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Mirtle: Winnipeg Jets let down by Byfuglien, depth players

Ondrej Pavelec and Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets look up to the replay after Rickard Rakell of the Anaheim Ducks scored the winning goal in overtime in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals

Marianne Helm/Getty Images

The play typified the Winnipeg Jets series.

Dustin Byfuglien – one of their best players and one of the biggest reasons they even made the postseason – foolishly punching the Anaheim Ducks' Corey Perry after a key goal against, taking a bad penalty at a bad time to force his team shorthanded while they were already reeling.

Down 2-0 in the series, Winnipeg had to have this game against the top team in the West.

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In part due to plays like that, they didn't get it.

This was a fantastic game, perhaps the best so far in the NHL's entertaining opening round. It was up-and-down hockey, with comebacks and big hits and great plays throughout.

Not to mention nine goals, which is rare these days.

It was also Winnipeg's best performance of the series by a large margin and especially from its top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Michael Frolik, who controlled play very well and produced the go-ahead 4-3 goal late in the second period and could have had a couple more.

Late in the third, Little rang one off the post on the power play, a near-winner that would have been a fitting end for that trio.

Even better than the offence, though, they did a wonderful job of limiting Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, a must if the Jets were going to get back in the series.

The problem was Winnipeg's other lines (and defencemen) let them down – especially in their own end.

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On the overtime winner, Drew Stafford wasn't anywhere close to François Beauchemin at the point, allowing the veteran Ducks defender to pinpoint a terrific slapshot-pass to an unguarded Rickard Rakell right in front.

With Mark Stuart missing the man, the 21-year-old Swede easily redirected it past Ondrej Pavelec, giving Rakell – one of a handful of rising young stars on this Ducks team – his second career playoff goal for the backbreaking winner.

Three games. Three late Ducks comebacks.

Three daggers in Winnipegers' hearts after they waited 19 years for the return of playoff hockey.

And the strangest part of all of it is Anaheim has only led the series for 11 of 185 minutes after three games, becoming the first team in NHL playoff history to win three straight games after trailing in the third period.

"They never quit," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said of his team, acknowledging he was uncertain quite how they kept doing it.

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"I think we handled it pretty darn well," Jets coach Paul Maurice lamented of yet another third-period lead frittered away, explaining this was their best final 20 minutes of regulation in the series. "The positives are we've had leads in all these games so it's there."

It was. But it's hard to imagine them reeling off four straight against an Anaheim team that looks this resilient.

One of the stories of this series in its aftermath is going to be the Jets looking inexperienced against a Ducks team that's got some Stanley Cup veterans like Beauchemin, Perry and Getzlaf. But Winnipeg has some of that, too, and in a few cases, it's those players letting them down.

Byfuglien, for one, has been here before, but he hardly looks like it in this series. A consistent weapon all year from the back end, he now sits pointless after three games. And, in the roar of the crowd, he also appeared to lose common sense, repeatedly playing out of position and taking two momentum killing trips to the box.

If you talk to people around the league about the Jets, one of the main criticisms they have isn't about their lack of experience or talent or even goaltending. It's about their penchant for taking dumb penalties, something that put them dead last in the NHL in time spent on the penalty kill versus the power play.

Byfuglien himself was last in the league in minors taken this season, setting a career high in penalty minutes largely from so many gifts like the ones in Monday's loss. Three other Jets joined him in the bottom 10 in penalty differential during the year: Mark Stuart, Ladd and Tyler Myers.

It's burned them in this series, and it speaks to an inability to control their emotions at times in games.

With this a must-win game, and the crowd ridiculously amped up for the long-awaited return of the postseason to Winnipeg, that appeared to get to them here, too.

Unlike the first two games in California, this was a game they should have won. And this is a series they should be in.

That they're not rests with key mistakes from key players, something that was especially evident in Game 3.

"They don't stop," Little said. "They go right to the end of the game. It almost gets in your head how good they are at it. They've done it to us three in a row now. A couple bounces either way tonight, we could have had a different outcome."

Which was why those few bad penalties and poor coverages hurt so much.

"You can't even put into words how tough this loss is," Jets winger Lee Stempniak added.

Barring something unbelievable, it was their season.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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