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Jets feed off crowd's energy in Game 1 win against Golden Knights

Fans' passion on display inside, outside arena for Western Conference Final

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg Jets center Paul Stastny walked up to the counter at his usual Starbucks at 7:15 a.m. on Saturday.

"Great shirt," the barista said.

At first, Stastny thought she was complimenting his style. Hey, it was a brand-new shirt, a long-sleeved henley.

"And then I realized it was an all-white shirt," Stastny said with a laugh. "You know, kind of like the whiteout."

All she cared about was the color, because all of Winnipeg is in this together.

 

[RELATED: Byfuglien plays big role for Jets in Game 1 win | Complete Jets vs. Golden Knights series coverage]

 

When the Jets defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 and took a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Final on Saturday, virtually everyone wore white but the Jets themselves in their blue home uniforms -- from the 15,321 inside Bell MTS Place to the 27,000 or so on the shut-down streets.

White jerseys and white shirts and white caps. White face paint and white beards and white wigs. White bridal gowns and white tuxedos and white flight suits and white helmets and white oversized cowboy hats.

Pure passion.

This is nothing new. Yet every game now is the biggest here since May 20, 1979, when the original Jets won the Avco Cup for the third time in four years, the last World Hockey Association championship.

In 17 seasons in the NHL from 1979-80 through 1995-96, the original Jets made the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice, in 1985 and '87. Each time, they were swept by the Edmonton Oilers. Then they left to become the Phoenix Coyotes, and the city had no NHL team for 15 years.

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm1: Byfuglien gives Jets an early lead

In the first six seasons since the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg in 2011-12, the Jets made the playoffs once, in 2015. They were swept by the Anaheim Ducks.

But now the Jets have defeated the Minnesota Wild in the first round 4-1 and the Nashville Predators in the second round 4-3. They are flying in uncharted airspace, and the fans are loving the ride.

Fans brought signs comparing "LOSS VEGAS" to "WIN-NIPEG" and "SIN CITY" to "WIN CITY." A woman wore a cow costume, milking it with a sign that said, "No udder fans are as loud as we are." No one mooed -- er, booed -- because she was right.

"It's just incredible," goaltender Connor Hellebuyck said. "I mean, did you enjoy yourself? It was awesome. Our crowd is awesome. They're so loud, and they help us carry so much momentum. They are a big factor in this."

The Jets lost twice at home in the second round, so it's not like they're unbeatable at Bell MTS Place. But the atmosphere sure didn't hurt Saturday. 

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm1: Byfuglien and Wheeler talk about Game 1

Early in the first period, forward Blake Wheeler broke up a pass in the defensive zone, and center Mark Scheifele raced through open ice while the Golden Knights changed lines. Scheifele dropped the puck at the Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 logo inside the Vegas blue line.

It was like the hardest shot competition at the NHL All-Star Game. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, 260 pounds, put all his weight into a slap shot that rocketed past the blocker of Marc-Andre Fleury. It's a wonder it didn't knock over the net.

The Jets led 1-0 1:05 into the game. They're 8-1-0 when scoring first in the playoffs; the Golden Knights are 6-1-0. After the fans finished roaring, they started taunting Fleury and chanting, "Go, Jets, go!"

"The crowd, we feed off that energy right off the start," forward Mathieu Perreault said. "You can't really explain it. It's just something you feel on the inside. It gives you that extra jump, having this crowd behind you. So it was an awesome start for us. Playing with the lead, we've done a great job."

Forward Patrik Laine one-timed a sweet feed from Wheeler on the power play at 6:49, and it was 2-0. Forward Joel Armia had a puck go in off his skate at 7:35, and it was 3-0. 

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm1: Wheeler sets up Laine for PPG

Referee Kelly Sutherland waved off Armia's goal for goalie interference on the ice. But coach Paul Maurice challenged, and the NHL Situation Room in Toronto overturned the call. When Sutherland tried to explain the Situation Room had determined the puck had gone in before Armia made contact with Fleury, no one could hear him. It was too loud.

The Golden Knights never pulled within one after that, and they were held to 21 shots, tying their lowest output of the playoffs. These Jets are different than the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks they faced in the first two rounds, respectively -- bigger, faster, better, maybe on the verge of something special.

Game 2 is here Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"You can tell there's that buzz in the air," said Scheifele, who scored his NHL-leading 12th goal of the playoffs in the second. "For us, we love it. Our fans treat us so well. They support us through thick and thin. This year, they've been awesome. Hopefully we can give them a lot more to cheer about."

***

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