WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets found a bumpy road on their way back to playoff sharpness, losing 5-3 to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Second Round on Wednesday.
The Jets had not played since May 24, when they eliminated the Edmonton Oilers with a 4-3 triple-overtime victory in Game 4 of the first round. They fell behind 3-1 in the first period and could never get even against the Canadiens, who defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their first-round series Monday.
“I think five to six days is a really great amount of rest playoff time,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. “You just kind of lose that bite a little bit of what a playoff series is like.
“But, you know, in some ways it’s a great reminder. You know, I talked to my wife about it a little bit last night, that it’s tough to match what those guys have just been through. They just won an emotional Game 7 and they’re kind of riding it high and we’ve just been kind of sitting on our hands. So, it’s tough to match that, and they certainly got off to a good lead tonight and it was just tough to claw our way back. I think we can take a lot of positives from tonight, no question.”
Game 2 is here Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, SN, TVAS).
During their eight non-game days between series, the Jets took three days off and skated the other five.
They were clearly not up to the pace of a second-round series game, out of sync and failing to support the puck in critical areas. Montreal used its aggressive forecheck to create goals by Jesperi Kotkaniemi at 3:30 and Eric Staal at 5:10 of the first period and dealt Winnipeg its first loss of the playoffs.
“We just weren’t particularly sharp,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “We had a hard time in two areas. Probably just that sharpness with the puck, how we moved it. And then some of our decisions to try and do things we don’t need to do. But again, you can look slow when the other team plays a real fast game. And they closed out a lot of those places that they’re really good at. Before I give you a long speech about how much better we can play, I think you have to look at Montreal.
“They played a [heck] of a game. They looked like they were right in their rhythm.”
Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck made 28 saves but couldn’t prevent the Canadiens from getting ahead early.
“I thought they had a good flow going,” Hellebuyck said. “They came out with a lot of energy, while we were just trying to establish our game. I think moving forward here we are going to keep fine-tuning our game more and more. We’re going to continue to get better.”
The Jets also had other issues.
Forward Paul Stastny did not play because of an unexpected minor issue that Maurice said he did not consider serious. Winnipeg also played with five defensemen most of the night after Dylan DeMelo was injured on his first shift of the game.
“There wasn’t an event that happened in practice,” Maurice said. “It ended up being a game-day decision on that one, so we don’t think that’s too significant, so we’ll list [Stastny] as a day to day. Dylan got hurt on his first shift and I won’t have a better feel for what it is until tomorrow.”
There was no indication that either player would be in Game 2, and the Jets could potentially be dealing with a third absent player if forward Mark Scheifele is disciplined for his hit on Canadiens forward Jake Evans at 19:03 of the third period.