The Winnipeg Jets were swept in the Stanley Cup Second Round because the Montreal Canadiens are playing at the top of their game, particularly goalie Carey Price, Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler said after a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 4 on Monday.
“They’re playing at a really high level right now,” Wheeler said. “You just have to give them all the credit. With the goaltending they have, any breakdowns, he’s putting out those fires. And we just couldn’t get the first goal. We just couldn’t do it all series. That plays right into their hands.
“If we could have just found a way to get that first goal, it could be a different series, but we didn’t. You just have to give them so much credit. They’re playing unbelievable right now.”
[RELATED: Complete Canadiens vs. Jets series coverage]
The Canadiens never trailed in the series.
Jets coach Paul Maurice said the way the four games went, including being outshot 42-16 in Game 4 at Bell Centre in Montreal, the result was clear.
“They were good and they were better than we were in this series and they deserved to win,” he said.
The Jets played Games 2-4 without top center Mark Scheifele, who was suspended for four games for charging Montreal forward Jake Evans late in Game 1. They scored three goals in the three games, one from a forward, Adam Lowry in Game 3.
“You play a series where clearly you’re having a hard time finding the net and you take your best offensive player out, and just as importantly what it leaves you with then is the challenge,” Maurice said.
Scheifele was ninth in the NHL with 63 points (21 goals, 42 assists) in 56 regular-season games, and his impact on the Jets is far-reaching, according to Wheeler.
“I mean, he’s a top-10 player in the NHL,” Wheeler said. “I’m not saying we would win the series in five games because he was in the lineup, but it just changes our team. He makes me better. He makes Kyle [Connor] better. As a line, we’re able to do some things that are pretty dynamic, and from there the matchup just works a lot better for us because I think then we can rely on our depth a lot more. We can rely on Adam Lowry’s line coming out third, and they dominate in that three hole. It just makes our team look a lot different. So it’s a [darn] shame.”
Wheeler, who was held without a point in the series after scoring five points (two goals, three assists) in a sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round, said he would not spend a lot of time on what-ifs.
“We had one on the power play tonight with a virtually empty net, and it hits the top of [Price’s stick] knob,” he said. “These are things that you don’t understand, that completely change the dynamic of a game. And they didn’t go our way. But that being said, that’s because of how they played. I’m not going to sit here and say that we played our four best games of the season. I don’t think so, but that’s because of how they played. That’s a reflection of how well Montreal’s playing right now.”
Wheeler said there was additional disappointment for the Jets that they were unable to go deeper after the buzz created in Winnipeg by their first-round sweep of the Oilers.
“I never would have thought this would have gone four games,” he said. “I think that’s one of the most disappointing things, is that people have nothing to do (because of COVID-19 restrictions) and we were giving them something to do, and so we feel bad about that.”