By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
WINNIPEG — Winnipeg’s playoff dreams were dashed with a swift swipe of the broom as the Anaheim Ducks swept the Jets in four straight games with a 5-2 win in front of the ever-enthusiastic 15,016 at MTS Centre Wednesday night.
The franchise — including the 12 years when they were known as the Atlanta Thrashers — has never won a Stanley Cup Playoff game despite two separate appearances. Back in 2007, while holding the third seed in the Eastern Conference, the Thrashers were knocked out in four-straight at the hands of the New York Rangers.
Year four in the Manitoba capital and the Jets finally edged their way into the post-season by capturing the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot, pairing them up in the first round with the West’s best regular season club.
And the Ducks showed why they finished the season 51-24-7, coming from behind in every game to win by margins 4-2, 2-1, and 5-4 in a Game 3 overtime thriller on Monday night — the first Stanley Cup Playoff game in Winnipeg in 19 years.
“Mostly quickness. The speed — you can deal with speed. But we had a difficult time with the quickness on the puck,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice when asked what the difference in the series may have been.
“There was an appreciation there, and the fans showed it,” added the bench boss, speaking of interactions with Winnipeggers while out and about in the city since he took over duties with the club last January. “I’d have liked to let them be cheering at the end of of a game for a different reason, and we weren’t able to do that, but that was special and the players appreciated it.”
Maurice and several players spoke in fond and grateful tones following Wednesday’s elimination of the roaring standing ovation from the MTS Centre crowd after the final horn.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like that before in my life, coming back here (for Game 3) with the fans. The fans here are just phenomenal,” said Drew Stafford, acquired by Winnipeg in a blockbuster deal with Buffalo in February. “Unfortunately we let them down by not getting one win here, but I can’t say enough about how appreciative we are of them for their support.”
“I mean, even after the game they’re still chanting and going after it.”
Jets forward Bryan Little opened the scoring and ignited the raucous ‘Whiteout’ crowd with a quick power-play goal coming just 19 seconds into Andrew Cogliano‘s tripping penalty.
Yet, as has been the case all series, the Ducks responded near immediately, just 1:26 later, as Emerson Etem undressed Jacob Trouba and delicately flipped a backhand over Ondrej Pavelec‘s glove to send the game to the first intermission all tied up.
— Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming) April 23, 2015
Midway through the second, 59 seconds after the Ducks killed off a Jakob Silfverberg hooking penalty, the Jets defence corps suffered another blunder on the Anaheim rush. Corey Perry impressively danced Dustin Byfuglien, dishing to Andrew Cogliano for the easy bury and the Ducks’ first lead of the game.
Ryan Kesler made it 3-1 Anaheim with 13:19 remaining before a Mark Stuart point shot rejuvenated a slightly lulled crowd with 9:33 left on the clock, bringing the Jets back to within a goal. Kesler, proving to be a total Jet-killer in the first round struck again inside the final five minutes to take the air out of Winnipeg’s tires.
Kesler finished the series with three goals and five points, including a back-breaking goal late in Game 3 to force overtime.
Anaheim’s Sami Vatanen added an empty-netter with 27 seconds remaining, while the MTS Centre crowd continued to stand and cheer proudly for their hockey club.
The Ducks now move on to play one of the two remaining Canadian clubs in the Western Conference — the Vancouver Canucks or Calgary Flames, with Calgary leading the series three games to one.