WINNIPEG – It’s really hard to sweep the Chicago Blackhawks.
After taking their first four meetings this season, the Winnipeg Jets dropped their fifth and final matchup 5-2 at MTS Centre Friday night, a misleading final score given the game was 2-1 late into the third.
The Jets were trying to become just the fourth team ever to sweep a season series of five or more games with Chicago, but fell short despite a stellar effort between the pipes from Connor Hellebuyck.
Chicago dominated the opening frame thanks to a pair of power plays, and the Jets weathered the storm until late in the period. Dustin Byfuglien made a bad giveaway at his own blue line, leading to a one-timer from Patrick Kane to open the scoring.
Bryan Little continued his strong season early in the second, tying the score on a rebound from a Toby Enstrom point shot.
But the Blackhawks would regain the lead ten minutes later: Hellebuyck stopped an initial shot from Artemi Panarin, but Artem Anisimov escaped the coverage of Enstrom in front of the net and banged the rebound into the yawning cage.
The Jets briefly thought they may have tied it when a deflected shot squeaked through Corey Crawford, but Brent Seabrook was there to sweep the puck out of harm’s way as it teetered towards the goal line.
Winnipeg controlled the bulk of the play down the stretch of the third, but Crawford held strong. A late-period power play provided chances but no results for the Jets.
Duncan Keith iced the game for Chicago with less than three minutes left, his seeing-eye point shot getting past Hellebuyck, and for good measure Marian Hossa put one into the empty net on a penalty kill. Adam Lowry scored in garbage time to make the score more respectable before the Hawks scored their second empty net goal with just a few seconds remaining.
The Jets have now lost three straight after their first three-game win streak of the season, and that win streak is appearing more like a fallacy than a sign of things to come. The goals have become harder to come by, but they’re still going in their own net, as this was the 14th straight contest in which they allowed three or more goals.
“It seems like it’s been like that a lot of the year. We get a couple wins and it feels like we’re playing well, and then we follow it up with a couple losses,” explained Little. “It’s been a battle like that all year just to keep close to .500 so we’re going to have to find some consistency if we want to have a chance here.”
It was a night where the Jets just couldn’t quite get their stick on numerous loose pucks available to them near the Chicago net, the exception being both goals which came just inches outside Crawford’s crease.
But there were plenty of missed opportunities, and even though they played two solid games this week against two of the best teams in the NHL, they come away with no points.
“You can be happy about your offence in games. Right now we’re trying to generate the offence and not do it at the cost of trading a lot of chances,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “We faced two real strong number one [goalies] here the last two games. We had a stretch back there a while ago where we were banging in four or five but we were seeing the second and third goalies for a few of those teams.”
Hellebuyck made 31 saves in the loss, including 15 in the busy first period. He says he felt good in his second start in Winnipeg’s last ten games.
“I thought I was not only tracking but reading the play really well. Not falling behind it, really following the play and getting ahead of it.” Regarding that third goal? “I didn’t really see it until it was two feet in front of me. Then it was too late.”
Whether the youngster will start against Tampa Bay Saturday night is still up in the air. Maurice says they will see how Hellebuyck feels, but if he says he can go the job will be his. The puck drops against the Lightning at 6 p.m.