The modern Winnipeg Jets franchise entered this spring without a playoff win in its history. The old Jets, who are now the Coyotes, won plenty, but all the playoff history this Winnipeg organization had since moving from Atlanta to Manitoba in 2011 was a four-game sweep at the hands of the Ducks in 2015. But the 2018 Jets have ended the drought in a hurry.
Last night, the Jets took the ice at Bell MTS Place for their first playoff game since that sweep, and they were greeted by a sea of white.
The Winnipeg White Out is a tradition that dates back to 1987, when the original Jets faced off against the Flames in the first round.
Calgary fans already had a “C of Red” tradition, filling the arena with fans dressed in red as a way to intimidate their opponents. The Jets countered by asking their fans to wear white and after defeating the Flames in six games, the tradition stuck.
Last night’s 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild wasn’t the first playoff victory the city of Winnipeg had ever seen, but the incarnation of the Jets that initially started the Winnipeg White Out now resides in Glendale, Ariz., as the Coyotes.
This Winnipeg team, as the reincarnation of an Atlanta Thrashers franchise that never won a playoff game in an 11-year history, has a tortured history.
Here’s a brief rundown of the history that’s led up to Wednesday’s high point:
Though they took the name of the former Winnipeg team, as well as their color scheme and logo idea, and they regularly refer to the history of hockey in Winnipeg as though they own its all their own. The history of that original franchise moved with the team to Arizona, where the Coyotes now celebrate it as part of their own. It’s hard to deny they have rights to it, given that Shane Doan, the final first-round pick of the original Jets franchise, followed the team to Phoenix and played there from 1996 until his retirement last year.
That franchise earned three championships in the World Hockey Association, all between 1976 and ‘79. While the old Jets never won the Stanley Cup after joining the NHL in 1979, they qualified for playoffs in 11 of their 17 seasons before relocating to Arizona. The last time a team called the Winnipeg Jets won a playoff game: April 26, 1996, when the old Jets beat the Red Wings in a first-round Game 5 in Detroit before losing the series in the next game. This was the sad, surreal scene at the old Jets’ last home game ever:
The new Jets moved to Winnipeg in 2011, after the 1999 expansion team Atlanta Thrashers’ lack of success made it difficult to maintain financial success. It was the second time an Atlanta hockey team was relocated to Canada, following the move of the Atlanta Flames to Calgary in 1980.
“Lack of success” may have been an understatement for the Thrashers. They made the playoffs once in their 11 years, in 2007, and got swept away in the first round while scoring six goals in four games against the Rangers. Playoff troubles continued after relocation, with the Jets’ lone shot until this year being that sweep by Anaheim three years back.
All of this background makes Wednesday even more special
Though this season seemed like a marked change in the tides, where the Jets finished second only to the Presidents Trophy-winning Nashville Predators, last night still felt different, like a massive shift in a hopeful direction that this city hasn’t seen in a long time.
After a first period where both teams seemed to be finding their footing, the Jets took the lead with a power play goal from Mark Scheifele, that had Jets fans so excited, they threw their popcorn everywhere in the front row.
Minnesota came back with two goals in the third. Matt Cullen tied things up and Zach Parise gave the Wild the go-ahead early into the final frame. But Winnipeg wouldn’t be stopped. Teenage phenom Patrik Laine earned his first career playoff goal off a feed from trade-deadline acquisition Paul Stastny.
Regardless of the outcome of this series, Joe Morrow will be remembered in Winnipeg for his game-winning goal, which beat Wild net-minder Devan Dubnyk through the five-hole from the point at 12:47 of the third period.
Nearly neighbors across the border, these Central Division teams are going to give each other a run for their money. But with some historical weight off their shoulders, this version of the Jets is only moving forward.