July 19, 2018

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Opinion

A historic night and a night to remember: We've been waiting a long time for this

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele celebrates his goal against the Minnesota Wild during the second period on Wednesday.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele celebrates his goal against the Minnesota Wild during the second period on Wednesday.

It was always going to be a bit delicate, asking your city’s hockey fans to wear white in a week in which the rest of the hockey world is wearing black.

But the show must go on, as it should.

And so it did Wednesday night as a province that had united in grief following the deaths of 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos in a bus crash in Saskatchewan last Friday — the 16th, the team’s trainer, died Wednesday — united in celebration inside and outside Bell MTS Place for what many are hoping will be the start of a long playoff run for a very good Winnipeg Jets team.

Let history record that April 11, 2018, will forever be the date that Jets 2.0 finally won their first playoff game, 3-2 over the Minnesota Wild, to give the Jets a 1-0 series lead in their opening round best-of-seven playoff series.

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It was always going to be a bit delicate, asking your city’s hockey fans to wear white in a week in which the rest of the hockey world is wearing black.

But the show must go on, as it should.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine and Tyler Myers celebrate Laine's goal against the Minnesota Wild along with a few thousand Jets fans.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Jets' Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine and Tyler Myers celebrate Laine's goal against the Minnesota Wild along with a few thousand Jets fans.

And so it did Wednesday night as a province that had united in grief following the deaths of 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos in a bus crash in Saskatchewan last Friday — the 16th, the team’s trainer, died Wednesday — united in celebration inside and outside Bell MTS Place for what many are hoping will be the start of a long playoff run for a very good Winnipeg Jets team.

Let history record that April 11, 2018, will forever be the date that Jets 2.0 finally won their first playoff game, 3-2 over the Minnesota Wild, to give the Jets a 1-0 series lead in their opening round best-of-seven playoff series.

It was, to put it mildly, a night that was a long time in the making in these parts, coming as it did exactly 2,508 days after Mark Chipman walked to that podium on May 31, 2011, and electrified an entire province with the announcement the NHL was returning to Winnipeg.

And it’s even a longer wait than that, really — you have to go all the way back to April 1996 for the last playoff win by an NHL team in this town, coming in the final season before Jets 1.0 left Winnipeg for Phoenix.

So yeah, Winnipeg, savour this one. While history will record a seeing-eye point shot by Jets defenceman Joe Morrow with seven minutes to play as the game-winner, make no mistake — it was the unwavering patience and support of Jets fans over some very lean years that won this night.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Finding a fan not wearing white in the crowd at Wednesday's playoff series opener between the Jets and the Wild was not easy.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Finding a fan not wearing white in the crowd at Wednesday's playoff series opener between the Jets and the Wild was not easy.

While Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff quite rightly gets credit for developing a team stacked with young talent right now, that plan never would have had the time it needed to bear fruit without Jets fans over the last seven seasons. Those fans continued to sell out the downtown arena night after night, despite not having much more than disappointment to watch on many of those nights.

We are patient people here on the Prairies, where the melt of 2018 is now in its fourth interminable week. Wednesday night, that patience finally paid off with a historic win for the local professional hockey team.

And the crowd lapped up every minute of it on a night the fans wore white, even if the Jets didn’t.

It tells you a lot about how long this tradition has been a thing in Winnipeg that Jets fans are still wearing white at playoff time despite the fact the Jets, like all NHL teams, switched to dark uniforms at home years ago.

All of which made for the weird spectacle on Wednesday night — an entire arena dressed in the same colour as the visiting team, which is not usually the way these things work. You can’t make this stuff up.

You have to hand it to Winnipeggers, though — when they decide to get behind something, they go all-in. An entertaining game inside the arena Wednesday night was to play a version of Where’s Waldo? that involved trying to find someone — anyone — not wearing white in the arena.

For the record, there was one guy wearing a baby blue shirt in the nosebleeds in section 323. There was another woman wearing red in 220. And there were two guys wearing Wild jerseys that popped up on the scoreboard at one point long enough to be unmercifully booed. And that was about it.

The good guys really were in white hats on this night — city cops working the game all showed up at the rink wearing specially made white ballcaps with the Winnipeg police logo.

Put it all together and it was both a historic night and a night to remember, which are not always the same thing.

But there’s something else worth remembering: it’s the team that wins the last game of the playoffs — not the first — that gets to hoist the trophy in June.

One down, 15 to go, in other words.

And the wins are not like to get any easier. While the Jets won this one, they were expected to win. Winnipeg had the second best record in the NHL this season, finished the regular season winning 11 of their final 12 games, and with Wednesday’s win, have now won 10 straight at home.

While the Jets had the win by night’s end, it was the Wild that served notice with a gritty effort. Minnesota nursed a one-goal lead early in the third period when a Patrik Laine rocket tied the game and shifted the momentum back to Winnipeg. Still, it’s clear Minnesota will not be going away quietly.

There is nothing more dangerous than a team with nothing to lose, which is pretty much what Wild coach Bruce Boudreau was hinting at Wednesday morning when he took a poke at all the prognosticators who have been predicting the Jets would have their way with the Wild.

"We’re glad we’re invited to play," Boudreau snarked, "so we’ll give it our best shot."All of which can be translated: We’ve heard we have no chance, which is precisely why we have a chance.

And the Jets? They’ve got the franchise’s first-ever series lead and an entire province behind them heading into Game 2 Friday night.

It’s been a long time coming. The question now is how long will it last.

email: paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @PaulWiecek

 

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter

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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