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Sports Commitment issues shattered Winnipeg Jets’ Stanley Cup final bid

The Jets will spend the summer trying to figure out what went wrong after their devastating series loss.

Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

The record books will show that the Winnipeg Jets were officially ousted from the 2019 NHL playoffs with a 3-2 loss to the Blues in St. Louis on Saturday night.

When you dig a little deeper, the Jets’ inability to commit to a 60-minute complete-game effort throughout the series will be seen as the overriding reason for their ultimate failure.

The Jets entered this season as a team many felt had the skill to advance to the Stanley Cup final. It was a natural conclusion following a stirring playoff run the year before, when they played in the Western Conference final before losing to the Vegas Golden Knights.

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Now, that dream has been shattered in their opening-round loss to the Blues. The Jets will spend the summer trying to figure out what went wrong.

“You’ve got to be careful with excuses, we got beat,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said gloomily after the Jets were ousted in Game 6 of the best-of-seven series. “I don’t think we had that sustainable gas for the whole series. I didn’t feel we had it coming into it, where we played as hard as we could for five games.

“And there were a lot of good stretches of hockey in here. They played as hard as they could [on Saturday] and they didn’t quit. You could see it in their faces going into that third, there’s not a lot of reserve there. They kept pushing, so I’m proud of that and I’m proud of the way they handled that.”

The final score Saturday was flattering to the Jets. The Blues were dominant the entire game and built a deserving 3-0 lead early in the third period, all the goals from forward Jaden Schwartz.

The Jets had just six shots over the first two periods, unable to respond to a heavy-hitting St. Louis outfit that skated them into the ground.

In the third, two late markers by Dustin Byfuglien and then Bryan Little with just 38 seconds left gave the Jets faint hopes of a comeback that realistically they never deserved.

It marked the first time in the series the home team had won. Five of the six games were decided by one goal.

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It was a particularly sullen group of Jets’ players that greeted reporters when they were finally allowed entry into the locker room.

Winnipeg forward Blake Wheeler responded with a curse when it was suggested to him that the Jets did not come armed with their A-game for Saturday’s pivotal encounter.

“Please, come on, man,” said the Jets captain, glaring at his interrogator. “This is a tough trophy to win. Maybe our best just wasn’t good enough today. And their best was pretty darn good.

“In situations like that you look for the resolve in your group. You look for how guys fight. And we played until the last whistle. That's the way I see it.”

The seeds to Saturday’s loss were likely planted in Game 5 on Thursday night in Winnipeg when the Jets carried a 2-0 lead into the third period only to see the Blues win 3-2.

Schwartz was once again the man of the moment, scoring the winner with just 15 seconds left in regulation. That allowed the Blues to take a 3-2 series lead and put the pressure on the Jets in the do-or-die Game 6 in St. Louis.

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Late-game implosions haunted the Jets throughout the series. In Game 1 in Winnipeg, the Blues scored two third-period goals in a 2-1 win. In Game 2, also in Winnipeg, the Blues counted the only goal in the third period to win 4-3.

The Blues totalled 10 goals in the third period compared with six for the Jets, a large discrepancy over a short series.

Wheeler conceded that Winnipeg’s third-period implosion in Game 5 may have disrupted their already fragile psyche heading into Saturday.

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

“You've got to give them credit for keeping those games tight enough to be within striking distance. You saw it again [Saturday night]. If that's a two-goal lead, we're going into overtime. It was just that type of series.”

Maurice said the ending is even more difficult to swallow, given the high expectations that surrounded the Jets heading into the season.

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“It’s painful as hell because you think you’re right there,” he said. “But you got beat by a team who thinks the exact same thing."

Little said the postseason had a different feel for the Jets this season.

“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,” he said. “Struggling to get wins. It’s tough going into the playoffs trying to find that.”

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