It’s been almost five years since Winnipeg fans have witnessed, in person, the Jets pick up a playoff win on home ice.
The Vegas Golden Knights ensured they’d have to wait a little longer thanks to a wild 5-4 double overtime win at the Canada Life Centre Saturday afternoon.
The building was packed, decked out in white. The crowd belted out O Canada. It was electric, the first playoff whiteout in Winnipeg since 2019, prior to the pandemic.
The Golden Knights did their best to silence the home crowd by getting out to an early two-nothing lead. And it only got worse for the Jets in the second period as the Knights took what appeared to be an insurmountable 4-1 lead to the final frame.
But the Jets stormed back with three third-period goals with Adam Lowry scoring the equalizer with only 22 seconds left to send the building into a frenzy.
After a scoreless first overtime period, Michael Amadio capitalized on a Jets turnover to give the Knights a 2-1 series lead. A pass by Dylan Samberg hit a leg, and deflected right to Amadio in the slot who immediately fired it in to end Game 3.
“It’s a bad bounce,” said Lowry. “He was making the right read. So, you feel for a guy. You never want to see a guy kinda upset or blame himself, but that’s not how we feel I don’t think.
“Anytime you get to overtime like that, you know, bounces happen and unfortunately went their way. But, I think we’ve got a lot of belief in this group.”
Samberg was given was some words of encouragement from his head coach immediately after the game.
“I said Dylan, we’re where we are because of you,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “You’ve helped us get here. You helped us get into double overtime.
“That’s usually what happens (when) you get in those situations. The puck takes a bounce off a stick or a skate and it goes to them. That’s usually how overtime games are ended.”
The Jets were badly outplayed in the first two periods and were outshot 26-11 after 40 minutes. But they flipped the switch in the third period to make a valiant comeback attempt.
“That was a hell of a hockey game,” said Bowness. “The crowd was fantastic. The guys laid it all out there on the line tonight. They played their hearts out, very proud of the way we played.
“We were down early. We get that. We fought back. We’re down three going into the third and we kept fighting. There’s no quit in this group.”
But Game 3 had a heavy price for the Jets. Already with Nikolaj Ehlers who was missing a third straight playoff game, defenceman Josh Morrissey left early in the first period. He suffered a lower-body injury after a knee-on-knee collision and will be lost for at least the rest of the series.
“That was very unfortunate to lose Mo,” said Bowness. “He’s done for the series so we don’t have to talk about that every day.”
Neal Pionk picked up the slack on the blueline in Morrissey’s absence and logged over 41 minutes of ice time, recording three assists.
“Give them full marks,” Bowness said. “You play that many minutes against an excellent hockey club that puts a lot of pressure on you.
“All five of them played outstanding for us, but Neal was great. Three points and did a lot of great things to help us get to where we were.”
The fans were eager and waiting to explode. They erupted when Brenden Dillion fought Brandon’s Keegan Kolesar in the first minute. But then, Vegas scored on their first two shots. Not ideal.
Just shy of three minutes into the contest, Chandler Stephenson carried the puck over the blue line and, using Nate Schmidt as a screen, ripped a wrister over the glove of Connor Hellebuyck to open the scoring.
Winnipeg was given a great chance to get level just over a minute later when Brandon’s Zach Whitecloud was called for interference, but during a post-whistle scrum on the ensuing power play, Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois went to the box along with William Karlsson, putting the teams at 4-on-4.
During that same power play, Morrissey attempted to take part after going off gingerly following his first shift. He left the ice shortly after the power play began, went straight to the dressing room and did not return for the rest of the game.
When Whitecloud’s penalty expired, Vegas found themselves on a short power play and they took advantage.
Alex Pietrangelo whiffed on a shot from the point but the puck went to Stephenson in the slot, who quickly zipped it to Jack Eichel by the face-off dot for a one-timer that beat Hellebuyck at the 6:18 mark.
With Scheifele still in the box waiting for the next whistle, his line went to work without him, trying to climb out of the early hole.
