The first opening round Stanley Cup playoff series that I actively remember making a point to watch or listen to every game was the final series in Winnipeg for the Arizona Coyotes née Jets. Growing up in Detroit, I wanted to be able to talk about the games the next day during fourth grade recess. At the time I didn't register the magic of the White Out, or appreciate the hockey history dating back to playing for and capturing the Avco Cup more than any WHA side in the 70's.
What I do remember though is the hair on the back of my neck standing on end listening to the radio broadcast as the crowd roared with the Jets taking a 4-1 game 3 win. Fast forward 19 years of watching the sport, and the bellow of the Winnipeg crowd on Lee Stempniak's game three-opening goal brought back ever so briefly that feeling of an electric current crackling beneath the skin. To hear 15,000+ Manitobans in full throat for the NHL playoffs just feels right.
For this years Jets to make the playoffs in a bear of a Central Division is impressive, and while it took both Dallas and Colorado backsliding for that to happen, this team seems more readily built to make another run at the playoffs next season. Starting from the backend, it's hard not to see the potential in Jacob Trouba, while having other nice mid-20's players in Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot. Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom are solid veterans as well. The unit certainly jumps out at you more than the likes of youngsters Oleg Tverdovsky and Deron Quint, supported by Teppo Numminen, Dave Manson (whose son Ducks fans are quite excited for), and Norm MacIver.
There's also a lot to love about a forward corps that can spread the scoring around, rather than relying on the likes of Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhamnov to carry the water. Having appreciated Andrew Ladd from his role with Chicago's 2010 championship team, he strikes as the perfect kind of player to captain the team. Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Michael Frolik inspire more than Ed Olczyk, Darren Turcotte and Dallas Drake. Of course Ducks fans will always have an appreciation for Mathieu Perreault, and I personally have a soft spot for the man who captained the Michigan State Spartans and won the Great Lakes Invitational tournament MVP in my last year in the state, Jim Slater.
If only Ondrej Pavelec could be a bit more like Nikolai Khabibulin and a lot less like Tim Cheveldae. That being said, in spite of allowing a few late goals, it's not like his play was the sole reason the Jets got swept. The way he played leading in to the playoffs was the most impressive of his career, and that form made him a legit concern. The elevation and play of Michael Hutchinson is another great story, and hopefully competition between the two can keep the caliber of crease play higher in the future.
Things just didn't feel right in the NHL without the Jets, and for the 15 seasons the city was left in the professional hockey cold (though thanks for the hand in developing Ryan Kesler with the Manitoba Moose) it's even more absurd that it's been 28 years since Winnipeg has seen their team advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. With any luck that will change next season, but hopefully in the Central Division side of the playoff bracket.
This playoff series was nowhere near the thrashing the sweep would suggest, and the pieces are there to challenge again. It's nice when the old becomes new again, and even more exciting when it surpasses everything of memory. That time is coming.