The Winnipeg Jets have experienced monumental struggles against the Central Division-rival Dallas Stars during the 2018-19 NHL season.
They better come up with some answers if there’s a next time.
Dallas broke open a scoreless game with goals by Esa Lindell, Radek Faksa and Tyler Seguin in the second period and staved off a late rally by the Jets to secure a 5-2 victory at Bell MTS Place on Monday night.
The Stars picked up three wins in four meetings this season with the Jets, who displayed only sporadic signs of the energy and grit that sparked them to a resounding 5-0 triumph over their arch-rivals, the Nashville Predators, Saturday night to kick off four straight at the downtown arena.
An emotional letdown, perhaps?
“I don’t have an answer for you,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “We didn’t have anywhere near the hop or jump we had the other night, and couldn’t find it.”
The Jets’ bottom-six forwards unloaded some heavy hits and had a buzzsaw forecheck going to invigorate the squad, however, the Mark Scheifele and Kevin Hayes lines were slogging in quicksand for much of the night, and usually dependable blue-liners Jacob Trouba and Nathan Beaulieu made several mistakes under duress.
“That was the challenge for us. We were slow from the start, just with a lack of speed and they’re quick above the puck so we got an awful lot knocked down. We were trying to generate a certain way that we couldn’t, the puck carrier was standing still so very often which made it pretty easy not to check him,” said Maurice. “The energy and the juice you’re going to need to win that style of hockey game we didn’t have.”
Stars goalie Ben Bishop stopped 21 drives to register his seventh victory in his last eight starts. Jets red-hot winger, Kyle Connor, with his 33rd goal, and Patrik Laine, with his 30th, beat the veteran netminder in the final period to cut the Stars’ 4-0 lead in half.
Connor snapped Bishop’s shutout bid with about nine minutes left, while Laine ripped his 30th on the power play four minutes later, halting a 12-game scoring slump that dated back to Feb. 26.
File away the Jets’ surge in the too-little, too-late cabinet.
“I don’t think it was good. That’s the way we can’t play,” said Laine. “I think we were just assuming that the game is gonna come to us, but it doesn’t work that way. We gotta work hard for every single chance and not give them anything. Yeah, that wasn’t a very good game from us.”
There’s a distinct possibility Winnipeg and Dallas could collide in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Jets (45-27-4) lead the division, although the gap narrowed to just two points as second-place Nashville edged the Minnesota Wild 1-0 in St. Paul. The Jets still have a game in hand on the Preds.
Dallas (39-31-6), meanwhile, occupies the first wild-card playoff spot and would start against Winnipeg if the postseason began today. Dallas is now three points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche.
Seguin registered his 30th and 31st goals of the season, both on the power play.
With Dallas leading 2-0 in the second period, Bishop stopped Adam Lowry on a shorthanded breakaway with less than six minutes left. The Jets then took a minor for too many men on the ice, and Seguin ripped a shot over goalie Connor Hellebuyck’s right shoulder with Dallas on a five-on-three.
He made it 4-0 in the final period, flashing some nifty hands to roof the puck from the doorstep with Winnipeg a man short. Faksa added his second goal of the game into an empty net.
Seguin has been lethal against the Jets since the 2011-12 campaign ripping 23 goals in 36 games.
“Five-on-three from the dot, he’s going to hit that,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “The other goal, those are pretty nice hands to get it up in that corner. He’s a guy that’s going to make you pay. If you give up an inch of ice or you give up a scoring chance, he’s one of those lethal guys that will make you pay.
“There are a handful of them in the league that seem to teeter around the 40-goal mark every year and he’s one of them. Like I said, if you take your eye off of him for a second, he makes you pay for it.”
The Stars finished 2-for-4 on the power play and have torched Winnipeg’s penalty killers for eight goals this season.
“They’ve got a lot of skill out there, a couple of good shooters, and I think for us as a penalty-killing unit we’re at our best when we’re aggressive and not letting them get set up. So, I don’t think we got to that (Monday night),” said Connor, who has six goals in his last five games and was named the NHL’s first star of the week earlier in the day.
“They played with desperation, they’re fighting for their lives for a playoff spot… we didn’t match that.”
Hellebuyck made 12 saves in the first frame, including a terrific blocker save on Jason Dickinson on a short-handed breakaway in the first period that kept the game scoreless. He finished with 32 saves.
The finest save of the night — and among the biggest jaw-droppers of season — came from Scheifele, who batted the puck out of midair just as it was about to sail into the wide-open cage. Hellebuyck had turned aside consecutive shots by Miro Heiskanen and Blake Comeau but was caught out of position, and then Scheifele bunted away a rebound try by Heiskanen.
But the rink had a discernible slant toward the Jets cage in the middle period.
“They work real hard, compete real hard and they got good players – that’s a good hockey team,” said Maurice. “They’ve really tried to transition – this goes back a few years out of that run-and-gun team to a grinding team – and they’ve done a good job of it.”
Laine joins a select group that includes Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk and Jimmy Carson as the only NHLers to record three 30-goal campaigns before their 21st birthdays.
But he kept any celebratory talk to a minimum.
“Well, right now nothing really. It doesn’t make me happy right now after that kind of game,” said Laine. “But obviously it’s a pretty good accomplishment for me, just a guy from Finland who was dreaming about being in the NHL and now scored 30 goals three times right away so I gotta be proud of myself. But the work is just beginning.”
The Jets continue a four-game home stand when former captain Andrew Ladd and the New York Islanders hit town Thursday night. They wind it up Saturday when the desperate Montreal Canadiens, clinging to an Eastern Conference wild-card spot, pay a visit.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).