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Winnipeg

Jets enter off-season in disbelief, wanting more after early playoff exit

Disbelief seemed to be the overriding emotion among the Winnipeg Jets after their early exit from the NHL playoffs.

“I am truly kind of puzzled why it didn’t work because I really thought we had a really good group,” defenceman Dylan DeMelo told reporters Thursday as players met with the media before beginning their early summer vacations.

The Jets finished fourth overall in the league and second in the Central Division with a franchise-tying 52 wins (52-24-6). They were riding an eight-game win streak into the playoffs.

After winning the first game of their opening-round series against the Colorado Avalanche, the Jets dropped the next four and were outscored 28-15 during the best-of-seven contest, including four empty-netters.

“We were rolling pretty good going into the playoffs,” winger Kyle Connor said. “You almost blink and it’s over. You can’t believe it.

“I’m sure we’ll go over Xs and Os and what we needed to do differently. Just emotionally, pretty devastated.”

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff met with players throughout the day and described the way the season ended as “incomplete.”

“We talked about reaching 110 points is something that they should be proud of but, to a man, they’re all talking about (how) they still wanted more,” Cheveldayoff said.

“That’s what they’re all going to have to think about and we’re all going to have to think about. As an organization, we all have to find a way how we can be better.”

Winnipeg was also bounced out of the playoffs in last season’s first round, losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games after winning the first match.

Head coach Rick Bowness signed a two-year contract with the team. A third year is a club option.

He was away from the team twice because of a seizure his wife, Judy, experienced last October and then his own minor medical procedure in March.

The 69-year-old said he’ll talk to his family and then Jets co-owner Mark Chipman and Cheveldayoff.

“I know what I’m going to do. I know what I want to do. That will come out. We will let you know,” Bowness said with a smile.

He sounded like he wanted to return.

“I take full responsibility for that playoff performance. I do. Our team did not play well,” Bowness said.

“The standards that I had set for the team and myself, we didn’t reach that standard. I put the onus on me to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Players committed more this season to the defensive system Bowness and his assistants implemented and saw results in the regular season, but too many breakdowns against Colorado.

Winnipeg had a stretch of 34 straight games when it allowed three or fewer goals. Connor Hellebuyck won the William M. Jennings Trophy as the goaltender (minimum 25 games played) on the team with the fewest goals allowed.

Hellebuyck is also a finalist for the Vezina Trophy that’s awarded to the league’s top goalie.

The netminder told reporters he felt great during the series, but had an emotional realization after he was replaced by Laurent Brossoit in Game 4 with the Avalanche up 4-1.

“When I got pulled to give me more rest, it was like a flood of emotions I had suppressed all series long and that was the realization that I can’t do this alone,” Hellebuyck said.

He vowed to change his approach in the future.

“It’s just the way my mentality is, I’m trying to put everything on my shoulders,” Hellebuyck said. “I don’t think that’s the right way to go about playoffs anymore.

“I think what I need to do is just dive into a team-game even more and that will hopefully bring me peace of mind.”

Jets captain Adam Lowry said the loss to the Avalanche was a lesson on the different intensity level of playoff hockey.

“Not for lack of effort on our part, but just the desire to win every battle and the desire that the guy across from you isn’t going to beat you that night,” Lowry said.

“That’s the learning curve. That’s the thing you need to do to take the next step.”

CONTRACT QUESTIONS

The Jets head into the off-season with six potential unrestricted free agents: DeMelo and fellow defencemen Brenden Dillon and Colin Miller, forwards Sean Monahan and Tyler Toffoli and Brossoit.

Dillon exited the series after his hand was sliced with a skate blade in Game 3 during a scrum. He said he got 12 stitches, which will come out on Monday.

“All things considered, I think I got really lucky with it,” he said.

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