The Winnipeg Jets authored a story in the early hours of Tuesday morning that modern-day fans of the club will no doubt pass onto their children and grandchildren.
At the end of a May long weekend in pandemic lockdown — with Manitoba experiencing the highest per-capita COVID-19 rates in Canada— Kyle Connor flew solo down the wing and ripped a shot behind goalie Mike Smith to give the Jets a 4-3 win.
The goal came at 6:52 of triple overtime in Game 4 of the NHL North Division semifinal and completed a 4-0 sweep of the Edmonton Oilers.
“Our mentality the whole overtime was just to get pucks to the net,” Connor said, looking like he still couldn’t quite believe what happened. “I just shot that one. And yeah, that one feels pretty good.”
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A white towel was neatly draped over each empty seat in Bell MTS Place to represent the Jets fans cheering from home in their living rooms and home offices — heck, even the kids covertly watching on their cell phones in bed.
Attention in online school classes will likely be questionable today in the Manitoba capital, due to lack of sleep and elation over the first playoff sweep in franchise history.
“You know they’re following you,” veteran forward Paul Stastny said Monday of the Jets’ faithful. “The pandemic is at a high and a lot of people are stuck at home and you can’t really do anything, you can’t really go outside unless it’s with your family on the long weekend. So that puts a damper on things.
“So in that sense, they get to watch the game, it takes their minds off it a little bit.”
Even sweeter for Winnipeg: the win came against an Oiler team blessed with two of the best players in the world in Connor McDavid and Leon Drasaitl.
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The underdog Jets won the first two games on the road in Edmonton. Come Game 3 in Winnipeg, the Oilers staked out a commanding 4-1 lead in the opening 51 minutes.
Then the momentum swung. At 11:11 of the third period, Oilers forward Josh Archibald delivered a dangerous low-bridge hit on defenceman Logan Stanley.
The Jets converted on the ensuing power play, added two more to tie the game, and set the stage for Nikolaj Ehlers to fire home the winner in overtime.
McDavid, the Oilers captain, vowed his team would not roll over and play dead in Game 4. And Edmonton indeed fought to the end, with several incredible performances, among them defenceman Darnell Nurse, who logged 62:07 in a game that started on Monday and dragged into Tuesday.
“Everyone put everything they had into it,” McDavid said. “Definitely proud of everyone. I thought we were the better team most of the night too. Just frustrating, but that’s the way it goes.
A cast of first-round playoff heroes emerged for the Jets including defenceman Josh Morrissey, who is playing the best hockey of his career, shutdown centre Adam Lowry and netminder Connor Hellebuyck, who allowed just eight goals on 159 shots for a .950 save percentage.
“This team and these guys can do everything,” Hellebuyck said. “If we need to shut down a game, we shut down the game. If we need to score, we score. If we need to come back with 10 minutes left in the third, we do that.
“Just being behind these guys has been a pleasure.”
Already known for his toughness, Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler stumbled off the ice late in the third after throwing himself in front of a blistering shot by Kris Russell. The puck caught him in the groin.
“The third period, in a tight game, you’ll put anything in front of it,” Wheeler said. “I’ve got three beautiful kids. We’re not having any more. So what the hell?”
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The Jets now wait for the winner of the other North Division semifinal between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens (Toronto leads the series 2-1).
But they’ll take a day or so to reflect on the playoff sweep that no one — not even the Jets themselves — saw coming.
“You just don’t want to miss out on that opportunity to close a team out, especially a team as capable of coming back and winning four straight as Edmonton is,” Wheeler said.
“We’re pretty gassed but we’re pumped up in our room.”