September 15, 2019

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A chance to leave the past behind

Long-suffering fans hope high-flying Jets deliver relief from painful memories of NHL playoff futility

It may seem hard to believe — especially for the youngest generation of hockey fans in this market — but playoffs used to be a staple around these parts.

Yes, the Winnipeg Jets were frequent guests at the annual spring fling. As certain as April showers bringing May flowers. As reliable as crater-sized potholes opening up on your sloppy commute to work.

Since forming in 1972 and beginning play in the World Hockey Association, the Jets quickly established themselves as one of the elite franchises in that league. They made the playoffs in six of their seven seasons and were victorious in 11 of the 14 series they played — including going all the way and capturing the Avco Cup in 1976, 1978 and 1979.

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It may seem hard to believe — especially for the youngest generation of hockey fans in this market — but playoffs used to be a staple around these parts.

Yes, the Winnipeg Jets were frequent guests at the annual spring fling. As certain as April showers bringing May flowers. As reliable as crater-sized potholes opening up on your sloppy commute to work.

Bobby Hull celebrates a goal with Jets team mate Chris Bordeleau in the WHA.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Bobby Hull celebrates a goal with Jets team mate Chris Bordeleau in the WHA.

Since forming in 1972 and beginning play in the World Hockey Association, the Jets quickly established themselves as one of the elite franchises in that league. They made the playoffs in six of their seven seasons and were victorious in 11 of the 14 series they played — including going all the way and capturing the Avco Cup in 1976, 1978 and 1979.

But the same success didn't follow them to the National Hockey League and the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup; not in their first iteration from 1979 to 1996, and not since True North purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and relocated the team here in time for the 2011-12 season.

Not even close.

Yes, Winnipeg managed to reel off seven straight playoff appearances beginning in the spring of 1982. And true, the Jets punched their post-season ticket a total of 11 times in their 17 NHL seasons before packing their bags and heading to the desert to become the Phoenix Coyotes. But Winnipeg won only two of the 13 series they played in during that time. So while playoff appearances became somewhat routine, so did disappointing early exits.

Winnipeg Jets' fans react to a game 4 loss to the Anaheim Ducks' during the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2015.

TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets' fans react to a game 4 loss to the Anaheim Ducks' during the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2015.

Recent history has been even less kind. This marks just the second playoff appearance for Jets 2.0; their only other stint was a 2015 four-game sweep courtesy of the Anaheim Ducks.

Overall, Winnipeg has won just two of the 14 playoff series they've played in the NHL, in what is now the 24th season in this market. They've never gone beyond the second round. And the last time that happened was back in the spring of 1987.

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff hope to change that beginning next week and believe they've built a team primed for long-term success, not just this spring but for years to come.

Time will certainly tell if that's true.

There's an old saying that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And so, as fans gear up to welcome the Winnipeg Whiteout back to town, we take you today on a trip to the past to look back at every previous Jets playoff appearance— the good, the bad and the ugly.

First team photo of the WHA Winnipeg Jets for the 1972 -1973 season.

TED FOREMAN PHOTO

First team photo of the WHA Winnipeg Jets for the 1972 -1973 season.

World Hockey Association

1972-73 — (43-31-4, first place in the Western Division): First season, first playoff appearance, first series victories. It was quite a debut for the Jets, led by Bobby Hull, Norm Beaudin, Chris Bordeleau, Larry Hornung and goalie Joe Daley. Winnipeg disposed of the Minnesota Fighting Saints in five games and swept the Houston Aeros in four straight before losing the Avco Cup final to the New England Whalers in five wild games that featured 48 combined goals.

1973-74 — (34-39-5, fourth in the Western Division): A tough sophomore year for the Jets, who were swept in four games by the Aeros in their first-round series. The lowlight was a 10-1 blowout in Game 3 in Texas. Houston went on to win their first of two consecutive Avco Cups.

Ulf Nilsson, 14, Anders Hedberg, 15, and Bobby Hull, far right in game vs Phoenix Roadrunners of the WHA in 1974.

JON THORDARSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Ulf Nilsson, 14, Anders Hedberg, 15, and Bobby Hull, far right in game vs Phoenix Roadrunners of the WHA in 1974.

1975-76 — (52-27-2, first in the Canadian Division): Following their only WHA non-playoff year, Winnipeg returned with a vengeance. Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg were in the fold, joining Hull to give the Jets a feared trio. Winnipeg rolled through the regular-season and playoffs with convincing series wins over the Edmonton Oilers (4-0), Calgary Cowboys (4-1) and the two-time defending champion Aeros (4-0) to capture their first Avco Cup. The icing on the cake was a 9-1 victory on home ice in Game 4. Nilsson, Hedberg and Hull combined for an amazing 65 points in 13 games.

March 3, 1976. Bobby Hull in a game against the Quebec Nordiques. Injuries would limit Hull to just 34 regular-season games that year.

JON THORDARSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

March 3, 1976. Bobby Hull in a game against the Quebec Nordiques. Injuries would limit Hull to just 34 regular-season games that year.

