To say head coach Rick Bowness was upset Thursday night after watching the Winnipeg Jets become the first team eliminated from the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs would be a significant understatement.
Bowness’s club entered Game 5 with its season on the line, trailing 3-1 in the series against the Vegas Golden Knights. Despite being one loss away from elimination, the Jets displayed little fight and fell behind 4-0 before Kyle Connor added a late goal in garbage time.
The damage was already done by then, though, as Winnipeg’s playoff hopes were crushed following a series-ending 4-1 loss. It was an effort that mirrored their inconsistencies during the regular season, which nearly prevented them from reaching the postseason in the first place.
No one knew that more than Bowness, who called out his team — including his top players — during a fiery, albeit brief post-game press conference that he cut short after just one minute.
"I’m so disappointed and disgusted right now, that’s my thoughts," Bowness said.
"No pushback. But it’s the same crap we saw in February. It was. As soon as we were challenging for first place and teams were coming after us, we had no pushback. This series we had no pushback. Their better players were so much better than ours, it’s not even close."
Rick Bowness said he was 'disappointed and disgusted' by the lack of pushback his team showed in the series against the Golden Knights. pic.twitter.com/2c79k9lNJv
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) April 28, 2023
The Jets had a Western Conference-leading 59 points on Jan. 18, only to finish the season from that point on with an 18-22-5 record, the 25th-worst league wide. As a result, they placed just two points ahead of the Calgary Flames for the final wild-card spot.
After a late March loss to the San Jose Sharks, Bowness made similar comments about the work ethic of some of his players, saying they are "dreaming" if they "think they’re giving us everything in their tank."
Injuries certainly didn’t help Winnipeg’s chances of avoiding elimination, as they were without Josh Morrissey, Mark Scheifele and Cole Perfetti. Nikolaj Ehlers, who missed Games 1-4, returned for a must-win Game 5 but was far from 100 percent healthy.
Even so, Bowness was unhappy with the lack of response from the Jets players who did suit up at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday, blasting them for their inability to dig deep during a season-defining game.
“We’ve got to push back. There’s go to be a pushback, there’s got to be pride. You've got to be able to push back when things aren't going your way," Bowness said.
The 68-year-old, hired by the Jets last offseason, coached his team to a 46-33-3 record during his first season behind the bench. His recent rant, however, is likely only the beginning of what should be an intriguing summer for Winnipeg.
With Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Connor Hellebuyck and Pierre-Luc Dubois — a restricted free agent this offseason — all just one year away from unrestricted free agency, Thursday night may have marked the end for many of the franchise’s core players.