Skip to main content

If only they were the Victorias – and not the Jets.

The Winnipeg Victorias knew all about Stanley Cup playoff pressure. They won the Governor-General's chalice three times and lost it five times between 1896 and 1903.

It was the era of two-period hockey. It wasn't until the 1910-11 season that some busybody came up with the idea of playing three periods.

And third periods, sad to report, have been the downfall of the Winnipeg Jets.

It all feels so terribly unfair to the hoarse and bleary-eyed fans of the Jets. They have, after all, been cheering for the winning side for virtually all of the first three games in the Jets' quarter-final series against the Anaheim Ducks.

In more than three hours of hockey, the Ducks have led for all of 11 minutes and 21 seconds – yet have won all three games.

Eighteen times in the regular season the Ducks came back in third periods to steal wins away from second-intermission leaders, an NHL record, and now they have done it three times in a row to the Jets.

Monday night it was Ducks pest Ryan Kesler scoring with only 2:14 remaining to tie the game 4-4. Five minutes into overtime, Rickard Rakell tipped a shot in to steal yet another one from the Jets.

Another Anaheim victory Wednesday, no matter where it might come in the game, and the Jets are finished for the season, swept in four straight games.

As sports writer Ed Tait put it in the morning Free Press, "barring a small miracle, the Winnipeg Whiteout will be sporting black arm bands before long."

Tuesday morning the Jets gathered in search of answers, holding meetings and going over video. Reporters gathered to ask questions. Neither quest was particularly successful.

Dustin Byfuglien spoke reluctantly and did his own version of "I'm only here so I don't get fined" – the now-famous repeated response of Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch to reporters at the Super Bowl.

Ten times to different questions – Can you win Game 4? Can you figure out third periods? Is the sky blue? – Byfuglien straightened his face and responded:

"As long as we stick together as a team, we'll be all right."

"As long as we stick together as a team, we'll be all right."

"As long as we …"

It was certainly boorish, obviously childish, but as honest an answer as anyone else gave, even those who dared try different words and complicated syllables.

Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice came to his big defenceman's defence, suggesting the real problem might well be reporters "offended" by such a cavalier attitude.

"I think he's got an awesome sense of humour," Maurice said of Byfuglien. "You won't like that. [But] don't underestimate the investment that the players make.

"You're going to find one of 650 other NHL players who would've handled that nicely and been contrite and everybody would've thought that was good. He's a very, very competitive man, not particularly happy about the result.

"More than anything else he wants to win badly, did everything we asked him to do. So he doesn't like the fact that he has to speak to the media today."

Maurice contended that the media had no appreciation of the number of "F-bombs" a supercompetitive athlete such as Byfuglien may have dropped in the back of his mind but kept quiet.

"He's a kind and civil and giving man," Maurice argued. "So the fact that he didn't tell you how he really felt, I think, is mature … I'm glad he came out and did what he did. It's not perfect and sometimes things aren't right. But that's Dustin – and we love him."

Winnipeg forward Blake Wheeler tried a little humour when asked if the Jets had learned anything about success from the Ducks. "So," he deadpanned, "get behind and try and come back with a couple of minutes left?"

In a more serious moment, Wheeler suggested that the energy the Jets players get from their raucous fans can help, and "if we get up two goals on them, it might be the end there."

If they can't, it will also end, but not happily for those fans.

The Ducks claim the loudness of the MTS Centre isn't bothering them in the least, nor does it seem to be. Kesler, taunted regularly by the Winnipeg fans, even went so far as to say he welcomes it.

"I love it," he said after the Ducks' Monday win. "It energizes me. My dad told me that you must be doing something right if people are all over you."

"This is when he's good," Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau said of Kesler. "When the crowd's on him – he loves that."

For Maurice, the way to get his Jets back to their winning ways is obvious: "Get the focus back to a few things that you can be good at. Understanding the pressure that you're in, or the environment, the situation that you're in, and work your ass off to be good at those things. That's the message."

Over in the visitors' dressing room, Frederik Andersen had a different message.

"You've got a team on their heels and we have our foot right on the throat where we want it," the Ducks goaltender said. "So we just got to finish them off.

"We don't want to give them any hope."