1976-77 — (46-32-2, second in the Western Division): Injuries reduced Hull to just 34 regular-season games, but Winnipeg gave it another good run with series wins over the San Diego Mariners (4-3) and Aeros (4-2). They came up just short in winning consecutive titles with a 4-3 series defeat to the Quebec Nordiques in the finals. After forcing a Game 7 with a 12-3 victory on home ice, the Jets were thumped 8-2 on the road two days later.

1977-78 — (50-28-2, first in the WHA): The terrific trio was now a fearsome foursome as Kent Nilsson joined the party. Along with Hull, Hedberg and Nilsson (no relation), the four had 472 regular-season points and another 50 in just nine playoff games as Winnipeg easily beat the Birmingham Bulls (4-1) and then swept the Whalers (4-0) for their second Avco Cup.

May 20, 1979. Kim Clackson celebrates a goal in the final game against the Edmonton Oilers. The Jets would win their third Avco Cup that season.

JON THORDARSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

May 20, 1979. Kim Clackson celebrates a goal in the final game against the Edmonton Oilers. The Jets would win their third Avco Cup that season.

1978-79 — (39-35-6, 3rd in the WHA): After a 28-27-6 start to the season, coach Larry Hillman was fired by general manager John Ferguson and replaced by Tom McVie. He went 11-8-0 down the stretch, but saved his best work for the playoffs as the Jets swept the Nordiques (4-0), then beat the regular-season champion Oilers (4-2) for their third Avco Cup. Hull was limited to just five regular-season games and no playoff contests, while both Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson had gone to play in the NHL with the New York Rangers. But the Jets got key contributions from the likes of Willy Lindstrom, Morris Lukowich and Peter Sullivan.

The WHA, which had been negotiating a merger with the National Hockey League for a couple of years, ceased operations at the end of the season; the Jets, Oilers, Nordiques and Whalers began life in the NHL in the fall.

National Hockey League

Winnipeg Jets rookie and 1981 first overall NHL draft pick, Dale Hawerchuk.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets rookie and 1981 first overall NHL draft pick, Dale Hawerchuk.

 1981-82 — (33-33-14, second in the Norris Division): An amazing turnaround season after winning just nine games the previous year, Winnipeg cracked the NHL playoffs for the first time, led by rookie head coach Tom Watt. Rookie Dale Hawerchuk won the Calder Trophy for his incredible first season, while fellow rookie Scott Arniel and trade addition Paul MacLean would provide plenty of offensive punch and a strong foundation for years to come. The Jets were upset in the opening round by the third-place St. Louis Blues, losing the best-of-five series in four games.

1982-83 — (33-39-8, fourth in the Smythe Division): A shift to the Smythe Division, thanks to NHL re-alignment necessitated by the Colorado Rockies relocation to New Jersey, would prove to be a decade-long nightmare for the Jets. The good news was a second-straight playoff berth. The bad news: Having to play the emerging dynasty in Edmonton in the first-round, getting swept in three straight. Wayne Gretzky won his fourth of eight-straight Hart Trophies as MVP with a 196-point season (71G, 125A) as the Oilers lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the three-time defending champion New York Islanders.

Edmonton Oilers' Glenn Anderson is stopped by Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Brian Hayward during NHL action in 1983.

DEAN BICKNELL / EDMONTON JOURNAL / CP FILES

Edmonton Oilers' Glenn Anderson is stopped by Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Brian Hayward during NHL action in 1983.

1983-84 — (31-38-11, fourth in the Smythe Division): One more point would have landed the Jets a third-place finish and a much friendlier first-round opponent. Instead, it was deja vu all over again — getting smoked by Edmonton to the tune of a three-game sweep. The Oilers went on to win their first of five Stanley Cups, while the Jets again licked their wounds, stuck in the league's toughest division (sound familiar?).

The Winnipeg Jets' Perry Turnbull gets his stick up with Flames Tim Hunter as the Jets battle the Calgary Flames in 1985.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Winnipeg Jets' Perry Turnbull gets his stick up with Flames Tim Hunter as the Jets battle the Calgary Flames in 1985.

1984-85 — (43-27-10, second in the Smythe Division): After their best-ever regular season to that point, and a fourth-overall finish in the league, there was plenty of optimism. This team featured six 30-goal scorers and seemed headed for greatness. A heated first-round series with Calgary ended with Winnipeg winning the best-of-five in four games for their first-ever NHL playoff series victory. But it came at a cost. Jamie Macoun became public enemy No. 1 after his Game 3 cross-check on Hawerchuk sent the star centre to hospital with broken ribs, knocking him out for the rest of the playoffs. Without their leading scorer for a second-round date with the Oilers, the Jets were again swept, led by Gretzky's 13 points in four games (6G, 7A). Of course, Edmonton beat everyone again that year in winning a second-straight championship.

1985-86 — (26-47-7, third in the Smythe Division): A dreadful followup to a strong year, which included Ferguson firing coach Barry Long late in the year and putting himself behind the bench for the duration. Winnipeg still managed a third-place divisional finish despite a horrible record. But it was basically Hawerchuk vs. the world, and Winnipeg was swept in three games by the second-place Flames, who finished 30 points ahead of them in the standings.

