Joy in Winnipeg, but Jets lose opener
The NHL returned to Winnipeg with a cold reminder of the challenge that lies ahead.
The return of big-league hockey to the city had fans celebrating in the streets hours before the puck was dropped and horns honking outside the MTS Centre throughout the afternoon. Virtually everyone was decked out in Jets gear — both new and old.
With so much of the focus on the anticipation surrounding the NHL's return after 15 years, the performance of the team itself almost seemed secondary. But that changed in a hurry with a sloppy game by the Jets that suggested they have plenty of work to do to become the playoff team coach Claude Noel believes they can be.
Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, Yannick Weber, Travis Moen and Max Pacioretty scored for the opportunistic Canadiens, who bounced back from a 2-0 loss in Toronto to open the season.
The roof was nearly blown off the intimate arena when Antropov scored the first goal for the reincarnated Jets at 2:27 of the third period. The growing tension was palpable before Antropov drove hard to the net and shovelled a rebound behind Price to make it 2-1.
A surge of momentum followed as Winnipeg poured on the pressure in an effort to tie the game.
But Montreal soon went back ahead by two after Weber scored on a one-timer at 4:51 while Dustin Byfuglien was serving an intereference penalty. Moen's breakaway goal at 10:31 and Pacioretty's perfectly placed wrist shot at 12:33 ended any hope for a fairy-tale comeback.
Price was particularly sharp and the Habs took advantage of Johnny Oduya's two turnovers to build a 2-0 lead.
The first ended up on the stick of Cammalleri, who quickly beat Ondrej Pavelec with a nice wrist shot at 3:05 of the first period. Plekanec made it 2-0 at 14:17 of the second period after winning a puck battle with Oduya.
The sold-out 15,004-seat building — the NHL's smallest — was rocking before the game. Fans rose to their feet after a pregame video montage that ended with the words ''It's Time,'' applauded a touching tribute to former Manitoba Moose player Rick Rypien and belted out the words to ''O Canada'' along with Chantal Kreviazuk and Jim Cuddy.
''I know how it happened,'' Chipman said about the NHL's return. ''I can go back over the past 16 years and I can tell people how it happened, but I'm not sure why it happened. I've had an enormous amount of good things happen to me and I'm not sure why that is. I struggle with that one.
''Even when I do pinch myself, it doesn't come to me.''
Even with a loss in the opener, the fan support won't waver. The city has endured more than its share of adversity.
''I'm glad that people feel so good about this, I really am,'' said Chipman.
''It is a great city and it has been for a long time. I think it became an even greater city, to be honest with you, after the NHL left in '96. Rather than sort of wallow in self pity and roll up the sidewalks, I think the community really dug in.''
NOTES: Montreal's Cammalleri and Jaroslav Spacek each left the game with injuries and didn't return ... Winnipeg's next game is in Chicago on Thursday night.