Welcome back to the Last Word on Hockey’s summer series where we look at the biggest game in team history. Each day we will be back with a new team to look at. Looking at things like the lead-up, what happened, followed, and why it makes it the biggest game. The biggest game does not automatically mean a win, either. Sometimes, it can be a loss that set the franchise back massively. Sit back and enjoy as we break down all 31 team’s most important game. This is the Winnipeg Jets biggest game in franchise history. The full series is found here.
Winnipeg Jets Biggest Game in Franchise History
Winnipeg Jets 2.0 was born on May 20, 2011, when Mark Chipman and True North Sports & Entertainment bought the Atlanta Thrashers. The NHL made the official announcement on May 31, 2011, at the Bell MTS Centre, whereby the Trashers would be sold to True North Sports & Entertainment for the purpose of relocation back to Winnipeg. After ticket sales began in June of 2011, the NHL Board of Governors officially approved the sale of the Thrashers to Chipman and True North Sports & Entertainment.
The Jets had been in Winnipeg before. Unfortunately, for some unforeseen circumstances surrounding the Canadian dollar, the Jets moved from Winnipeg in 1996 to Arizona and became the Phoenix Coyotes, now the Arizona Coyotes. The first incarnation of the Jets proved to be a consistent force in the NHL. While they never found the same success as when they were in the WHA (World Hockey Association), the Jets held their own against the stronger competition. The Jets would win three Avco World Trophies as the champions of the WHA, with the last coming in the 1978-79 season. That was the final year of existence for the WHA before it merged with the NHL.
Stubbornness in the Post-Season
Even though the original Jets missed the playoffs in their first two NHL seasons, the team made the playoffs in each of the next seven years, starting with the 1981-1982 season. During that time period, the Jets would constantly run into the Edmonton Oilers in either the first or second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The only times the Jets got passed the first round twice was in 1985 and 1987. Those years the Jets beat the Calgary Flames in the first round before falling to the Oilers in the second round.
In the eight years following their seven-year hot-streak, the Jets only made the playoffs four times. They lost in the first round of the playoffs in every year. In their final season in Winnipeg, the Jets lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games in the first round of the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That would be the final game ever in Winnipeg until October 2011.
Jets Fly Again
On October 9, 2011, the Winnipeg Jets were reborn in front of a sold-out crowd at Bell MTS Centre. That night the new Jets defeated the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 5-1, with Nik Antropov scoring the first goal for the new-Jets. There was a sort-of honeymoon period over the course of the next few seasons, with fans simply happy to have their hometown team back. This helped the Jets get by with a few fairly rough years, as the new team struggled in what was a very strong Eastern Conference.
The Jets were moved to the Western Conference before the start of the 2013-14 season. This marked a sign of relief for the squad, who now adjusted to a more relaxed travel schedule. Yet, there wasn’t much time to get comfortable, as the Western Conference marked just as substantial of a challenge. It was a hard year for the team, so much so that they decided on a coaching change midway through the year. They brought in Paul Maurice to lead the team, replacing Claude Noel. Maurice stammered through the remainder of the year. It wasn’t until the 2014-15 season that his impact was truly felt.
A New Lead
In his first full season as head coach, Maurice guided the Jets to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The new Jets made history on April 9, 2015. With a 1-0 shootout win over the Colorado Avalanche, they effectively clinched their first playoff spot as a new franchise. Unfortunately, they ran into a daunting Anaheim Ducks roster in the first round and were swept out of the playoffs.
The next two seasons brought disappointment, as the Jets failed to make the playoffs. Changes had to be made. It did not hurt the Jets to have a little luck during the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery. Even though the Jets finished with the sixth-worst record after the 2015-16 season, they were granted the second overall pick at the 2016 NHL Draft. There, the team would select Finnish winger Patrik Laine.
The Process Back to the Playoffs
Thanks to general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s effectiveness in both the Draft and free agency, Laine was able to fit into a core that featured players like Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck, Kyle Connor, Bryan Little, and Nikolaj Ehlers.
Winnipeg seemed back to form during the 2017-18 season. They had undeniably their best year since returning to Canada, finishing second in the Central Division behind the Nashville Predators. The high finish also brought along a playoff berth, only the second time the Jets had made the post-season since the move.
The stage was set. The Jets squared off against the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the playoffs. In front of a soldout crowd, the Jets won the first two games of the series in Winnipeg. The Game 1 victory had been the first playoff victory in the history of the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise. Heading to Minnesota, the Jets were clearly confident. Unfortunately, they were brought back to Earth fairly quickly. The Wild showed what they were made of by winning Game 3 with a final score of 6-2.
Behind a two-goal performance by Scheifele and a 30-save shutout by Hellebuyck in Game 4, the Jets found themselves up 3-1 in the series. The scene shifted back to Winnipeg for Game 5, as the Jets looked to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 31 years.
Time to Make History
Game 5 between the Jets and Wild was played on April 20, 2018. There was history to made with a victory that night. The Jets knew in order to avoid a trip back to Minnesota, they needed to close out the series that night. Defenceman Jacob Trouba clearly knew this, as he netted the game’s first goal only 31 seconds after the opening puck-drop. This brought every fan to their feet and clearly set the tone for the rest of the game. If one thing was clear, it was that Winnipeg was destined to win this game.
Just over five minutes of game-time later, the Jets increased the lead to 2-0 with a goal from Little. Things only got worse from there for Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, as Brandon Tanev increased the Jets lead to 3-0 with half of the period still to play. 49 seconds later, the game was put out of reach with Joel Armia netting the Jets fourth goal. While the Jets did not score in the second period, they continued to pepper the Wild. The Wild were so pestered that they brought in Alex Stalock to replace the star Dubnyk in goal.
Scheifele put an exclamation point on the game with a goal 32 seconds into the third period. This gave the Jets a defiant 5-0 lead, with victory in their sights. Once the final buzzer sounded, the city of Winnipeg celebrated their first playoff series win since 1987. This was a moment in history for the city and undeniably the Winnipeg Jets biggest game.
After defeating the Wild, the Jets would then battle with their Central Division rival Nashville Predators. On May 10, 2018, the Jets made further franchise history. They defeated the Predators in a seven-game series. This meant, for the first time ever, the Winnipeg Jets were on their way to the Western Conference Final.
This victory marked the first time that either incarnation of the Jets advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs. Facing the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final, the Jets took Game 1 by a score of 4-2. However, they would go on to lose the series with the Golden Knights winning all of the next four games.