There’s a storm coming, Winnipeg. The mid-April forecast calls for a ‘Whiteout’ Winnipeg hasn’t seen since the mid 90s and Winnipeg Jets fans are smiling from ear to ear. The Jets secured a Wild Card spot with a little help and will be returning NHL playoff hockey back to the city for the first time since 1996. It may be the season of spring but fans want to turn it into duck season as the Jets first round opponent will be the Anaheim Ducks.
The Jets didn’t take the easy route in their final six games to get to the postseason. After a deflating loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Jets experienced a defensive breakdown late in a game against the New York Rangers. Chris Kreider scorched past Dustin Byfuglien and scored on a breakaway late in a tied game. The 3-2 loss temporatily knocked the Jets out of a playoff spot.
Winnipeg regained their composure against the Vancouver Canucks in their final game of a four game homestand. In a back and forth affair that saw a total of five first period goals, the Jets outlasted the Canucks in a 5-4 win. Lee Stempniak scored twice and Mathieu Perreault assisted on three goals in the victory.
Closing off a season with three of four games on the road is an uphill battle for any team trying to keep pace in the playoff hunt but goalie Ondrej Pavelec was up to the challenge. Pavelec continued his hot streak allowing zero goals in regulation in the three road games. The Czech goaltender backstopped the Jets to a 2-0 win against the Minnesota Wild making 32 saves and shut down the St. Louis Blues 1-0 turning away 30 shots.
Pavelec stood on his head once more against the Colorado Avalanche with 21 saves and after 65 minutes, the game remained scoreless. The Avalanche managed to solve the Pavelec puzzle scoring twice in the shootout for a 1-0 shootout win. Despite the loss, Winnipeg gained a point and awaited the result between Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings. The Flames beat the Kings 3-1 to oust the defending Stanley Cup champions out of playoff contention and punch the Jets playoff ticket. Once word hit the Jets and the city of Winnipeg, the celebration ensued from the locker rooms at the Pepsi Centre to Portage and Main back in Winnipeg.
“Finally, finally we did it,” a relieved Pavelec said. “We can finally say we did it. It’s a good feeling, a really good feeling.”
The Jets closed off the regular season in style with a 5-1 win against the team that helped them into the postseason, the Calgary Flames. With both teams securing a playoff spot, mainstays were rested on both sides. Despite the game being meaningless, fans at the MTS Centre gave a sneak peak for the league to see with fans bringing the noise and sporting white shirts and jerseys.
The Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks kick off their series on April 16 in Anaheim followed by Game 2 on April 18. The ‘Whiteout’ hits the MTS Centre April 20 and Apr 22 for Games 3 and 4, respectively. The Ducks swept the season series against Winnipeg 3-0.
Photos by Mike Macaraeg | Filipino Journal