Dylan DeMelo sent a shot toward the net and as Kyle Connor skated through the slot, he deflected it past Laurent Brossoit, injecting life back into the building and cutting the lead in half at the 9:07 mark.
There were several big hits in the first as the physicality from the first two games continued but it remained a 2-1 lead for Vegas through 20 minutes, with the Golden Knights edging the Jets 10-6 in shots on goal in the first.
Just before the final horn sounded in the first, DeMelo was called for interference, giving Vegas a power play that carried over into the second.
The Jets killed it off and soon after, Vladislav Namestnikov was tripped by Brayden McNabb, putting the Jets up a man. Without Morrissey, the top unit wasn’t able to put much pressure on the Knights.
Winnipeg nearly tied it a few minutes later when a seemingly harmless wrister from Dillon skipped past Brossoit and off the inside of the post before bouncing away from harm.
Just past the midway point of the period, Samberg was assessed a questionable penalty for tripping and after struggling mightily on the power play in the first two games, Vegas made the Jets pay for the second time on the man advantage Saturday.
Once again it was Eichel who ripped a one-timer from the face-off dot through Hellebuyck at the 10:46 mark to restore Vegas’ two-goal lead.
Phil Kessel had a great chance to extend the lead but he was denied on a partial breakaway with roughly five minutes to go in the period, the kind of save you note to make sure, in case there is a comeback, you can look back and say, ‘that was a key one.’
But with 2:15 to go, Hellebuyck gave up a juicy rebound off an Eichel wrister that Kolesar banged home to make it 4-1.
Winnipeg did nothing with a power play to end the period as Vegas carried the three-goal lead into the third period as well as a 26-11 edge in shots on goal.
But just over two minutes into the third, Nino Niederreiter beat Brossoit with a wicked wrister to cut the lead to two and give the crowd something to get loud about.
The goal injected life into the Jets as they began to spend a lot more time in the Vegas end, playing with a renewed energy and forechecking a lot harder than they had earlier in the game but that energy waned as the third period ticked along.
A golden opportunity presented itself when Kessel took a holding-the-stick penalty at the 12:35 mark and the Jets made good when Scheifele ripped a shot over Brossoit’s glove to make it a one-goal game with under six minutes left.
As time ticked down, Winnipeg struggled to get in position to pull Hellebuyck, icing the puck multiple times, but finally with just under a minute to go, they got the puck into Vegas’ end to try and tie the game.
After the puck pinballed around the zone, Pionk sent it towards Brossoit and while the Vegas netminder made the initial save, Lowry knocked home the rebound to tie the game 4-4 with 22 seconds left, sending the building into complete delirium.
In the waning seconds of regulation, Dubois was called for tripping, giving the Golden Knights 1:58 of power play time to start overtime.
The Jets killed it off, kicking off several minutes of wide open, entertaining hockey as both teams took turns dominating possession, but neither team could end it in the first OT period.
The Knights outshot the Jets 6-5 in the first OT after Winnipeg had 17 to Vegas’ 11 in the third period.
Much like they had to in the first OT, the Jets had to kill off a Dubois penalty just 1:23 into the second OT and once again the Jets got it done, but moments after they finished off the kill, it was heartbreak for Winnipeg.
Samberg had the puck behind the Winnipeg net and tried to clear it around the boards but it ricocheted off a forechecking Ivan Barbashev into the slot, where Amadio took a whack at it and sent it off the crossbar and in to end the game 3:40 into double overtime.
It’s the second straight game that Hellebuyck has allowed five goals but he did make 43 saves while Brossoit turned aside 30 shots to help his team grab a 2-1 series lead.
Pionk became the second defenceman in franchise history to record three points in a playoff game, picking up helpers on all three third period goals.
The two teams will duke it out again Monday night in Winnipeg with pregame coverage on 680 CJOB beginning at 6:30 p.m. The puck will drop around 8:50 p.m.