By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
WINNIPEG — It was a evening for celebration at MTS Centre Saturday as the Winnipeg Jets suited up for their season finalé against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In the NHL’s first season back in Winnipeg, the Jets went 37-35-10, and despite their 4-3 overtime loss to the Lightning, finished with an impressive home record of 23-13-5.
The crowd was extremely upbeat, sending out powerful chants of “Go Jets Go” and “Thank You True North” throughout the game.
Prior to puck drop, the team handed out three season awards. The most significant, the Dan Snyder Memorial Trophy established in 2004 to honour the former Atlanta Thrasher who passed away tragically in a car accident in 2003, is awarded each year to the franchise’s player who embodies perseverance, dedication and hard work without reward or recognition so that his team and teammates might succeed. Snyder’s father and brother presented the award to defenceman Mark Stuart. Past Snyder Memorial recipients are Jets forwards Bryan Little and Jim Slater.
Watch post-season comments from Jets’ head coach Claude Noel:
The McDiarmid Lumber Three Stars Award was earned by goaltender Ondrej Pavelec for being named a star of 12 games at MTS Centre, including five in which he was named the game’s first star.
Jim Slater received the Staffmax Staffing & Recruiting Community Service Award for his involvement in several community endeavours. Slater’s popular “Take a Jet to Work Day” saw the seventh-year forward visit a fire hall, police station, local welding company, and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Slater went on to score two goals, including the equalizer with 53-seconds remaining in the third period.
Another milestone achieved Saturday night was the 60th goal of the season for Lightning forward Steven Stamkos who notched the marker early in the third period and received a brief yet sincere standing ovation from the Winnipeg fans.
“That was special,” said Stamkos when asked to comment on the crowd’s reaction to his goal. “As a Canadian kid coming in here, trying to score 60 the last three games in Canada, the magnitude of it was huge. These fans have been great all year. It’s tough to play in this arena. They booed me all season. I think that’s the only time they’re going to cheer for me… I have the utmost respect for them.”
The last Canadian-born player to top 60 regular-season goals was Mario Lemieux in 1995-96 when he tallied 69 for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Jets failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2011-12, and the franchise has only made it to the post season once since its inception in 1999.
ChrisD.ca video/Darrin Bauming