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DENVER – Stop us if you’ve heard this before: The Winnipeg Jets once again couldn’t hold on to a lead. And this time, it didn’t just cost them a game. Their grip on first place in the Central Division has vanished as well.
Colorado Avalanche defenceman Erik Johnson scored 1:49 into overtime to give his team a 3-2 victory over the Jets Thursday night at Pepsi Center in downtown Denver. Nathan MacKinnon sent him in all alone after the Jets got caught up the ice.
Winnipeg had raced out to a 2-0 lead through 20 minutes, yet couldn’t muster much of an attack after and paid for sitting back. Patrik Laine had the best chance to win it, hitting the crossbar in the dying seconds of the third period with his team on a power play.
It’s a similar story for the Jets, who have now dropped nine games this season in which they led heading into the final period. By comparison, they only lost two games in that situation last season.
The loss was costly on several front. First, it certainly won’t erase the sting of a putrid defeat two nights earlier in Minnesota which prompted a lengthy, closed-door players meeting to air some grievances and discuss a recent stretch of play that has been most troubling, to put it mildly.
Secondly, the Jets are no longer on top of the division after wins earlier in the night by Nashville (3-2 over Vancouver) and St. Louis (7-3 over Philadelphia). The Predators now lead with 98 points, while the Jets and Blues are tied with 97 points. Winnipeg owns the tiebreaker, so they are in second place.
All three teams will play their final regular-season game on Saturday.
That means it will come right down to the wire to determine if Winnipeg finishes first, second or third in the division, and whether they’ll have home-ice advantage (if first or second) or start on the road (if third). It also means they won’t know who they play in the first round until the last day of the season, as St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas (the first wildcard team) and even Colorado (the second wildcard) all remain possibilities.
Colorado also clinched the final Western Conference playoff spot with the win, eliminating Arizona in the process.
The Jets came out with plenty of jump against the Avalanche, peppering goalie Philipp Grubauer with 19 shots and two goals in the opening period. Mark Scheifele scored his team-leading 37th at 10:12 following a strange play in which Dustin Byfuglien blasted a shot wide, Kyle Connor swatted the rebound off Grubauer and Scheifele crashed the crease and poked it loose.
There were two video reviews on the play: The first to determine if the puck crossed the line (it did), the second on an Avalanche goaltender interference challenge (it wasn’t).
Nikolaj Ehlers made it 2-0 at 17:50 of the period, knocking a rebound past Grubauer following a Jacob Trouba point shot. Ehlers had gone seven straight games without a goal or assist, and had an emphatic fist-pump celebration following his timely goal.
Connor Hellebuyck wasn’t overly busy in the frame, but he did stop Nathan MacKinnon on a breakaway in the opening minute. For a fragile Jets team, the enormity of that save can’t be understated, as an early goal would have tested their resolve in a major way.
Colorado got on the board 5:17 into the middle frame after defenceman Tyson Barrie walked in and roofed a shot to the top corner. Things nearly went from bad to worse for the Jets, as they challenged that they play was offside.
A review determined it wasn’t, and Winnipeg was given an automatic delay-of-game penalty as a result. They managed to kill it off, along with three other minors on the night.
However, Carl Soderberg tied it with just under 10 minutes left to play as he neatly deflected a Tyson Jost shot past Hellebuyck.
A too-many-men on the ice penalty late in the third period gave the Jets a golden chance, but they couldn’t capitalize. They finished 0-for-3 on the night with the power play, which has been one of the many issues plaguing the team of late.
Winnipeg killed off all four penalties they took. Shots ended up 37-35 in favour of Colorado.
The Jets are now 1-1-1 on this season ending four-game road trip, and just 1-4-1 in the last six games overall.
Winnipeg wraps up the regular-season Saturday night in Glendale against Arizona, who will simply be playing for pride. By the 9 p.m. CT puck drop, both St. Louis and Nashville will already have played their games, meaning the Jets will know exactly what they need to do.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.