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FRIESEN: The Winnipeg Jets can’t win a Cup the way they’re built

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Regular season success, first round flop. Rinse and repeat.

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For the second year in a row, the Winnipeg Jets turned a little bit of performance in 82 games into a big chunk of underachievement when it mattered most.

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Another series-opening victory, followed by a four-game boot, this time at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche, this time on home ice.

Tuesday’s 6-3 defeat was not the embarrassingly meek defeat of 12 months ago, but the result left the same sense of failure that has permeated each of the past six seasons.

“Terrible,” is how defenseman Josh Morrissey described it. “Another year that feels like a missed opportunity.”

“It’s going to be a long summer,” added captain Adam Lowry. “This one will sting for a while.”

This team is stuck at one series win since reaching the 2018 conference finals.

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Is it safe to conclude that it wasn’t built for the postseason?

The only thing the Jet can hang their hat on this time is the fact that they seemed like they cared when they went down.

That’s not a sturdy hook, it’s a thin nail.

“In two years, this is by far the best playoff game we’ve ever played,” was how head coach Rick Bowness saw the swan song of the season, a far cry from the disgust he showed in the “no push-back” 2023 final.

In the next breath he himself asked for the obvious follow-up.

“Where was that in the first four games? That is a question we will have to answer ourselves over the summer. But we are way ahead of where we were last year when we lost. Way ahead.”

If having a team that is much more united and hasn’t sent it collectively is way ahead, sure.

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But the Jets were so outclassed that they remain well below the level required at this time of year.

Everything they did over the course of the season, they undid against the Mile-High Avs.

That Jennings Trophy they won because they allowed the fewest goals?

They should give it back after becoming the most porous playoff team in NHL history.

That’s right: the Jets are the first team in league history to allow at least five goals in each of their first five playoff games.

Connor Hellebuyck, the soon-to-be reigning Vezina Trophy winner, finished the series with a 5.23 goals-against average.

And he wasn’t bad at all. In fact, he was pretty good, and that may be the most damning indication of all.

No, he hasn’t stolen a game in this series, and we’re not sure when the last time he did so was. In his last fourteen playoff starts, Hellebuyck’s record is a staggering 2-12.

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But he wasn’t the problem.

If your goalkeeper is playing well and you still have an outscore of 28-15, then you have received an education. Imagine if Hellebuyck hadn’t played well?

What the Jets lack is courage.

If the postseason is a sandpaper game, it’s about 400, the stuff used for finishing, not removing layers.

This isn’t about adding a knuckle dragger. It’s about letting your elite talent increase the intensity a few notches.

Colorado did, Winnipeg’s did not. Or can’t.

Compare the Jets 7-0 win in Denver not too long ago to what we just saw.

“There’s no comparison to what we saw in the regular season,” Bowness acknowledged. “Their intensity and speed increased. They won a Stanley Cup and this series showed that. They have increased their combat level more than anything.

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“The teams that won know how to get there. They’ve arrived there. They flipped a switch.”

Some Jets may have that switch. Some certainly don’t.

Others don’t know where it is yet.

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Bowness turned to an old-fashioned analogy.

“If you don’t put an ice pack on at the end of a playoff series, you’re not playing hard enough,” he said. “Simple as that.”

There was no sign of an ice pack in the Winnipeg room. On the other hand, there were no players in it either.

Only two came out to answer questions: the captain and one of his assistants.

Both looked and sounded devastated.

Morrissey says if the Jets don’t find a way to reach a new level all summer, it will all have been a waste of time.

“I hope it sticks around for all of us into the summer,” he said. “And we use it as motivation.”

The coach echoed that, saying if you can’t find that next level, “you’re not going to win the Stanley Cup.”

I had one last question for him.

How does he know the Jets even have the kind of players to do it?

“Well,” said Bowness. “These are questions we will have to answer over the summer.”

It seems they have already been answered.

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X: @friesensunmedia

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