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See you in six months

Jets lose final game, but this time, they'll be back

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/4/2012 (1963 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.

Ondrej Pavelec salutes the crowd at game's end.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ondrej Pavelec salutes the crowd at game's end.

Winnipeg's Jim Slater scores his second goal of the game late in the third period, beating Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson to knot the contest at 3-3.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg's Jim Slater scores his second goal of the game late in the third period, beating Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson to knot the contest at 3-3.

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.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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Game preview

There will be no playoff encores and so the Winnipeg Jets are vowing to make their final act of the 2011-12 season a memorable one.

The Jets play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning at 6 p.m. at MTS Centre (6 p.m. CBC/TSN1290) tonight in what is the finale for both clubs.

“We want to finish it off the right way,” said Jet captain Andrew Ladd. “The fans have been great to us the whole year and to be able to repay them the favour by winning this last game and give them a strong effort would be a nice way to cap it off.

“There’s still that disappointment of not being in the playoffs and not playing for anything right now. You’re trying find ways to get motivated and the best way to put it is to play hard for each other and the fans and give them a good show.”

The Jets, 37-35-9, have a chance to finish with 85 points -- their highest point total since registering 97 in the 2006-07 season.

Winnipeg has lost three straight on home ice, but still sports a solid 23-13-4 home record. The club is planning some video salutes to the fans while Jet faithful have been taking to the media and social media as part of a grassroots campaign to start a ‘Thank-you, True North’ chant during the game.

“We’re going to try and play our best game tonight to thank the people of Winnipeg and the entire community for all their support this year,” said Blake Wheeler. “They’ve really pushed us, especially at home, to play at a different level. We owe it to ourselves and to this community to play our best game tonight and hopefully give them more reasons to be excited for next year.

“There’s been some pretty magical games here. When we beat Boston to knock them off their streak that was a really magical night and the last stretch when we were fighting for the playoffs and we beat Florida 7-0, that was a big night, when we beat Washington to put ourselves back in the race… there’s been a lot of great nights.

“Fortunately we were in the playoff discussion for a long time, it just wasn’t long enough.”

The Jets will be without Tanner Glass, Kyle Wellwood, Ron Hainsey and Eric Fehr tonight, all absent because of injury.

The one juicy story line for the Lightning is whether Steven Stamkos can hit the 60-goal mark. He is at 59.

“I just want us to play well and play hard for the fans and play for the right reasons for each other,” said coach Claude Noel. “The last couple of games have been a little bit difficult to coach, but I’m happy our guys have played. I’ve been in situations and seen situations where at the end of the year if nothing matters it’s tough to watch the games. For the most part our guys have been pretty good and I’m thankful for that.”

Ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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The Jets organization will presenting the Dan Snyder Memorial Award prior to tonight's game.

The award has been presented to a player on the Atlanta Thrashers, and now the Jets, since 2004 who "best embodies perseverance, dedication and hard work without reward or recognition," according to the team's website.

Snyder died from injuries sustained in a 2003 car accident in a vehicle being driven by then-teammate Dany Heatley.

Snyder's father Graham spoke to media today about the award. Watch the video below:

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