By Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
Jets coach Rick Bowness stepped on the dais in the T-Mobile Arena media room and declared his post-game availability was going to be short and sweet.
He wasn’t kidding.
Still seething after a 4-1 loss to Vegas that eliminated Winnipeg in five games, Bowness sounded off on his club’s effort in a 65-second diatribe.
“I’m so disappointed and disgusted right now,” Bowness said.
The veteran coach didn’t name names but didn’t mince words.
“There has to be pride,” he said. “You have to be able to push back when things aren’t going your way. We had no pushback. Their better players were so much better than ours tonight. They deserved to win.
“They were the better team in the regular season, they were the better team in this series.”
Instead of coming out with a desperate brand of hockey in an elimination game, the Jets were listless and never really got going.
The Golden Knights set the tone early when Chandler Stephenson beat Connor Hellebuyck just 50 seconds into the game.
Vegas controlled play for most of the first period as Winnipeg was held without a shot for the first eight minutes.
Mark Stone, William Karlsson and Stephenson all scored in an eight-minute span in the second period and the Golden Knights were on their way.
Kyle Connor scored the lone goal for Winnipeg.
“It’s not where we envisioned we’d be,” said Jets forward Adam Lowry. “It’s not where we want to be.”
Nikolaj Ehlers made his series debut for the Jets after missing over two weeks with an upper-body injury. Mark Scheifele (upper body) and Josh Morrissey (lower body) sat out.
The Jets looked like a different team in a 5-1 victory in Game 1 and they couldn’t duplicate that effort later in the first-round series.
Vegas rebounded with a 5-2 win in Game 2 before delivering two victories at Canada Life Centre, topping the Jets 5-4 in double overtime and adding a 4-2 win in Game 4.
For Game 5, showgirls in full feather headdresses danced near the boards during the warm-up. Vegas-style theatrics were on display in a medieval pre-game ceremony.
When the puck dropped, the Golden Knights picked up where they left off.
They outchanced, outhit and outplayed the visiting Jets, who displayed little spark and looked overmatched. A raucous sellout crowd ate it up.
“We’re disappointed with the results,” Lowry said. “You battle so hard to get to the playoffs, you want to go on a run. You want to make a difference, you kind of want to make something magical happen. And we didn’t.”
Vegas clogged the middle of the ice and prevented Winnipeg from finding its rhythm. The Jets looked scattered as zone breakout attempts were frequently stifled by passes that were off the mark.
Winnipeg finally managed a half-decent scoring chance in the 15th minute of play. The Golden Knights outshot the Jets 8-5 in the opening period.
Stone scored 42 seconds into the second period when he corralled a bouncing puck and beat Hellebuyck on the glove side. Karlsson padded the lead at 4:41 when he one-timed a pass through the goalmouth from Michael Amadio.
Lowry nearly put Winnipeg on the board a few moments later but Laurent Brossoit denied him with a diving glove save. Lowry was later called for hooking and the Vegas power play converted nine seconds later as Stephenson tallied at 8:37.
Stone assisted on the goal for his second three-point game of the series.
“I thought overall it was one of our better games,” Stone said. “I thought we stuck to the program for the majority of those last four games that we played.”
Down by four and in desperation mode, the Jets pulled Hellebuyck for an extra attacker with over eight minutes left in the third period. Connor chipped in a puck with 5:38 remaining to end Brossoit’s shutout bid.
With the Winnipeg net still empty, Pierre-Luc Dubois jammed in a loose rebound with 2:35 to play.
The goal was waived off, though, after the Golden Knights used a coach’s challenge. It was ruled that Blake Wheeler made a hand pass to the point off the draw.
Vegas will get a few days off now as the team awaits its Round 2 opponent.
Winnipeg was hoping it would be preparing for a Game 6 at home on Saturday. Instead its off-season is now underway.
“Any time you’re out, it sucks,” Ehlers said. “There’s no other word for it.”
Winnipeg outshot Vegas 30-25.
The Golden Knights will play the winner of the Edmonton-Los Angeles series. The Oilers have a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 on tap Saturday.
The Jets enjoyed a strong start to the regular season but struggled mightily at times in the second half. Winnipeg managed to put some wins together over the last couple weeks of the campaign to nab the second wild-card spot.
A first-round exit should lead to an interesting off-season for a club that needs to decide whether to push forward with its current core or overhaul its roster.
Winnipeg reached the Western Conference final in 2018 — also losing to Vegas — and hasn’t been beyond the second round since.
Entering this year’s first round, teams with a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series held a series record of 299-31 (. 906).
Jets forward Morgan Barron was sporting his regular half-visor again for Game 5 after playing most of the series with a full cage on his helmet.
Barron needed over 75 stitches after taking a skate to the face in Game 1.
Vegas defenceman Shea Theodore sat out Game 5 with an undisclosed illness.
Fellow blueliner Brayden McNabb did not play due to an upper-body injury and is listed as day to day.