The Winnipeg Jets are out.
The Jets were widely viewed as a Western Conference contender heading into this season, but their quest for another deep playoff run lasted all of six games this year. Winnipeg was eliminated by the Blues on Saturday night, bringing their season to a quick, disappointing end
How did it happen? Let's take a look at where things went wrong for the Jets.
Inability to protect a lead
Late collapses were a theme all year long for the Jets, who finished as the league's fourth-worst team when leading after two periods. That theme reared its ugly head once again in this series.
The Jets carried a 1-0 lead into the third period of Game 1, then lost 2-1. But the real stunner came in a pivotal Game 5 where, with the series tied 2-2, the Jets carried a 2-0 lead into the third period at home. It looked like they had a great opportunity to seize control of the series, but instead they again fell apart late and surrendered three unanswered goals to the Blues -- including a Jaden Schwartz game-winner with 15 seconds remaining in the game.
That kind of loss would be stunning and heartbreaking in any context, but the fact that it created a 3-2 series swing heading into a Game 6 on the road in St. Louis was pretty devastating -- even if the road team had won every game in the series up to that point.
At the end of the day, the Jets coming undone late will be the story of this year's team -- not only in the micro, but also in the macro. The Jets' poor second half of the regular season led them to drawing a difficult first-round matchup against the red-hot Blues in the first place.
A dud when it mattered most
This was a tight back-and-forth series most of the way and you can even argue that the Jets may have been the better team overall heading into Game 6, but the Jets saved their worst performance for last. With their season on the line, Winnipeg got thoroughly dominated out of the gate in Game 6, putting just six shots on net through the first 40 minutes -- including just a single shot in the second period.
Yes, the Blues played well and are a very good defensive team but it was a stunning whimper of a fight from a team on the ropes. Ultimately, the Jets finished with a strong third period and managed to get a couple of goals to cut the deficit to one, but it was too little too late for a Winnipeg team that desperately needed a full 60-minute effort to keep their season alive against a tough opponent.
When at its best, the Jets' top-six is among the most fearsome in hockey. But that front end of their lineup was missing the contributions of a key piece in this series. Nikolaj Ehlers was in the lineup for all six games but he wasn't himself, whether it be due to ailment (he appeared to suffer a lower-body injury in Game 5) or just tough luck.
Ehlers was second among Jets skaters in shots on net (16) but had zero points in the series and was third-worst among forwards with a 48.5 Corsi rating at even strength. He also finished a minus-two.
The 22-year-old can be a dangerous piece on the wing (21 goals in 62 games this season) but he was not the player that we've come to expect in this series. In a tight series against a defensively sound Blues team, his struggles hurt.
If this series was a Mortal Kombat showcase, Jaden Schwartz would have been the guy bringing the finishing move.
Schwartz had a disappointing regular season where he scored just 11 goals, and he struggled out of the gate for the Blues in this series. But after recording just one point through the first four games against Winnipeg, Schwartz caught fire and scored St. Louis' final four goals of the series -- including the game-winner in the waning seconds of Game 5 and a hat trick in Blues' 3-2 series-clinching Game 6 win.
To put things in some perspective: Schwartz's four goals in the final two games to finish the series exceeds his goals total through the first half of the regular season. He had just three through his first 41 games of the season. Getting hot at this time of year can certainly make everyone forget that brutal start, though, and there's absolutely no arguing that he was a difference maker in this series.
It feels safe to say that Paul Maurice was outcoached by Craig Berube in this series. Even though it was tight series, some key coaching decisions late in the series help sealed each team's fate. Maurice showed a sense of complacency even as things went south, refusing to commit to any major shakeups on the front end of a struggling lineup.
Meanwhile, Craig Berube may have won the series when he made the decision to mix things up and slide Brayden Schenn between Schwartz and Oskar Sundqvist on the second line, striking gold and providing a spark that powered his team to its final two wins.
Sometimes tightly played series come down to adjustments behind the bench, and St. Louis certainly held the advantage in that department.