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Jets need offence, desperation in order to extend series vs. Canadiens

WINNIPEG — The in-case-of-emergency-break-glass moment has arrived for the Winnipeg Jets.

In a series where there have been too many passengers and not nearly enough drivers, the Jets have officially been pushed to the brink of elimination after a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday night.

The Jets said all the right things going into the contest, identifying the critical areas that required incremental improvement.

But after preaching the importance of getting to the blue paint and making life a bit more difficult for Canadiens goalie Carey Price, that simply didn’t materialize.

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In fact, the opposite occurred and the Canadiens’ ability to get to that distinct area in front of Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck was a key factor in Montreal building a lead in the game and taking a commanding hold of the series for North Division supremacy.

While it’s true the Jets did rattle a pair of shots off the crossbar (one from Nikolaj Ehlers and another from captain Blake Wheeler) after falling behind 1-0, the goals continue to be incredibly difficult to come by.

That offensive well that ran dry late in the season is once again in need of replenishing — and with two more games to serve on his suspension for charging, it won’t be top-line centre Mark Scheifele supplying the boost to the reservoir.

“You’ve got to keep believing,” Wheeler said. “You can’t reinvent the wheel now, you can’t start over and try to do something completely different. Obviously, if you lose one more game, we all know the consequences of that.

“But I think the thought process is very much the same — we’ve got to just stay together. Certainly when you lose Mark, we’ve got to rely on the depth of our team. That has been the strength of our team all year. We have four lines that can be effective and produce and get the job done.”

Wheeler has been on the losing end of a series where a team had a 3-0 series edge — back in 2010 when the Boston Bruins fell in seven games to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

He’d love to flip that script in 2021, though he knows full well that achieving that goal is no easy task — with only four teams having done it.

“Right now (the Canadiens) are an extremely confident team in what they’re doing, and they’re getting results from that. We are on the other side of the pendulum right now,” Wheeler said. “We don’t have a ton of confidence and we are kind of scratching and clawing to find it. Game 4 can flip everything on its head. You can just build tension.

“That’s what we’ve got to do. We just need to find a way to win a hockey game and then we can breathe a little bit while they have to think about it for a couple days, and then it slowly builds. That’s what happens.”

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The Jets are nowhere near thinking about pushing this series to seven games, they must come up with their best effort of the post-season if they want to play again this season.

Two goals at even strength — and just four overall — in three games during the North Division final is not a recipe for success, especially when the Jets power play has been missing in action.

Not only that, the Jets power play has now been outscored 3-0 by the Canadiens penalty killers after Joel Armia scored an impressive shorthanded marker on a toe drag and then dumped another into the empty net to go along with the Tyler Toffoli marker in Game 2 that proved to be the game-winner.

The Jets were supposed to be the team that would benefit from the additional rest between series, but they came out flat after a nine-day break.

Instead it’s been the Canadiens consistently showing more jump and the Jets have been unable to wear down their opponent, though Montreal’s big four blue line crew suffered a blow as Jeff Petry left the contest with a suspected right hand injury.

One of the few silver linings for the Jets is that they don’t have to wait a few days or sit and think long about this lopsided loss.

When they play on consecutive days for the second time in as many rounds on Monday night, this time they face a true must-win scenario.

“It’s great for us right now, to be honest with you. Having to sit in a hotel room all day tomorrow and stew on that one, you would have a lot of guys burning inside,” Wheeler said. “So it’s nice to get right back at it. Hopefully, we get a good feeling in our room and start to rebuild ourselves. We’ve got to win a hockey game. No different than it was today. We’ve got to win one game and then we’ll see what happens.”

Can the Jets show some desperation and find a way to extend the series?

“We know the situation, we know what’s at stake here,” said Jets centre Adam Lowry. “We have to win the game tomorrow and then hopefully take the series back to Winnipeg. As cliché as that is, it’s about winning the next one. We expect to come out strong. That’s all we can do.

“You can’t look too far ahead, or at the hole that we’ve dug ourselves. It’s about showing up tomorrow and putting our best foot forward, our best effort of the series and continuing that on. There have been teams that have been down 3-0 and come back to win the Cup. That’s what we’re going to have to do if we want a chance.”

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Jets right-winger Trevor Lewis was part of the 2014 Los Angeles Kings team that rallied from 3-0 down to the San Jose Sharks in the opening round before eventually raising Lord Stanley’s cup after defeating the New York Rangers in the final.

Historical importance notwithstanding, there are more pressing questions for the Jets to answer, including just where does this team go from here as they attempt to win one single game to avoid elimination?

Clean exits have been difficult to come by for the Jets in this series and with that in mind, perhaps it’s time to insert rookie Ville Heinola on the back end.

Veteran Jordie Benn was able to block several shots, but the Jets can’t rely on Tucker Poolman to remain on the top pairing with Josh Morrissey.

The pairing is not in sync and the Jets need to be in a place where they can use Morrissey with Neal Pionk right out of the gate, instead of making the change in the third period after falling behind.

Poolman has been far more effective when he’s been used lower in the lineup, where he can be in a better position to succeed.

By inserting Heinola, there would be another mobile puck-mover available — and that’s exactly what the Jets could use right now.

Nobody is asking Heinola to come in and be a saviour for a group that’s desperately missing Dylan DeMelo, it’s about utilizing his strengths at a time when the Jets need a spark.

As for the forward group, the line blender was on full display as Jets head coach Paul Maurice searched for some chemistry.

Ehlers was flying on Sunday, but he simply doesn’t have enough help right now.

Nor is there an easy answer to whom he would best be suited to play with, even after Paul Stastny made his series debut in Game 3.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Kyle Connor has one goal through three games and it came with an extra-attacker, while Lowry leads the Jets in goals with two and has been a consistent performer.

Defenceman Derek Forbort is the only other member of the Jets to find the back of the net so far in this series.

If the Jets don’t regain their scoring touch quickly, they’ll basically be relying on Hellebuyck to steal Game 4.

Hellebuyck is more than capable of putting this team on his back, but eventually he’ll need some run support.

With Pierre-Luc Dubois now having gone 23 games between goals, perhaps it’s time Lowry and Dubois trade places.

Putting Dubois into more of a complementary role could take some pressure off him, while rewarding Lowry for his strong play at the same time.

That search for solutions is already underway and ultimately, the Jets will need to execute more efficiently on Monday.

Otherwise, a long off-season of questions will arrive much sooner than most people anticipated after that first-round sweep of the Edmonton Oilers.

“Both teams have their strengths, and they have their weaknesses,” Maurice said. “We don’t want to turn the music on, throw a party here. We just lost another hockey game and we’ve got our backs against the wall.

“The idea is, the requirement is to win a game for both teams. They have to close out a series and we have to extend it, so from the time that buzzer ended the game to the start, we’re preparing for that.”

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