The Anaheim Ducks were expected to be up two games to none entering game three in this series. The Ducks are the Western Conference’s top seed and Winnipeg is in the playoffs for the first time since they were the Atlanta Thrashers in 2007. But things were supposed to change when the scene shifted from laid back Southern California to hockey obsessed Manitoba. The raucous denizens of the MTS Centre certainly didn’t disappoint in their performance on Monday night.
The Jets came out of the gate flying, getting a Lee Stempniak goal ten minutes into the opening period to electrify the home crowd that was on the edge of their seats all night. But the emotion that filled the building, combined with the relative lack of playoff experience for the Jets as a group, led Winnipeg down a rocky path.
The Ducks would get an equalizer from Cam Fowler with five seconds left in the first period. Corey Perry scored early in the second period and received a clothesline from Dustin Byfuglien in the back of the head as his reward. Anaheim didn’t score on the ensuing power play and would follow that up by taking a penalty of their own. The Jets got a tying goal that redirected off of the skate of a Duck skater and the energy was back in full force.
The Jets had leads of 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3 in this game. They controlled the majority of the play by throwing their weight around, hitting anything that moved in a white sweater. Winnipeg attempted to physically control the Ducks, perhaps emulating the Los Angeles Kings’ preferred style of play. It appeared to work, as Fowler committed a heinous turnover while sensing a hit coming. The turnover led to what seemed to be the game winning goal off the stick of Bryan Little.
The Jets kept the 4-3 lead throughout the third period and the tempo of play was clearly in their favor. But with less than three minutes left in the third period, the Ducks scored the game tying goal. Ryan Kesler found a pocket of space and tallied the equalizer. The Ducks acquired Kesler for his postseason acumen, and this goal was a perfect example of it. His post goal celebration was just the icing on the cake for a player that thrives in this environment.
Now that the game was likely headed for overtime, it meant it was going to be a one goal game, the Ducks bread and butter. The Jets needed to win a home game, not just to keep their hopes of a series win alive, but for their psyche. They had played at an even level with Anaheim for three games and had nothing to show for it. An OT loss at home to go down 3-0 would be devastating.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 21, 2015
Winnipeg had chances, hitting a post and getting robbed by a great Frederik Andersen glove save. And then Rickard Rakell redirected a Francois Beuchemin shot through the legs of Ondrej Pavelec to give the Ducks a 5-4 win and the all important 3-0 series lead.
— NHL (@NHL) April 21, 2015
The Winnipeg Jets threw everything they had the Anaheim Ducks tonight. Emotionally and physically. Anaheim didn’t just take it, they almost thrived in it. If the Jets can’t beat the Ducks in a situation like this, what hope do they have for the rest of the series? Lots can happen in game 4, from an injury to a bad hit that leads to a suspension to an unfortunate bounce. Winnipeg may win game four, but they had to win every home game in this series to have a chance. Now they have to win twice in Anaheim. Good luck with that.
The Anaheim Ducks that were on display tonight, in arguably the harshest atmosphere that will exist in these playoffs, looked like they were, indeed, the Western Conference’s top team.