The Ducks didn’t need one of their patented late-game comebacks this time, but they did have to fend one off. After leading for a combined 11:21 of game time in the series’ first three installments, Anaheim used the skill of its top lines to grab the lead for good midway through the second period of Game 4, and Ryan Kesler’s two third-period goals helped the West’s top seed wrap up a trip to the conference semifinals with a 5–2 win over the Jets.
Three thoughts on the game that clinched the sweep:
1. This series was as draining as a sweep can be
The Jets had been a popular upset pick entering the playoffs, and after one of the first round}s most physical series, Anaheim will gladly take whatever rest days it can get to reload for the winner of the Calgary-Vancouver series. (The Flames take a 3-1 lead into Thursday night’s Game 5 at 10 p.m. ET.)
Winnipeg’s spirited underdog run seemed to be nearing its end when Kesler tapped home a rebound that was left inches from the goalmouth at 6:41 of the third period to make the score 3–1, but Jets defenseman Mark Stuart cut the deficit in half less than four minutes later with a slapshot from the point that snuck past Ducks netminder Frederik Andersen.
For the next several minutes, the Jets buzzed around Andersen for scoring chances as Winnipeg’s whited-out crowd recaptured the magic it generated throughout Game 3, but a stray puck sent the Ducks the other way on a 2-on-1, and winger Jakob Silfverberg slid a pass across to Kesler for the snapshot dagger at 15:10 of the third. Kesler waived his no-trade clause last June to join Anaheim after 10 years with the Canucks, and his poise late in the series’ final two games against a resilient Jets team showed the prudence of that trade. Coach Bruce Boudreau took justified heat after consecutive years of losing to lower-seeded teams in 2013 and 2014, and Kesler is the type of battle-tested veteran that can help finally deliver the deep playoff run that has eluded him.
For future reference, one promising recipe for a sweep: The Ducks outscored the Jets 9-1 in the third period of this series.
2. Corey Perry dealt the final blow to Dustin Byfuglien and got the last laugh with Winnipeg fans
Byfuglien made headlines for his late hit on Perry during the Ducks winger’s celebration of a go-ahead goal in Game 3, which the Jets’ veteran defenseman followed up with a headline-grabbing one-note media session on Tuesday. Perry has been known to frustrate an opponent or two, but his skill is undeniable, and his beautiful assist on Andrew Cogliano’s second-period goal after dancing past Byfuglien and dangling his way into the slot silenced the crowd that had derisively (and offensively) chanted “Katy Perry!” at him late in Game 3.
The Winnipeg franchise’s only other playoff series, a clean sweep at the hands of the Rangers in 2007 when it was located in Atlanta, came to be defined by the way famed instigator Sean Avery terrorized the then-Thrashers. Perry is a more skilled player, with six All-Star nods and a Hart Trophy to his name, but the pattern surely is not lost on this franchise as it continues to search for its first playoff victory.
3. What’s next for the Jets?
A pair of late insurance goals took the drama out of Game 4, but Winnipeg’s fans sent their team off the ice with chants of “Go Jets Go” and a long, loud ovation. It should be a fascinating summer in Winnipeg as the team attempts to keep those fans happy and stay above the playoff cutline in the brutal Western Conference.
Bryan Little’s first-period power play tally offered a brief flash of production from the top six—Little was the only Jet with more than one goal in the series. Unfortunately, the early strike brought out one of the best goals of the playoffs so far, this one off the stick of Ducks winger Emerson Etem.
Etem picked the puck up at his own blue line late in the first period and drew in defenseman Jacob Trouba as he entered the offensive zone. As Trouba closed in, Etem drew the puck to his backhand and cut into the slot, sidestepping Trouba’s lunging hit and flicking the puck past a sliding Ben Chiarot and over the shoulder of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec can’t possibly have expected such a well-placed shot coming at the end of that string of dekes, and Trouba and Chiarot may see their prone figures on posters in short order as a result.
After posting a career season and helping to drag the team to the postseason with his .920 save percentage and 2.28 goals-against average, Pavelec struggled between the pipes against Anaheim. Can he be trusted to outperform his unsightly .891 save percentage in this series the next time the Jets reach the playoffs?
One thing seems certain: The fans aren’t going anywhere.