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Photo Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

The Price You Pay

“I’ve got three beautiful kids, we’re not having any more, so what the hell.” – Winnipeg Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler on taking a Kris Russell slapshot in the nuts on the way to a 4-3 triple-overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers to complete a 4-0 series sweep.

With days and days of second-guessing, reflection and obligatory doom and gloom in full swing with the fan base in Oil Country, which is to be expected, Wheeler provided an unexpected smile in this corner with that post-game quip. Not quite as funny as the angry caller who phoned the Dustin Nielson Show on TSN 1260 this morning and said the Oilers should immediately fire Dave Tippett and bring in Ted Nolan, but close.

Of course, with the 4-0 sweep in the books, Wheeler’s pain isn’t anything a little ice and rest won’t take care of as the Jets move on to face the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens in the North Division final. Understandably, the ache and anger around here that comes with another early playoff exit by the Oilers won’t be so easily remedied.

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This is a series I thought the Oilers would win — in five games, no less. This is a series you thought the Oilers would win, and with good reason. The Oilers held a 7-2-0 margin, including six straight wins, over the Jets in the regular season. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl looked ready to roll. Mike Smith looked like he could match reigning Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck in the blue paint. It’s a series that didn’t shape up the way it eventually unfolded, but three overtime losses later, here we are.

ENOUGH LESSONS ALREADY

May 19, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Winnipeg Jets forward Paul Stastny (25) looks for a rebound in front of Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

After blowing a 4-1 lead in Game 3, the Oilers were left mouthing platitudes about lessons learned last night after a giveaway by McDavid and a bad line change led to Kyle Connor’s winner in triple-overtime. Those lessons were supposed to have been learned in the play-in loss to the Chicago Blackhawks last summer, no? Wheeler, at least, has something to show for the shot he took below the belt. Oilers’ fans? Not so much.

“There are some hard lessons you learn along the way,” said Tippett, who won’t be handing the bench to Nolan or anybody else anytime soon. “Some of these lessons are hard to learn, but next time you recognize situations better. There are things that happen in a game where the only way you can learn how to handle them is to go through them.”

That’s true enough in regard to this particular group of players, who came in collectively short on playoff experience compared to the Jets. That’s of little consolation to fans, though, after so many years where lessons have outnumbered wins in the playoffs. The post-mortem — about why and how this happened again — will go on for weeks, but the bottom line is the bottom line, even if it’s easy to argue the Oilers deserved better than a sweep.

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“It’s the little mistakes,” offered McDavid, who played 45 minutes and has just one playoff series win to show for his six seasons with the Oilers. “Just the little ones. Not earth-shattering stuff here. We’re not leaving here thinking we have to re-right the ship here. It’s a fine line . . . it’s a weird series, a weird sweep for sure. We got leads and we don’t find ways to close them out. That’s just the way it is.”

Little mistakes. Big mistakes. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a pending UFA who might have played his last game with the Oilers, has seen both on the way to coming up short too often. “Tough to watch another year go by,” he said. “There’s not a whole to say. They finished it off. We couldn’t get it done. We just couldn’t find a way.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

May 24, 2021; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele (55) scores on Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith (41) during the third period in game four of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the Jets, this playoff series win has been a long time coming. Their fans can relate to what Oilers’ fans are feeling today. The Jets had some excellent teams in the 1980’s, but they lost six straight post-season series to Edmonton in the days the Oilers were winning Stanley Cups, including 1990, when the Oilers overcame a 3-1 series deficit to close them out again. Having covered that series for The Edmonton Journal, I remember it well. 

That trip down memory lane, it goes without saying, is ancient history to this generation of Oilers fans. Many of you weren’t even born then. The days when things almost always went Edmonton’s way against the Jets are more than three decades in the rear-view mirror. This is not that. Swept. Finished. Another season over.

Yes, I want to see what GM Ken Holland can do to address the holes in the roster this off-season now that he finally has some cap space to work with. Holland will need it — this isn’t a team that’s a bargain bin acquisition or two away from being a legitimate Cup contender. That much we know. That’s a story that will have to play out in coming months. Here and now, frustration and failure are the story. Again.

Previously by Robin Brownlee