Ryan Kesler and Blake Wheeler battle (Debora Robinson/Getty Images)
Until the final 30 seconds of the second period, the Winnipeg Jets had played the perfect road game. Thanks to two costly penalties, however, the Jets are now facing the prospect of heading back to Winnipeg down 2-0 in their series with the Anaheim Ducks. If the Jets can’t stay out of the penalty box, it could be a short series.
Throughout the entire regular season, the storyline for the Winnipeg Jets was the same: everything can be clicking, but at times a lack of discipline comes back to haunt them when it matters most. In Game 1 against the Anaheim Ducks, that was exactly the case.
For 39:27, the Jets, who took the most penalties of any team in the league during the regular season, had managed to stay out of the box. Then, with only 33 seconds remaining in the second period, Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele took exception to a hack from Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler in front of the net, turned and bopped the Ducks center in the face. If there was a turning point Thursday evening, it was that penalty.
Up to that point, Winnipeg had played the perfect road game. They were physical without going over the edge, they had managed to quiet the raucous Honda Center crowd by taking a 2-1 lead and were in control of the game. However, with the late second period power play, the Ducks were reenergized. Less than a minute into the third frame, with Anaheim still on the man advantage, Corey Perry banged home the game-tying goal. From that moment on, the Ducks owned the Jets.
Not only was the power play tally by Perry a momentum stopper early in the third period when Winnipeg was 19 minutes shy of stealing the first game and taking home ice advantage from Anaheim, but it led to the Jets sliding out of control. Shortly after the Ducks’ game-tying marker, Winnipeg defenseman Ben Chiarot took an ill-advised high-sticking penalty that killed any chance for a quick pushback by Winnipeg. Though Anaheim failed to score on the power play, Winnipeg never recovered. Nearly 10 minutes after Chiarot was sent off, the Ducks went ahead 3-2 on another Perry tally, but the lack of discipline didn’t stop there.
The penalty that sticks out most – the one that was a microcosm of Winnipeg’s inability to stay out of the box – was Michael Frolik’s late boarding penalty resulting from a rough hit on Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner. Frolik, who is one of the Jets’ premiere penalty killers and among the best in the league at playing shorthanded, watched from the penalty box as Ryan Getzlaf scored the insurance tally on the ensuing power play.
Before Frolik took the boarding call, Winnipeg’s Drew Stafford had narrowly missed banging home the game-tying goal and the Jets, likely moments away from pulling goaltender Ondrej Pavelec for an extra attacker, were pressuring the Ducks. Frolik’s penalty, like Chiarot’s earlier in the frame, killed the momentum and ultimately led to Anaheim’s victory.
For Jets coach Paul Maurice, the task now is to stress more than he has all season how important it is for Winnipeg to stay out of the penalty box. While Frolik's penalty may have been unavoidable due to his pursuit of the puck, Scheifele's punch to Kesler was preventable. The whistle had gone and, had Scheifele skated away, there may not have been a game-tying power play goal by Perry.
Though Anaheim had one of the most fruitless power plays in the NHL during the regular season, operating at a 15.7 percent clip, they went 2-for-3 in Game 1 and boast a lineup that has all-world talent and can score at a moment's notice. If Anaheim’s power play gets hot, giving the Ducks the man advantage will be an incredibly risky proposition and one that could mean an early exit for a Jets team that is seen by many as the most likely team to make an underdog run.
It will also be up to Maurice to make sure his young team, a group that has seen a collective 301 playoff games to Anaheim’s 549, is prepared to bounce back in Game 2. If Winnipeg can play more periods like they did the first and if Maurice can rally his squad to shake the loss, there’s a chance the Jets walk out of Anaheim in a 1-1 series. However, if the third period carries over into the first frame of Game 2, it could be a 2-0 series heading home.
There’s no doubt the Winnipeg crowd will be incredible for Game 3. That said, no matter how loud or how proud the Jets faithful are, digging out of a 2-0 hole against a team as experienced as the Anaheim Ducks, who are coming off of a heart-breaking seven-game series loss to Los Angeles last post-season, is going to be a near impossible feat.