Jets playoff dream officially over

Tampa Bay Lightning's Eric Brewer (L) battles for a loose puck with Winnipeg Jets' Alex Burmistrov...

Tampa Bay Lightning's Eric Brewer (L) battles for a loose puck with Winnipeg Jets' Alex Burmistrov Saturday night. (MIKE CARLSON/Reuters)

Kirk Penton, Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:51 AM ET

TAMPA - TAMPA — The inevitable became reality Saturday night when the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 in overtime.

The NHL’s scoring leader, Steven Stamkos, buried the game-winner, his 56th of the season, on a one-timer 45 seconds into the extra frame, officially eliminating the Jets from Eastern Conference playoff contention.

The Lightning were also eliminated on Saturday night.

The Jets knew it was coming, so the mood in the dressing room was not one of despair. There was disappointment, but it was tempered by the fact it was only a matter of time.

Officially, the Jets (36-34-9) are seven points back of the eighth-place Washington Capitals, and both teams have three games remaining.

“I don’t know how much it changes,” defenceman Ron Hainsey said. “We’re realistic enough to know that to ask two teams to lose all their games in regulation and us win all of them was going to be a low percentage shot.

“I was more just disappointed with how the game ended. We thought that was an icing. We were just talking about that before I came out here. We’re a little disappointed with that one.”

The analysis of where the season went wrong can officially begin, but it’s been known since well before Christmas that Winnipeg’s terrible road record is the reason it will be on the outside looking in when the playoff party begins in a week and a half.

It is so bad outside of Manitoba’s borders this season that the Jets, if they can’t win against Florida or the Islanders, will finish with their third-worst road record since the franchise was born as the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in 1999.

Only Atlanta’s first and third seasons, when they earned 15 and 23 points, respectively, are guaranteed to be worse than Winnipeg’s this year.

The Jets have just 31 points away from home after falling to 13-21-5 on Saturday. The best the Jets can do is tie the franchise’s fourth-worst road mark.

Winnipeg hasn’t won on the road in regulation time since Jan. 16. It ended up 0-10-1 in the second half of back-to-backs on the road.

When you look at it that way, it’s amazing the Jets lasted this long.

“The future of this team’s bright. The pieces are in place,” defenceman Mark Stuart insisted. “There’s just a few things we need to work on. Obviously being better on the road is one of them. That’s something we’re going to have to get better at next year.”

The man who was most upset on Saturday night appeared to be head coach Claude Noel.

While the Jets had plenty of energy to start the game (Antti Miettinen and Kyle Wellwood gave them a 2-1 lead through two periods), Noel was downright perturbed with his team’s performance and wasn’t ready to examine the season.

“We played on our heels the third period, whether it’s penalties or the icing that we should have played out,” Noel said. “I don’t have any thoughts on anything past tonight. This isn’t a good time for me to talk about that. I know you’d like to discuss that, but tonight’s not a good night to do that for me.

“… There’s just too much emotion for me to sit there and try and dissect the game. I’d like to be able to share my thoughts with you, but they wouldn’t be pleasant right now.”

This is a recording, especially on the road.

The bottom line is a lot of prognosticators figured the young Jets would miss the playoffs, and they ended up being correct.

They probably didn’t see the road record being such a significant factor, but the Jets will end up where most thought they would.

“Our expectations were to be in the playoffs, and not being able to accomplish that goal is disappointing,” Andrew Ladd said. “So it’s our job to work to get better, to learn from what happened this year and make sure that doesn’t happen next year.

“In our minds it does (feel like the season is a failure). I feel we had the group in here to get in the playoffs, and I’m sure everyone else did too. Long term we’re trying to build something that’s gonna be able to contend every year. That takes time, too, but that doesn’t make it any easier.”

FLIGHT RECORDER

THE SKINNY

The Jets play great hockey in the first two periods, taking a 2-1 lead through 40 minutes, only to watch it disappear through numerous trips to the penalty box and then fall in overtime. It officially ends their pursuit of a playoff spot.

REPORT CARD

Forwards (B): They moved well, generating plenty of chances early, and they were feisty, too. They took too many penalties, however.

Defence (B): They did a good job of moving the puck out of their own zone and ultimately into the Tampa zone. They, too, get blame for the penalty parade.

Goaltending (B+): Ondrej Pavelec bounced back from some recent rough outings with a strong performance against serious snipers.

UP NEXT

The Jets get a couple of days in the sunny Miami to prepare for the third of their four-game road trip, on Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers. The puck drops at 6:30 p.m.


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