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Jets eliminated from playoffs after third-period struggles continue

Losing leads late, fatigue among reasons for six-game loss to Blues

by Scott Billeck / NHL.com Correspondent

After reaching the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets failed to get past the first round this season.

 

[RELATED: Complete Jets vs. Blues series coverage]

 

Inconsistencies down the stretch that dropped them into second place in the Central Division followed the Jets into their best-of-7 series against the St. Louis Blues, which they lost in six games. 

Here are 5 reasons the Jets were eliminated: 

 

1. Third-period woes

Winnipeg had nine losses when leading after two periods during the regular season -- tied with the Florida Panthers for most in the NHL -- and that trend continued into the playoffs. 

The Jets were unable to hold a third-period lead in Game 1 and in Game 5 after they led after the second period, and lost Game 2 after entering the third tied.

"It was a close series," Jets forward Adam Lowry said. "I think being able to hold the lead in the third period would have been important."

Winnipeg's Game 5 loss, when St. Louis forward Jaden Schwartz scored with 15 seconds remaining in the third period, was especially difficult for the Jets.

"That game certainly hurts," captain Blake Wheeler said. "You feel like you've got to win two games to win one sometimes."

 

2. Struggle to finish line

The Jets were hot going into the playoffs last season, winning 11 of their final 12 regular-season games. This season, they were 16-15-3 after NHL All-Star Weekend and went 2-4-1 in their final seven regular-season games.

"It's definitely nice entering the playoffs playing really good hockey," Winnipeg forward Bryan Little said. "I mean, you see it with these guys (St. Louis), you see it with a couple of other teams in the League right now. ... Last year I felt like we were a more confident group and playing better going into the postseason, whereas this year it felt like we were struggling with our team confidence at the end of the year. Struggling to get wins. It's tough going into the playoffs trying to find that."

Video: Blues oust Jets in six games, advance to Second Round

 

3. Close calls

Five of the games were decided by one goal, with the Jets losing four. Three were decided in the third period and another in overtime, which Winnipeg won. The Jets and Blues each scored 16 goals in the series.

"I liked a lot of our series," Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck said. "I thought we played hard. I thought we played our game. I thought we really stuck it to them for the majority of it. They did get some luck, but you've got to be skilled to be lucky too, so as much as I want to blame luck, it's not the whole picture. They played well."

 

4. Tank running on E

Jets coach Paul Maurice hinted they were experiencing fatigue heading into the playoffs.

"You've got to be careful with excuses. We got beat," Maurice said. "I don't think we had that sustainable gas for the whole series. I didn't feel we had it coming into it." 

Maurice said the schedule down the stretch played a part. The Jets played 11 of their final 18 regular-season games on the road, with at least one game in four North American time zones.

"I think the team that we had last year ran about seven or eight straight home games in March and didn't enjoy the East Coast and the West Coast three times each in the last whatever it was, since the All-Star [Game]," Maurice said. "We were hoping that we could recover, that three days would be enough, a flight day and then two days to get into it." 

 

5. Home-ice disadvantage

The Jets entered the playoffs having lost three in a row at Bell MTS Place and lost the three games at home during the series.

Winnipeg won 25 games at home this season and set a Jets/Atlanta Thrashers record with 22 wins on the road. Winnipeg won at St. Louis in Game 3 and Game 4. 

"Home ice was definitely not taken advantage of," Little said. "That last game [Game 5], it's hard not to think about that, having the two-goal lead and them coming back. Then I think tonight they were just the better team. I think every game was fairly close this series, but tonight, it just felt like they were better than us."

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