Third-straight comeback victory gives Ducks 3-0 series lead
It took 19 years to build towards one moment.
In the moments before the big moment, fans clad in all white - some creative, some classic - poured into an arena that never really had aspirations for this moment. The smoke came from the catwalks above, the emotion hung thick in the air as 15,000 fans inside of the MTS Centre seeped passion and pride, with thousands more outside in the snow, shaking with excitment.
The fervor built, the towels waved. Finally, the crescendo boomed as the Winnipeg Jets took the ice.
The wait was over. The Stanley Cup Playoffs had returned to Winnipeg. And for 65 minutes and 12 seconds, that crescendo was deafening. The fans cheered and jeered nearly the entire way and the decibel level reverberated throughout an entire provence.
Then, in an instant, it fell silent.
If you listened closely enough, you could hear the sound of the hearts of all of Manitoba breaking, as the Anaheim Ducks celebrated a remarkable third-straight comeback victory - this one a 5-4 overtime win - against the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the first playoff series that this town has seen in nearly two decades.
"We lead the whole damn series and we're 0-3," said Winnipeg winger Blake Wheeler. "That's hockey."
The blade of Rickard Rakell's skate silenced an entire province.
The Ducks broke their own record they set in the last game, the first NHL team to ever earn three straight playoff wins when trailing entering all three third periods.
"I know I get redundant in what I'm saying, but you just never think it's going to end," said Ducks' coach Bruce Boudreau. "There's going to be opportunity during the third period."
This game had shades of a conference final, not a first round series. But the reality is, the Jets are one game away from being eliminated from all of these playoff firsts because the Ducks did everything that they weren't supposed to do.
Right off the puck drop, the always-polarizing Ryan Kesler was taunted. "Kesler Sucks!" was heard loud and it was heard often. With the Ducks down 4-3 late in the third period, Kesler took a beauty of a pass from Jakob Silfverberg - who is quickly becoming a breakout star in this series - and put it in the back of the net to the game.
He turned to the fans, daring them to tell him how much he sucked. But they sat silent, their energy taken away.
"I love it," he said, as he slowly flashed a wry smile. "It energizes me. My dad told me that you must be doing something right if people are all over you. It's obviously a tribute to what I do on the ice. It was a great win by the boys. It was a hard-fought effort."
This was why the Ducks courted a player that tormented them for so long. His killer instinct, his almost aggressively competitive demeanor and, of course, his skill.
"This is when he's good, when the crowd's on him," Boudreau said. "He loves that and he comes to the fore."
After three games, the Ducks are still showcasing this uncanny ability to come alive in the third period, when the pressure is the toughest. A mountain of mistakes in the second period was irrelevant come minute 66, when Rakell kicked in a shot by Francois Beauchemin.
"To do it in the playoffs in three straight games, it's pretty special," Kesler said. There is something special growing in that locker room right now."
There's still hope for a rare "reverse sweep". After all, it was only done a year ago. But at the moment, these third-period comebacks have the Jets on life support.
"I don't know," mused Jets goalie Andrej Pavelec. "I don't know."