Wild’s bitter win over Winnipeg Jets makes for a better rivalry


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ST. PAUL, MINN. — Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau was musing the other day about the ingredients that go into a good playoff rivalry.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/04/2018 (1872 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ST. PAUL, MINN. — Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau was musing the other day about the ingredients that go into a good playoff rivalry.

“It’s not a series until you get a hate on for each other and I think that was created near the end of the game,” Boudreau said Friday night after a late game melee capped off a 4-1 Jets win in Game 2 in Winnipeg.

“It’s a rivalry now.”

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Minnesota Wild Mikael Granlund (64) scores on Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) during first period NHL playoff hockey action at the Xcel Energy Center in St.Paul, Minnesota, Sunday, April 14, 2018.

Yeah, it is. And after a bitter 6-2 Wild victory here Sunday night that saw Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck run out of the game to chants of ‘Sieve! Sieve! Sieve!’ it is also now a series.

Looking every bit like a team that had wasted the previous day taking an unscheduled aerial tour of blizzard-bound Minnesota, an undisciplined Jets team opened the door to this series with some dopey first period penalties and the Wild were only too happy to barge inside, clean out the refrigerator and soil the carpet.

You could maybe blame this debacle on the weather-related travel difficulties that forced the Jets to fly in a day late Sunday, except the Jets went out of their way prior to Game 3 to insist that it had absolutely no impact and they were just as ready for this game as any other.

Or you could maybe blame this one on tighter officiating than the previous two games that caught the Jets by surprise, except by night’s end, the Jets had more power plays than the Wild.

There are no excuses, in other words. At least no good ones.

And so with that, a series that the Jets looked to have well in hand after a dominating performances in Games 1 and 2 in Winnipeg is suddenly up for grabs again at 2-1 and increasingly looking like it’s going to exact a toll on whatever team emerges as the last one standing, with defenceman Tyler Myers now joining the ranks of the Jets walking wounded after an awkward second period collision with the Wild’s Marcus Foligno forced him to leave the game and not return.

If the team still standing at the end this series turns out to be the Wild, the Jets will have had only themselves to blame.

Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry says many, many stupid things but he was bang-on after Game 2 when he scolded the Jets for the late game melee that seemed to awaken the Wild, who to that point had otherwise looked every bit like a condemned man making the final walk resigned to his fate.

The last thing the Jets needed to do at that point, up 2-0 in games and halfway home in this best-of-seven series, was to turn what has always been a mostly friendly and good-natured rivalry with a hockey neighbor into a bitterly fought battle to the death.

But here we are after a Game 3 in which all the gentilities of two northern neighbours known for their insufferable friendliness were buried over the course of 60 minutes in favour of one of those brass knuckle battles where everyone was fighting dirty all night long, or at least as long as the final result was still in doubt, which turned out to be two periods.

It is not a good look for the Jets, who are the more talented and the more skilled of the two teams and have nothing to gain and everything to lose by turning this thing into a parade to the penalty box.

But maybe we should have seen this coming. If there was a rap on this Jets team coming into these playoffs it was their lack of playoff experience: just five Jets players have more than 20 games of playoff experience; Minnesota has 15 players like that.

One of the most important things that only comes with playoff experience is learning to keep your composure even when things hit the boiling point, as it inevitably does in the playoffs at some point.

Keeping your composure means that while it is okay to defend your goalie when he gets pitchforked, it’s not okay to throw an opponent to the ice, throw off a glove and drive the guy’s face into the ice as Adam Lowry did to Wild forward Jason Zucker in the first period, leading to Minnesota’s first power-play goal.

And it’s also not okay to plant a cross-check squarely into the numbers of a particularly irritating opponent’s jersey and drive his head forward into the boards as Ben Chiarot did to Charlie Coyle in the first period, leading to Minnesota’s second power-play goal.

If this is a rivalry — and it sure looks like one now — it is only benefitting Minnesota at the moment.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets Jack Roslovic (52) is hit by Minnesota Wild Carson Soucy (60) during first period NHL playoff hockey action at the Xcel Energy Center in St.Paul, Minnesota, Sunday, April 14, 2018.

This is all new ground for Jets 2.0, who have never really had a rivalry until now because they’ve never been in a hard-fought playoff series until now.

Anaheim had their way with the Jets in the only other playoff appearance for Winnipeg a couple years ago. That one was over so quickly — the Jets got swept in four straight — hard feelings never had a chance to develop.

Since then, whatever rivalries the Jets have developed have been mostly amicable. The fans, more than the team, hate the Leafs. It’s always fun beating the Oilers, if only because they were such a bitter rival of Jets 1.0. And to the degree the Blackhawks were the measuring stick by which this franchise measured itself until this season, there was always something special on the line when the Jets played Chicago.

But it’s only been over the past week with Minnesota that what was always a geographic rivalry has suddenly seemed to take on a more visceral quality.

The teams don’t like each other. That’s obvious to anyone who’s watching.

And once two teams get a hate on, it’s usually not long before the fans don’t like each other either, which was in evidence all night on Sunday as the hundreds of Winnipeg fans who braved blizzard conditions on Saturday to get down here were rewarded for their trouble with mockery and derision from a Minnesota crowd only too happy to finally stick it to these Canadian nuisances who come down here a couple times a year yelling about ‘True North.’

Now, this isn’t Habs-Bruins. It’s not Yankees-Red Sox. It doesn’t even remotely resemble Packers-Vikings.

But it’s the start of something. And I’m not sure it’s anything good, at least for Winnipeg.

The Jets let the Wild — and their fans — back in this one. And now a Minnesota team that has been beaten just six times in regulation at Xcel Energy Center all season long has a chance in Game 4 Tuesday night to tie this series and turn it back into a best-of-three.

That’d be a crapshoot if that happens. And turning this whole season over to the whims of the hockey gods was not the plan for a Jets team that finished with the second best record in the NHL this season.



Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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