WINNIPEG – For the third consecutive game, the Anaheim Ducks erased a third-period deficit, rallying in the dying minutes before going on to defeat the Winnipeg Jets.
Ryan Kesler tied the game with 2:14 left in the third period, sending the game to overtime, where Rickard Rakell scored the winning goal early in the extra session.
5-4 final. Heartbreak.
Trailing the best-of-seven series 3-0, the Jets are now on the brink of elimination. Game 4 goes Thursday night at 8:30pm CT at MTS Centre.
Lee Stempniak, Tyler Myers, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little scored for the Jets, while Ondrej Pavelec made 26 saves in a losing effort.
“It’s hard,” Wheeler said. “We’ve led the whole damn series and we’re 0-3. That’s the way it goes. That’s hockey. … We’ll lick our wounds tonight. It’s going to hurt, obviously, but the sun’s going to rise tomorrow and we’ve got to refocus for Game 4.”
“The simple thing is to focus on the one game,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said about his team’s approach heading into an elimination game. “We’ll go through the things that were different in tonight’s gamefrom the two previous games and try to get the best out of the next one.”
Fuelled by one of the loudest and most electric atmospheres in National Hockey League history, the Jets got the start they were looking for, scoring the opening goal midway through a first period that saw the peak decibel level reach 130dB, according to TSN. (In case you’re wondering, prolonged exposure to such a volume can cause permanent hearing damage. Priorities, though…).
Uncovered at the lip of the blue paint, Stempniak was the beneficiary of a nifty backhand feed from Adam Lowry, banging a shot into the empty net at 9:38. After lugging the puck up ice and singlehandedly creating the odd-man situation, Jacob Trouba was credited the other assist after dishing off to Lowry on the far side.
From the hearty chants throughout warmup, to the bellowing of ‘True North!’ during the national anthem and at every opportunity in between, before and after, the crowd (and the game) lived up to the billing – a night 19 years in the making and, surely, remembered by all.
“It was an unbelievable experience in the building,” Stempniak said. “I personally have never had anything like that before. We certainly fed off the energy. We had a great start and were all over them, forcing some turnovers. It’s disappointing on a couple levels to go down 3-0 in the series, but also not to deliver for our fans as well.”
Maurice said it was the best atmosphere he’s ever been a part of.
“We had good legs because of it. We needed it and we used it to good effect for a big chunk of the game.”
While the Jets were the better of the two teams early on (outshooting the Ducks 12-7), a slip in the final few seconds of the first halted their momentum. Pouncing on a loose puck and rifling a shot far side on Pavelec, Cam Fowler brought the game back on level terms with 5.4 seconds left in a hotly contested opening frame.
Hampus Lindholm was sent off for high-sticking early in the second, but it was the Ducks who had the better of the scoring chances. Following the kill, the Ducks took a 2-1 lead as Corey Perry converted a pass from Francois Beauchemin, briefly silencing the rabid crowd. Dustin Byfuglien was assessed a roughing minor on the goal celebration, but the Jets came up with a monumental kill, leading to a power-play opportunity shortly thereafter.
With 23 left in the man-advantage, Myers filtered a shot through traffic, beating Frederik Andersen with a worm-burner far side.
Wheeler scored the ultimate lid-lifter at 9:37, slapping the puck top shelf to give the Jets a 3-2 lead on their 20th shot of the night, but the Ducks weren’t about to back down. With 3:56 remaining in the period, Jakob Silfverberg capitalized on a turnover, sailing a one-time shot up and over the shoulder of Pavelec for the equalizer.
The Jets took a 4-3 lead soon after as Little buried a brutal giveaway by Cam Fowler, wiring a slap shot top shelf on Andersen.
The goal was Little’s first in 10 games. No. 18 was buzzing all night, recording a game-high six shots on goal in nearly 20 minutes of ice time.
“It’s been the story of the series. We can’t seem to get a bounce. That late goal in the third killed us and took away some momentum,” Little said. “It’s hard to put a finger on it. If we knew what it was, we’d fix it. You’ve got to give them credit. They don’t stop. It almost gets in your head how good they are at (coming from behind).
“A couple bounces either way tonight and it could have been a different outcome.”
For the longest time, his goal appeared to be the game-winner, but the Ducks a little magic left in their third-period arsenal. Kesler tied it up at 17:46, converting a beautiful feed from Silfverberg to send the game to overtime.
Rakell ended it at five-and-a-quarter into the extra period, deflecting a Beauchemin point blast through a screen and, eventually, the garb of the goaltender.
“You’ve got to win four games. We’ve won four in a row before,” Wheeler said.
“The first one is going to be hardest one, apparently.”
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com