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This article was published 20/4/2018 (1283 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Handshakes in April typically signified failure for the Winnipeg Jets — a glum goodbye among teammates after yet another fruitless regular season and a long summer of soul searching, and a gesture of sportsmanship after a futile playoff series with the Anaheim Ducks.
Not this time; not this team.
The Jets were on the right side of hockey’s post-game tradition Friday night after dispatching of the Minnesota Wild in their first-round Western Conference series.
Winnipeg hammered Minnesota 5-0 on home ice to secure the best-of-seven playoff series 4-1 – a monumental first for the franchise. For NHL history buffs and long-suffering fans, it also comes 31 years after Jets 1.0 knocked off the Calgary Flames 4-2 in a first-round, best-of-seven series.
Just like that Jets squad from 1987, the current rendition exploded for a 4-0 lead after 20 minutes in the deciding game.
"We had a lot of motivation coming into (Friday night). We had a chance to win the franchise’s first playoff series and that was a lot of motivation for us and we came out exactly the way we needed to," said defenceman Tyler Myers. "You see the fan base on the street outside growing and growing by game and we see the buzz in the city."
The Jets organization and its allegiant followers – more than 15,000 white-clad, creatively chanting maniacs inside Bell MTS Place and surely just as many more at a jam-packed, deafening party along downtown streets – have a few days to soak in the jubilation of victory.
And then it’s back to business, with a second-round match-up against either the Nashville Predators or Colorado Avalanche to begin late next week.
Colorado staved off elimination Friday night with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over host Nashville, although the Predators still lead the series 3-2.
"It’s pretty exciting as a player to have the fan base we have and that many people behind us and the energy they’re showing in the arena, it’s pretty cool for us and we’re really looking forward to seeing it again next series," added Myers.
The Jets tamed the Wild in definitive fashion, scoring early and often. Jacob Trouba, just 31 seconds in, Bryan Little, Brandon Tanev and Joel Armia scored first-period goals, each with their first tallies of the series, to ignite the hosts before the contest was even 12 minutes old.
Little, in his 11th season with the Atlanta-Winnipeg franchise, along with several teammates made the post-season just once (2014-15), a forgettable four-game sweep by the Ducks.
The veteran centre, who flipped to the wing for Game 5 when Nikolaj Ehlers was scratched just before the game, said he felt a bit mixed up when the final horn sounded and the squads lined up to shake hands.
"I really didn't know what to say. That was the first thing that went through my mind," Little admitted. "The last time I won a playoffs series was in the minor league (with the Chicago Wolves) my first year (2008), so it's been a long time. It's strange being on that side, but it was a good kind of strange."
Even head coach Paul Maurice showed some playoff rust.
"I was down the bench and halfway down the hallway before I remembered I had to shake hands," he said.
Was there a time in his career when Little wondered if playoff success would pass him by?
"Not really. No matter how many years you play, you’re always looking to the future. You’re thinking, there’s gonna be another shot, there’s gonna be another shot," Little said. The last couple years, you could just tell this team was forming to be an elite team, a team that could do some special things. We had a great season, and now I really feel there’s a lot of belief and confidence in this room.
"Playing in Atlanta I wasn't sure I'd ever get to experience playing on a team like this and playing in a city like this, where hockey is loved this much. I just feel lucky to be a part of it."
The Jets haven't lost on home ice since Feb. 27, a streak of 12 games.
Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk was chased from the net after Armia's tip-in of a high, hard Dustin Byfuglien point drive, the Jets' 10th shot, with eight minutes left in the period.
There was only microscopic evidence of pushback in Game 5 by the Wild, whose offence — limited at the best of times — turned to dust against their Central Division rivals from north of the border.
Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck registered his second straight shutout with a 30-save performance. In fact, the Wild fired blanks in the final 141 minutes, 37 seconds of the series.
Wild forwards Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker were held pointless in five games.
"I think what we preach in our room is that we know we’re a good offensive team but we’re a better defensive team. That’s what’s made us good," offered Jets captain Blake Wheeler. "We have good goaltending, try to play the right way in front of him and we have an opportunity to win hockey games."
Hellebuyck's night wasn't particularly hectic, although he waited out Niederreiter on a breakway late in the second period and made a fine stop, and then turned aside a shot by Eric Staal less than a minute later. Later, he snapped out a glove to thwart Daniel Winnik, left alone to his right, with under five minutes left in the game.
Jets centre Mark Scheifele ripped his fourth goal of the series just 32 seconds into the third period, with the Wild a man short.
Scheifele said seasoned teammates like Wheeler, Little and Byfuglien should take plenty of satisfaction in the series win over the Wild.
"(It’s) absolutely huge for everyone, but those are the guys that have been battling, night in and night out. They’re the guys that lead by example on a night-to-night basis. They’re the reason we’re the team that we are," said Scheifele, who had four goals in the series. "They’re the guys that pick the young guys up and help them through the tough times and the good times as well. That leadership from our older guys is huge."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).