Derek Stepan celebrates his overtime winner in Game 7 of the 2015 second round. Image by: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
After Friday's loss, the Jets are on the cusp of elimination, but Winnipeg need look no further than several recent post-season comebacks for some inspiration as they prepare to attempt an unlikely rally.
As the Winnipeg Jets retreat home in time for Sunday’s potentially season-deciding Game 5 of the Western Conference final, the prospect of the only Canadian franchise left standing ending the country’s long-standing Stanley Cup drought appears to be on life support.
That is, of course, because the Jets find themselves in a sizeable hole following Friday’s Game 4. After winning the first game of the series on the strength of a three-goal first period, Winnipeg has proceeded to drop each of the past three contests to the upstart Vegas Golden Knights by 3-1, 4-2 and 3-2 scores. Dropping three straight has been a rarity for these Jets, too, which makes the timing of this post-season losing streak all that much worse. Only twice all campaign, during a stretch in early December and one in mid-March, did Winnipeg lose three consecutive outings, and now the Jets are on the cusp of seeing their Stanley Cup hopes go up in smoke.
Not all hope is lost, though. Over the course of NHL history, 28 teams have come back from a similar deficit or worse, with four teams completing the so-called reverse sweep and dug out of a 3-0 series hole. And while that doesn’t seem like an awful lot of history for the Jets to use for inspiration, it’s worth noting that eight of those comebacks have come in the past decade. More specifically, however, six of those series have seen the team trailing 3-1 heading into Game 5 discover a spark, flip the script and emerge victorious to advance in the post-season.
Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers — 2009 Conference Quarterfinal
The Rangers appeared to be in total control right out of the gates in the opening round of the 2009 post-season. A late goal by Brandon Dubinsky in Game 1 and a shutout by Henrik Lundqvist in Game 2 saw the Rangers steal home ice advantage from the Capitals, and after Washington got one back in Game 3, New York took a stranglehold on the series.
In Game 5, though, the Capitals came out flying. An early shorthanded tally by Matt Bradley was followed up by his second of the game not long after. Then came goals from Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin that helped keep Washington’s season alive. Game 6 was more of the same, too, as the Capitals fired home five goals to draw the series level heading home. And in the series-deciding Game 7, Washington pieced together a remarkable defensive performance, allowing only 15 shots against in a 2-1 victory over New York. Sergei Fedorov’s late third period goal stood as the series winner.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Washington Capitals — 2010 Conference Quarterfinal
The series that birthed the term “Halak’d,” which only hockey fans can understand. The early outings of the series could have best been described as a track meet, with 31 total goals scored through the first four games of the opening-round meeting. But after Montreal dropped Game 4 in stunning fashion, with Carey Price allowing five or more goals against for the third straight contest, coach Jacques Martin made the bold decision to switch up his starter and install Jaroslav Halak in the Canadiens crease.
And over the next three games, Halak proceeded to steal the series for Montreal. In Game 5, Halak was tested early and often but turned aside all but one of the 38 shots he faced as the Canadiens held on for a 2-1 victory. Game 6 was more of the same, too, as Washington fired 54 shots on goal, but Halak was only beaten once as Montreal skated to a 4-1 series-tying win. And just to rub some salt in the wound, Halak dominated Game 7, as well, turning aside 41 of 42 shots as the Canadiens held on for a 2-1 series-clinching victory.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins — 2011 Conference Quarterfinal
Two seasons removed from winning their first Stanley Cup of the Sidney Crosby era, the 2011 Penguins clashed with the Lightning in the opening round with their eyes fixed squarely on returning to the NHL’s winner’s circle. And through the early part of the series, it sure looked as though things were heading that way. Wins of 3-0, 3-2 and a 3-2 double-overtime win in Game 4 had Pittsburgh in complete control of the series, but just when the Penguins were eying up a second-round date, the Lightning flipped the script.
In Game 5, Tampa Bay was dominant, blowing out Pittsburgh 8-2 on home ice, and that set the tone for the remainder of the series. The Lightning went back to Florida and defeated the Penguins 4-2 in Game 6 and then battled Pittsburgh to a 1-0 victory on the strength of Sean Bergenheim’s second period tally.
If the Jets really want to look to this series for inspiration, though, they can look no further than Pittsburgh’s goaltender of record. A 26-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury struggling throughout the series, posting a 3-4 record and .899 save percentage.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings — 2013 Conference Semifinal
Entering the post-season as the Stanley Cup favorites in 2013, few saw the Red Wings as a true threat to the Presidents’ Trophy winning Blackhawks, and when Chicago took Game 1 of the series 4-1 on home ice, it seemed as though the stage had been set for a quick series. Ever the savvy team, though, Detroit fired back with three consecutive victories — 4-1, 3-1, 2-0 — to put Chicago on the brink of elimination in Game 5.
With their season on the line, however, the Blackhawks skated to a 4-1 victory in Game 5 and hung on for a 4-3 victory in Game 6 to send the series to seven. Two goals early in the second and third frames, first by Patrick Sharp and then by Henrik Zetterberg, were the only markers in regulation, which set the stage for overtime to decide the series. In the extra frame, it took less than four minutes to find a winner, as Brent Seabrook scooped up a neutral zone turnover, skated into the Detroit zone and snapped a puck cleanly by Jimmy Howard to lift Chicago to the series victory. The Blackhawks would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins — 2014 Second Round
If it wasn’t for a Derick Brassard overtime winner in Game 1, the Rangers could have seen their playoff run end four games into the second round. That overtime victory for the Blueshirts was their only win in the first four outings of the series, however, as the Penguins rattled off three straight victories, two of which were by shutout, to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. By the time Game 5 rolled around, though, New York found its footing on the strength of stellar goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist.
Over the final three contests of the series, ‘King Henrik’ allowed only three goals and turned aside 104 of the 107 shots the Penguins fired his way. Meanwhile, Derick Brassard fired home three goals in the final three contests, Mats Zuccarello picked up three assists and eight other skates registered multiple points through Games 5, 6 and 7. In the series-deciding contest, it was Brad Richards who delivered the winner, notching a power play goal midway through the second frame to send New York on to the conference final.
New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals — 2015 Second Round
By the end of the series, it was one of the tightest battles in recent playoff history. A seven-game set in which every single contest was decided by a single goal. But one bounce in the Capitals’ favor could have ended the series in five. After Washington captured Game 1 and bounced back from a Game 2 loss with victories in Games 3 and 4, the Capitals had the Rangers on the ropes and were a shot away from ending the series and advancing to the conference final when Game 5 went to overtime. But midway through the extra frame, Ryan McDonagh delivered the winner to keep New York’s season alive.
With the series shifting back to Washington for Game 6, Lundqvist helped the Rangers hang on for another one-goal victory despite staring down 45 shots. Lundqvist turned aside 42 in the contest, and he would follow that up with yet another standout performance in Game 7, this time stopping 35 fo 36 shots through regulation and overtime. And Lundqvist’s play allowed Derek Stepan to score his first goal of the series at the most crucial of times, a tally which lifted New York into the conference final.
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