Winnipeg deserves this Stanley Cup ride
Team's victory keeps ride going for their wild fanbase
They faced the Game 7 music, in of all places Music City, and came away singing a sweet melody of success.
Sure the Winnipeg Jets and their loud and loyal supporters felt that they had a chance to steal the final game of this wonderful second-round series against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators on Thursday.
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After all, no team in this series had been able to put together back-to-back victories. But could the Jets beat the favoured regular-season champions for a third time in four games in Nashville? Could the Jets knock off a playoff-hardened team that went to the Stanley Cup final a year ago?
You saw what happened.
The Predators, a team that played so well defensively to win Game 4 and Game 6 in Winnipeg, were too loose in this one and Winnipeg took advantage.
The Jets scored a couple of early fluky goals from bad angles on Predators veteran netminder Pekka Rinne and poured in on from there for a 5-1 victory. The Jets are off to the West final against the expansion Vegas Golden Knights with the best-of-seven series beginning in Winnipeg on Saturday evening (7 p.m. ET on CBC/CBCSports.ca).
The Jets are only halfway to a Stanley Cup, but what a ride this has been so far for the players and their wild fans. This city deserves this run in so many ways.
It's been a long time since Morris Lukowich and the Jets successfully defended their World Hockey Association title, the Avco Cup in 1978-79. It was on to the NHL from there.
But 17 seasons yielded only two playoff series victories, one in 1985 and another two springs later. Then, the team was taken away from them in 1996 and moved to Arizona.
The Jets returned home seven years ago when the Atlanta Thrashers soured in Georgia and the Winnipeg fanbase was excited and loyal to a fault.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and longtime Winnipeg trainer-turned-executive Craig Heisinger took their time building this team through the draft. Yes, they made an outstanding trade at this year's deadline in acquiring Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues. Stastny was excellent in this series, checking in with two goals in the series finale.
Homegrown talent shines
But it was a pair of draft picks in defencemen Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba, who shutdown Nashville's top line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. The trio was so dominant in Game 6 but went out with a whimper three nights later.
The Jets' first selection when they returned for the 2011 draft, Mark Scheifele, fired home a key 3-1 goal in the second period. He separated himself from Nashville defenceman P.K. Subban and captain Blake Wheeler, the heart and soul of this team, found his linemate for an extremely important goal.
This was the only game that wasn't close in this series. The Jets chased Rinne with those two fluky goals from Tyler Myers and Stastny on seven shots before the game was 11 minutes old.
"I feel very much responsible for our season ending at this point. It's tough to understand. I can't point to anything. I felt good and I was healthy," Rinne said. "This was the biggest moment of the season and to let your teammates down is a terrible feeling."
Subban pulled the Predators to within 2-1 with a power-play goal before the first period concluded. But then the Jets and their unshakable goalie Connor Hellebuyck hunkered down for the win.
Now, it's on to the next round. With this spring being the 25th anniversary of the last time a Canadian-based team in the Montreal Canadiens won a Stanley Cup, there is no doubt that the Jets are Canada's team now.
But they don't need the extra support.
If you're in Winnipeg and the surrounding area, you know what the atmosphere has been like. If you're not, you've seen the whiteout atmosphere inside Bell MTS Place and thousands gathered outside in a gigantic street party. There is no doubt the fans will take their support to another level and they hope the players can follow suit against Vegas.