‘It’s finally our time’: Jets fans explode as team wins 1st ever playoff game

There must be cracks in the foundation at Bell MTS Place.

How can a building host that amount of noise and come away unscathed?

A capacity crowd of 15,321 inside the Winnipeg Jets arena screamed its way to decibel levels equal to a chainsaw buzz as the home team scored their franchise first playoff victory, 3-2 over the Minnesota Wild.

“We should invite them all back, and the ones outside,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said in a post-game interview.Fans count down to the final buzzer, marking the first playoff win in Jets franchise history 0:13

​Just outside the rattling walls of the arena, several thousand more fans echoed that volume at a street party where Game 1 of the Jets-Wild first round matchup was broadcast on a giant screen. 

“It’s an energetic time for the city. We’re buzzing. We’re buzzing,” said Jeff Knight as he walked out of the arena into the cacophony of cheers and honking horns.

“It’s insane,” Knight’s brother, Chris, said about watching the game. “It was emotional. But now that we have that first one, the Wild are done. They’re done. Now we’re gonna settle in. It’s gonna be easy now.”

The Knight brothers, Corey, from left, Chris and Jeff, pose outside the arena after the Jets win. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Down 2-1 at one point in the third period, the Jets stormed back, peppering Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk with 19 shots while limiting Minnesota to four.

That’s the character that propelled the Jets through the year and to a second-place finish in the regular season standings, said Corey Knight, the third brother of the trio dressed in white suits and white fedoras.

“There’s not that doom and gloom that there used to be when they got down by a goal. We have the depth this year and we have the goaltending, so every year we think ‘we got this.'”

“This team is a beauty,” added Chris. “They give you something every game. I don’t know how they do it.”‘This city deserves it’ 0:08

Maurice agreed on that point in his post-game interview, telling reporters “there’s an underlying confidence in our team that we can score goals.”

Unlike in the Anaheim playoff series in 2015 where “one goal was hard for us to scrape together,” he said.

Good teams find ways to score and we were able to do that tonight,” said centreman Adam Lowry.

Superstar winger Patrik Laine, playing in his first NHL playoff game, scored to tie the game 2-2 and couldn’t help smile when recalling the crowd reaction.

“The atmosphere was just like, the place exploded,” he said.

Tyler McFarland, from left, Cody Laschyn and Norman Lavallee party before the Jets-Wild game on Wednesday. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The crowd was deafening from the moment the Jets hit the ice and right through the Canadian anthem, raising the roof during the traditional shouts of “True North.” But they found another piercing level when a photo of Kroppy was shown on the scoreboard above centre ice.

Len Kropioski, better known as Kroppy, died in 2016 at age 98. The Second World War vet was a fan favourite and fixture at Jets home games with his salute during O Canada.

“That’s the best warm-up crowd we’ve ever had. They were wired from the start,” said Maurice. “It’s a great place to play.”

Another celebrity that made the jumbotron on Wednesday was Winnipeg’s Chris Jericho, WWE pro wrestler, musician and big booster of his hometown. Jericho stood up, swung around his whiteout towel and easily prompted a “Go Jets Go” chant from the crowd.

“I was screaming pretty loud, man,” he said outside the arena after the game. 

“I’ve been a Jets fan since ’78 and usually, when the Jets made the playoffs, we were straggling in. This year they came in on fire. They’ve got momentum and they’re one of the best teams in the league and this was the way to kick it off tonight.

Thousands of fans gathered on Donald Street for the street party ahead of Game 1 on Wednesday. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

“I don’t think Minnesota really understood — or the rest of the league really understood — what’s in store for them when they come into the MTS arena. This is one of the best buildings in the entire league for how crazy the fans are.”

Jericho, who once used to call himself Y2J, said he’s reviving the name but it now stands for Y2Jets.

“That’s my new nickname for the entire rest of the playoff run. It started tonight.”

Blizzard of white

The whiteout, a playoff tradition that started with the Jets 1.0 (before they flew to Phoenix in 1996), hasn’t been seen in the city since that Anaheim series in 2015.

That was a brief storm. The Jets were swept in four straight games.

But this is new territory.

Daniel Linklater, left, and Justin Kiezick say it’s the Jets’ time to win it all. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

After finishing with a record of 52-20-10 and setting all kinds of franchise records, the Jets are considered a playoff favourite.

So playoff-hungry fans made sure on Wednesday to make it a blizzard this time around. They came dressed in coveralls, tutus, suit jackets, dresses, wigs, masks, costume ears, helmets, beards, and a wide variety of other attire — and all white.

“I’m just loving the atmosphere here. We’re trying to give it 100 per cent and get this crowd riled up,” said Cody Laschyn, who, along with his friends, was decked out in a fighter pilot helmet and blonde Patrik Laine-like beard in honour of the superstar Jets winger.

The three friends came for the game but first checked out the outdoor party that shut down Donald Street, with music, food trucks, and Jets merchandise available for sale.

“It’s about time,” said Justin Kiezick, who also started the night at the street party before moving inside for the game with friend Daniel Linklater, both dressed all in white and Santa Claus-type beards.

“We’re from Winnipeg. We’re used to being beat up, that’s why we’re so resilient. Now it’s finally our time.”

‘It’s minus degrees and everyone still wants to be out here’ 0:10

The excitement has heated up like a fever that has spread across the city and beyond the provincial border.

Jets flags are flying from Winnipeg’s fire trucks, the city’s buses are displaying “Go Jets Go,” downtown buildings are adorned in Jets colours and messages, and Manitoba-born rocker Tom Cochrane sent the team a good luck message.

The Winnipeg Jets posted this permission slip on social media, for fans to present to employers in order to take part in the playoff whiteout. (Winnipeg Jets)

The buzz has prompted the Jets to issue a permission slip for whiteout-wearing fans to take to work or school to be excused from their normal attire.

Todd Chwialkowski made the trip from Minnesota and joined in the whiteout crowd, alone in his Wild jersey.

Aside from some friendly boos and joking comments about not belonging, Jets fans have treated him well, Chwialkowski said.

“Winnipeg fans are awesome, as good as there are in the NHL,” he said, as a Jets fans walked up to shake his hand, respecting Chwialkowski’s moxie.

Todd Chwialkowski, left, is greeted by a Jets fan as he was being interviewed about being the lone green man in the whiteout. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

“I’ve been to Winnipeg before and it’s a great city, a great hockey city. The Jets are my second-favourite team,” Chwialkowski said, adding that if they knock out the Wild, he’ll be cheering for the Winnipeg team.

“I hope they go deep in the playoffs. This city deserves it.”

Game 2 goes Friday night in Winnipeg before the series shifts to the Xcel Energy Centre in Minnesota.‘I want this every night’ 0:17

Notebook:

  • The Jets finished the 2017-18 season with the best home record in the NHL at 32-7-2.
  • They haven’t lost a game at home since Feb. 27.
  • The last time the team with the best home record in the regular season didn’t advance past the first round of the playoffs was in 2012, when the Detroit Red Wings lost to the Nashville Predators in five games.
  • This was the first-ever playoff meeting between the Jets and Wild.
  • The Central Division rivals met four times during the regular season, with the Jets winning three of those matches.
  • The Wild are in the playoffs for the sixth straight season, while it’s the second time for the Jets 2.0.
  • Minnesota-born players on the Jets roster include Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and Matt Hendricks.
  • Wheeler had seven points (2G, 5A) in four games during the 2017-19 regular season against the Wild and has 26 points (11G, 15A) in 27 games against them as a member of the Jets. Byfuglien has 21 points (5G, 16A) against the Wild in 24 games as a Jet.

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