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Jets lose Game 3, but Winnipeg wins

by Arpon Basu /

WINNIPEG -- A building that had been ear-splitting loud for hours fell deathly silent.

The contrast in the atmosphere at MTS Centre moments before and immediately after Rickard Rakell won the game for the Anaheim Ducks in overtime Monday showed how fleeting euphoria can be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Especially for a city that hadn't experienced them for 19 years.

One moment, there's hope for the hometown Winnipeg Jets, perhaps the most hometown team of any in the NHL. The next moment that hope was gone and reality set in that the home team is down 3-0 in this Western Conference First Round series, losing three straight games it led in the third period.

As long as this city has waited for NHL playoff hockey, it was all but gone that quickly.

In a moment.

But teams have come back from three-game deficits in the playoffs before. Last season's Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings did it, and it was in the first round to boot.

Maybe these Jets can do it too.

That very thought might have been what inspired some of the 15,016 stunned fans to begin chanting while the Jets began leaving the ice. It began faintly, and as others heard it, picked up steam.

Go Jets Go.

The Jets, having lost a game they could not lose in front of fans that created one of the most outstanding playoff environments everyone involved had ever seen, were being cheered off the ice.

And they heard it.

"That felt good," said Jets defenseman Tyler Myers, named the third star after logging a game-high 26:12, every second of it solid. "As a player, for them to show us support even after … it was a tough loss tonight. For them to have that chant going, to show that support, it really shows how behind us they really are.

"It was nice to hear that for sure."

Much of the day Monday was spent describing and documenting the special relationship Jets fans have with their hockey team.

Jets coach Paul Maurice compared his job to being a school teacher, and the Jets were the city's children that have been placed under his care. He said he gets thanked regularly by fans he meets on the street, as though he had something to do with the Jets being back in Winnipeg and back in the NHL, which he obviously did not.

"So they kind of come over and thank you like, 'Hey, my kids are doing great,'" Maurice said. "But at the end of the day, you'd be foolish to lose sight of the fact that these aren't my kids. This is Winnipeg's team, these are their players. Coaches are going to come and go, everything moves, but they have now an attachment to these players and how hard they've played.

"A big chunk of it is what they've seen this year, that there's a connection there that's different than any place I've been."

Center Mathieu Perreault described Winnipeg as a big village, one that has all of its attention centered on this team. He says he gets recognized when he does groceries here, unlike his previous stops in Anaheim and with the Washington Capitals, but it's not an annoyance because people are genuinely nice.

It's not a nuisance; it's comfort, it's community.

"Hockey means everything to people here," Perreault said. "They take their team's success to heart. We've had an incredible year and they've given us incredible support."

The players take that responsibility seriously, their importance to the community and how special this initial trip back to the playoffs has been.

The "Winnipeg Whiteout" was back in full effect. There were more men in white suits at MTS Centre than perhaps any other place on Earth. Faces were painted white. White shorts. White socks. White hair. White everything.

The building was full for warm-ups, and the Jets received a welcome that set the tone for the game. It was easy to pick out the Ducks fans in the building because they stood out, dressed in orange or black in a sea of white. There weren't many of them.

"That's as good a building as I've ever seen in my life," Maurice said.

Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau mentioned earlier in the day that he hoped the building wouldn't be too intimidating for his players. The fans emphasized their dislike for Ducks center Ryan Kesler at every opportunity, and he scored the game-tying goal with 2:14 left to send it to overtime.

The fans berated Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen at every stoppage by chanting his last name, even if his three-syllable name made it somewhat awkward. All Andersen did was make a ridiculous save off Jets center Bryan Little with a minute remaining in the third period, maintaining the tie score and allowing for Rakell's heroics in overtime.

The building was intimidating, but the Ducks thrived in it.

"I don't know if we handled it great or not," Boudreau said, "but we handled it just enough to survive."

The focus Monday was on the pressure being heaped on the Jets players, and it was considerable. The hopes of an entire province, one starved of playoff hockey for so long, were resting on their shoulders.

But those fans had a considerable amount of pressure as well.

For days people spoke of how loud MTS Centre would be on Monday, how impressive the whiteout would be, how the crowd would have an impact on the game.

Rarely in situations where the atmosphere is such a prominent talking point does it in fact manage to live up to expectations. On Monday, with the eyes of the entire hockey world fixed on them, Jets fans not only lived up to those expectations, they shattered them.

They delivered.

"It was special," Jets forward Blake Wheeler said. "It was great. The fans were unbelievable. That was one you'll always remember.

"Too bad it wasn't more fond memories."

Though it may be difficult for Wheeler and maybe even the fans to realize now, the feeling inside MTS Centre will be a fond memory for the players involved and the fans that created it.

Losing the game hurts, but in the grand scheme of things, it's largely irrelevant.

This was about a city, a community, celebrating its team. And it was a win.

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