Goal onslaught sends Winnipeg Jets into next round, fans into jubilation
Goalie Connor Hellebuyck finishes the series against Wild with back-to-back shutouts
Thirty-one seconds is all the Jets needed to send the Minnesota Wild into their off-season break.
And for the first time in more than three decades, a team from Winnipeg is going to the second round of the NHL's post-season.
Fans inside Bell MTS Place and in the street party just outside the arena had barely finished shouting "True North" from the anthem when Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba scored.
That was a new record for a Jets goal. The previous fastest one was 53 seconds by Randy Carlyle with the original Jets in 1995.
Trouba's strike was just the start. Nine shots and 12 minutes later it was 4-0.
"Book a tee time. Book a tee time," the ever-creative Jets fans chanted at the Wild as the game was clearly in the Jets' control.
When it was all over, the Jets stunned the Wild 5-0 and won the series on back-to-back shutouts from goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
The only thing that went in the net for Minnesota was forward Jason Zucker, who slid into the twine behind Hellebuyck after being tripped up by Trouba late in the second period.
"Didn't expect that," Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters after the game. "I thought we were pretty ready."
He described his team as looking rattled and nervous, unable to handle the puck and make passes, and praised Hellebuyck.
"Believe me, we wanted to score. He just wouldn't let us."
In a press release Saturday morning, the Winnipeg Police Service estimated 36,000 fans were downtown attending the game or the street party Friday night. Police said there were no serious incidents reported, but 12 people were arrested for public intoxication.
Many took their partying to Portage and Main, shutting down the city's most famous intersection after the win. Police closed the intersection to traffic for about 45 minutes for the safety of the fans, the release said.
"The game was fantastic. Like, 5-0? No contest," said Brad Wilson. "It was awesome."
Jets captain Blake Wheeler said the team wanted to come out "hard and fast and buzz them as much as we could in the first period."
"Teams that are on the brink come in with hope and the faster you take it away from them, the faster you can squash them," he said. "It was trying to break their will early on."
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WPGWhiteout?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WPGWhiteout</a> looking great from <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Air1?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Air1</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Winnipeg?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Winnipeg</a>! Love the way this community has come together. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoJetsGo?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoJetsGo</a> <a href="https://t.co/KJP6HYWlSr">pic.twitter.com/KJP6HYWlSr</a>—@wpgpolice
The onslaught ended Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk's night. He was pulled and replaced by Alex Stalock, who kept the Jets off the scoreboard until Mark Scheifele got his fourth goal of the series 32 seconds into the final frame.
The scoreless second period had the Winnipeg fans chanting "We want Dubnyk."
It's going to take some time for the adrenaline of fans to subside — and for their vocal cords to heal. The volume inside the arena from the sellout crowd of 15,321 set a new record at 114.3 decibels.
Their non-stop cheering, singing and shouting, both inside the arena and on the streets outside, did not go unnoticed.
"It's unreal, to see the image of how big that crowd is outside," said Bryan Little, who scored the second goal. "Having fans like that is something I've always wanted to experience my whole career.
"They lost their team once and never knew if they were going to get it back. You can tell how much this means to them. Playing in a city like this, I feel lucky to be a part of it."
Winnipeg fans you are ON FIRE tonight!! That’s the loudest I’ve EVER heard you during anthems and here we are now 4 goals in. UNREAL!!! You have the power:)—@StaceyNattrass
The fans also cranked up the volume during a standing ovation for Matthieu Gomercic, a member of Humboldt Broncos. The Winnipegger, who survived the Bronco team's bus crash on April 6, was a guest of the Jets and honoured during a commercial break.
"They've been awesome all year and every playoff game has been unbelievable," Scheifele said about the fans. "They're definitely a huge part of our start tonight."
For this franchise, which started out as the Atlanta Thrashers before being relocated to Winnipeg in 2011, everything in this post-season is brand new: first playoff win, now first playoff series victory.
Little has been on that ride the entire time, since being drafted by the Thrashers in 2006. He admitted he didn't know if he would ever see a playoff win.
"You're always looking to the future, thinking 'there's gonna be another shot, there's gonna be another shot.' But 10 years go by and you were in the playoffs once, without a playoff win, you start to question things."
Jets fan Dylan Gerring, dressed up as wrestling legend Hulk Hogan (but in all white) could have given Little a pep talk. Before the game started, there was no doubt in his mind what the outcome would be.
"It will absolutely happen tonight. They can't lose at home," he said.
Statistics were on his side. The Jets haven't lost a game at home since Feb. 27.
And fans are ready for more, for the next round.
Early in the third period, they started chanting, "we want Nashville," setting their sights on the next likely opponent.
The Predators — who finished first overall in the NHL's regular season, just three points ahead of the second-place Jets — have a 3-2 series lead over the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado beat Nashville 2-1 later Friday night to force Game 6.
Long time coming
It's been a long time since the Jets were still playing at a time of the year when fans could watch a game and then walk around outside in just a T-shirt.
Typically at the end of April, the players have returned to the off-season homes and sports pundits have already done a post-mortem on how the team needs to improve.
Sure, the Jets made the playoffs in 2015 but it was over before fans finished painting their faces. They were swept in four straight games by the Anaheim Ducks.
"I was off the bench and halfway down the hallway before I remembered I had to shake hands [the custom at the end of a playoff series]," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "It's been a while."
On Friday, under double-digit temperatures that had people sleeping on dry park grass — yes, the snow is melted and grass is already dry — people were still watching hockey.
The last time a Winnipeg NHL franchise advanced to the second round was in the 1986-87 season. That year, the original Jets knocked off the Calgary Flames in a best-of-seven-games series, 4-2. But then they hit the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers and were done in four.
- Jets outscored the Wild 16-9 in the series.
- The series-winning game was witnessed by media magnate David Thomson, the co-owner of the Jets and the head of Canada's richest family.
- The Wild have been shut out nine times in 73 all-time playoff games. The last two have been at the hands of the Jets.