Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/4/2012 (1810 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Last games have been a painful memory that has eaten at Winnipeg fans for nearly 16 years.
The Winnipeg Jets and their faithful have a replacement for that 1996 heartache, and while it doesn't go all the way to take away the hurt, Jets Nation ended the season Saturday with another raucous night at the MTS Centre.
And with the security that another season's coming up in just six short months.
"I didn't want to get off the ice," said Jets centre Jim Slater after the team's 4-3 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. "Every fan stayed. I think it's more of us giving them applause than them to us. That's tough leaving the ice. I didn't want to go."
That was a common sentiment 16 years ago.
Now it helps soothe some of the angst over these Jets failing to make the Eastern Conference playoffs at 37-35-10, good for 84 points.
Teddy Purcell's third goal of the game at 1:07 of the extra period temporarily quieted the loudest building in the NHL, but it bubbled to life once again for the farewell salute and the post-game jersey giveaway to lucky fans.
There was also an element of good news in the overtime loss. The Lightning, their disaster of a non-playoff season with just 84 points, jumped ahead of the Jets in the official standings, pushing Winnipeg up one rung on the entry draft ladder for June.
As of today, the Jets will have the ninth pick.
Part of Tampa Bay's rise was thanks to Steven Stamkos's 60th goal of the season, cruising through the slot at 3:29 of the third period, making it 3-1 for the visitors.
But much as it's been for the last two weeks with the Jets playing out the string -- they have missed the playoffs by eight points -- a comeback was required.
Slater scored both rallying goals, including the game-tying marker with 53 seconds to play, once again bringing the MTS Centre to its top level of noise.
"Best I've ever been a part of for sure," said Slater, who finished the season with a career-best 13 goals.
"That's something that was over the top," said Nik Antropov, who also scored for the Jets, his 15th. "I expected this was going to be crazy, but that's overwhelming. Nothing but positive things about that."
"It wasn't just tonight," said Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who finished the season 29-29-8. "It was all season long. Every time we played in this building it was fun."
Fun, however, was not Jets coach Claude Noel's description of recent games, even though his team finished strongly in most of them.
"If you're out of the playoffs, players play for different reasons," he said. "I've watched our team play all year with sincerity, with respect for each other, defending, checking. That's what you do when you're a winner.
"When that is over... now you see different things. I don't think you really enjoy getting angry at your team in April for two weeks. Enough."
Noel said he preferred to stay away from most negatives Saturday night -- "When I look back at the season, I'll get a lot of positives out of the year," he said -- but pointed out it was not a great feeling that his team managed just 27 regulation wins in 82 games.
"You've got to remember this feeling," he said. "This is not a good feeling. If you've ever won a championship, trust me, it's like a disease. And it's a good disease, if there is such a thing. There's no other feeling in a team sport than that, complete unselfishness."
In a season that turned out to be largely about Winnipeg's fans, their unselfishness surfaced with a standing ovation when Stamkos beat Pavelec in the third.
The crowd had booed him only minutes earlier and numerous other times during the evening, as is their custom for top players on the visiting team.
"Not many players who can do it," Antropov said. "The fans know the game. That's great that they did a standing ovation for him."
"They're knowledgeable fans," added Slater. "They know how hard it is to get 60 goals in this league.
"It was actually kind of good to see our fans do it."
And they'll be back for more.