Winnipeg celebrates first playoff win in 22 years
WINNIPEG—Bell MTS Place was full with fans decked out in white jerseys, shirts, pants, hair and beards.
Two women even wore their wedding dresses to get in the spirit of the Winnipeg Whiteout, a famed playoff tradition in the city that dates back to the 1980s.
They started partying on the street adjacent to Bell MTS Place in the afternoon, packed the arena by the time the teams came out for warmups and chanted "go Jets go" throughout the game.
At long last, they didn't have to stop celebrating when the final horn sounded.
The Jets won their first home playoff game in more than 20 years, using a third-period rally to beat the Minnesota Wild 3-2 in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup Playoff series.
It marked the first NHL postseason win in Winnipeg since April 21, 1996, when an older version of the Jets beat the Detroit Red Wings.
The Jets overcame two early third-period goals by Moorhead (Minn.) High's Matt Cullen and former University of North Dakota star Zach Parise, which gave the Wild to a 2-1 lead.
Winnipeg star forward Patrik Laine scored on a wrist shot with 15:09 to go in the third and defenseman Joe Morrow scored the game-winner from the point with just 7:13 left to give the Jets the win.
The fans stood for the final two minutes as the Jets protected the one-goal victory.
"We should invite them all back," Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. "And the ones outside. This is a special place. That's the best warmup crowd we've ever had. They were wired right from the start. It's a great place to play."
Is there a big significance to getting a playoff win after the long drought?
"There is for the players who have been here since the team came back," Maurice said. "There's a lot of grind that went into it. Certainly there is for the ownership and management, and probably more than anything, the fans that saw two different versions of the Winnipeg Jets. It's been a long time since they've been able to go home in a good mood after a playoff game."
The Jets returned to Winnipeg in the fall of 2011 and have only made one playoff appearance since then. They got swept by Anaheim in 2015.
Expectations are different for this Jets team, though.
They finished second in the NHL in points during the regular season, and they had the NHL's best home record.
The Jets ended the regular season with nine consecutive wins at home—they haven't lost in Bell MTS Place since February—and the Wild found out just how difficult it is to win in Winnipeg.
Cullen, the former Moorhead and St. Cloud State star, scored his 19th-career playoff goal in his 124th-career playoff game just 1:46 into the third period. He collected a pass from Boston University's Jordan Greenway, who became the first hockey player to suit up in the Olympic Games, NCAA tournament and NHL playoffs in the same year. Then, Cullen snapped a wrist shot past Connor Hellebyuck's shoulder.
Just 2:12 later, Parise gave the Wild the lead on his 33rd-career playoff goal, a tap-in on top of the crease.
But Winnipeg quickly turned the tide. The Jets outshot the Wild 14-0 in the next several minutes and regained the lead.
"They got the momentum from the crowd," Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. "And they kept coming."
Roseau's Dustin Byfuglien had an active Game 1 for the Jets, leveling Minnesota's Joel Eriksson Ek in the second period, drawing a roughing penalty and picking up an assist on Winnipeg's first goal.
Game 2 will be at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
"We have enough scoring depth that we feel like if we get enough opportunities, we can bury one," Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler said.