The Winnipeg Jets defeat the Calgary Flames in a 1987 playoff game during the first "Whiteout" at the Winnipeg Arena.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Winnipeg Jets defeat the Calgary Flames in a 1987 playoff game during the first "Whiteout" at the Winnipeg Arena.

1986-87 — (40-32-8, third in the Smythe Division): The "Winnipeg Whiteout" was born. With Calgary fans opening eyes with their "C of Red," Winnipeg fans respond by dressing head to toe in white for home games. And the momentum helped propel the Jets to their second-ever NHL playoff series victory, ousting the Flames in six games. That set up a second-round date with the Oilers, who steamrolled them yet again in a four-game sweep on their way to a third Stanley Cup.

Winnipeg Jets goalie Daniel Berthiaume.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets goalie Daniel Berthiaume.

1987-88 — (33-36-11, third in the Smythe Division): The seventh-straight year the Jets qualified for the playoffs. And once again Edmonton ended their season, this time in five games, en route to a fourth Stanley Cup. Winnipeg could score with the best of them, but keeping pucks out remained a big issue. They surrendered 310 during the regular season, and Daniel Berthiaume was lit up for 25 more in the five playoff games.

1989-90 — (37-32-11, third in the Smythe Division): After a one-year absence, Winnipeg was back in the playoffs under the guise of new GM Mike Smith, who had replaced Ferguson the previous season. They were also guided by a new head coach, Bob Murdoch. Despite the changes, there was still a familiar constant — having their Stanley Cup hopes dashed by Edmonton, albeit in an incredible seven-game series. This one is best remembered for Dave Ellett's double-overtime winner to give Winnipeg a 3-1 series lead, followed by three straight Oilers victories to end Winnipeg's season for a sixth (and final) time. The battle-tested Oilers went on to win their fifth Cup that year.

1991-92 — (33-32-15, fourth in the Smythe Division). John Paddock replaced Murdoch behind the bench after Winnipeg missed the playoffs the previous year and he brought a defensively stingy style in which the Jets had the third-best goals-against average in the league. But a fourth-place finish meant taking on the first-place Vancouver Canucks, who knocked them out in a seven-game series that went the distance. Phil Housley, Ed Olczyk, Pat Elynuik, Fredrik Olausson & Co., just couldn't get by a stacked Canucks squad that included Trevor Linden, Cliff Ronning, Pavel Bure, Geoff Courtnall and Kirk McLean. Courtnall scored a hat trick in Game 7, which Vancouver won 5-0.

Winnipeg Jets' rookie Teemu Selanne.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/PHIL SNELL.

Winnipeg Jets' rookie Teemu Selanne.

1992–93 — (40-37-7, 4th in the Smythe Division): Teemu Selanne had taken the NHL by storm in his rookie year, but the Finnish Flash and his teammates — including fellow rookies Keith Tkachuk, Alexei Zhamnov and Evgeny Davydov — were unable to lead the Jets to a first-round playoff victory over the Canucks, who eliminated them in six games. Vancouver forward Greg Adams scored a controversial series-winner in overtime, crashing into Winnipeg goalie Bob Essensa, knocking the puck in off his skate. The goal stood, Winnipeg was eliminated and the irate home crowd littered the ice with debris.

Vancouver forward Greg Adams slides into Jets goalie Bob Essensa knocking the puck into the net in overtime, scoring the series-winning goal and effectively ending the Jets' season.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Vancouver forward Greg Adams slides into Jets goalie Bob Essensa knocking the puck into the net in overtime, scoring the series-winning goal and effectively ending the Jets' season.

1995-96 — (36-40-6, 5th in the Central Division): Following two straight non-playoff seasons, Winnipeg was back for one final hurrah before heading to Arizona. It was bittersweet, as the NHL's No. 1 team, the Detroit Red Wings, sent them packing with a six-game series victory that triggered a sad farewell scene at the old Winnipeg Arena. Sergei Federov, Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov and the 62-win Red Wings were later upset in the conference finals by the Colorado Avalanche, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Winnipeg Jets' fans during game 4 of the playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks in 2015.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets' fans during game 4 of the playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks in 2015.

2014-15 — (43-26-13, fifth in the Central Division). Nearly two decades later, the former Atlanta Thrashers were back in the NHL playoffs. Barely. A wild-card playoff spot earned in the final days of the regular season meant a date with the mighty Ducks. And Anaheim quickly put an end to the Whiteout, sweeping the Jets in four. Winnipeg had leads going into the third periods of the first three games, but Anaheim's experience — with the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler — proved to be the X-factor. There was no Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Paul Stastny, Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey or Connor Hellebuyck on a Jets squad that just didn't have the necessary depth.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Winnipeg fans celebrate the start of game four of the NHL playoffs between the Winnipeg Jets and the Anaheim Ducks in Winnipeg in 2015.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Winnipeg fans celebrate the start of game four of the NHL playoffs between the Winnipeg Jets and the Anaheim Ducks in Winnipeg in 2015.

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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