums.
Although the series took on an extremely physical style, it featured less board play than had been typical for the Jets. The four games became a series of the Ducks cycling the puck in the offensive zone while the Jets chased them.
3. Elite forwards -- For much of the season, the Jets relied on a scoring-by-committee model that largely worked. The late-season additions of forwards Drew Stafford, Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty further strengthened Winnipeg's top-nine group of forwards.
But the Ducks featured elite forward Corey Perry (three goals, four assists in the series), and centers Ryan Kesler (three goals, two assists) and Ryan Getzlaf (one goal, three assists).
Winnipeg had to scramble for any and all of its offensive opportunities. Aided by the secondary scoring of forwards Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg, the confidence of having elite scoring talent at hand allowed the Ducks to outwait the Jets and pounce on mistakes with quick counterstrikes.
4. Penalties -- Discipline had been an issue all season for the Jets. Facing the Ducks for four straight games only exacerbated their discipline problems. Power-play goals set up Anaheim comebacks in each of the first two games.
After learning their lessons from the first two games, the Jets and their penalty kill avoided any further problems in Games 3 and 4. But by then the damage had been done.
5. Experience -- Eight Winnipeg players made playoff debuts.
When trailing, the Ducks never panicked. They became the first team in NHL history to win three consecutive playoff games when trailing after two periods, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Jets could not handle the Ducks' third-period pushes. Anaheim outscored Winnipeg 9-1 in the third period.
"[I learned] just how tough it is," Little said. "It's one thing to make it, and we learned this [season] how hard it is. It was a constant battle all [season] right up until the end. But it's almost another level. You get into the playoffs, whether you're first or eighth, you're going to be playing a good team."