Fans dressed in white cheered and chanted "Go Jets Go" minutes after Winnipeg's 5-2 loss in Game 4 Wednesday night to the Anaheim Ducks that marked the end of the series and season in a sweep.
"I'd liked to have let them be cheering at the end of the game for a different reason, and we weren't able to do that," coach Paul Maurice said. "It wasn't the result we wanted, it wasn't the series we wanted to give our fans."
Close in the first three games, the Jets were always a step behind the Ducks when it mattered most. The result was the only sweep in the first round of these Stanley Cup playoffs and a realization that Anaheim earned every bit of being the top seed in the West.
"They scored key goals at key times and made big plays when they needed to, and we couldn't get one to go," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who had been playing injured for more than two months. "It's an empty feeling, you don't know what to do. No one said winning the Cup or playing in the playoffs was easy."
While the Jets go into the off-season hoping they gained something from their first playoff experience, the Ducks advance to the Pacific Division final where they'll meet the Calgary Flames or Vancouver Canucks. Calgary leads that series three games to one.
"We didn't come here to win one series," said Ducks centre Ryan Kesler, who scored twice. "We came here for the whole thing."
Anaheim never gave Winnipeg the opportunity to pick up even one win, showing the third-period prowess of a playoff-tested bunch. But the Ducks only led 11:21 in their first three victories of the series before playing ahead for the final 42:08 Wednesday night at MTS Centre.
"I never thought it would be 4-0 in my wildest dreams," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I thought it would be a six, or seven-game series."
It wasn't even a five-game series because of the play of some of the Ducks' best players. Kesler delivered the dagger with his second goal in the third period, and Corey Perry finished with two assists to reach seven points and tie for the most of any player so far in the playoffs.
Andrew Cogliano, Emerson Etem and Sami Vatanen (empty net) also scored for the Ducks, who followed their stars to an impressive sweep in a physical series.
"We've got all-stars, we've got all-world players in our dressing room and everyone just feeds off of it," Etem said. "We've got a great mix of older veterans and young guys and the younger guys just feed off of Kes, and obviously Corey and Ryan (Getzlaf). They set the tone each and every game, you know they're going to show up and it's our job to follow them."
Ladd was among eight Jets players dealing with what Maurice called "significant injuries," four of which pre-dated the series. But Maurice pointed more to quickness with the puck than injuries as the reason this ended in four games.
"Anaheim was better than we were in this series," he said. "There's luck in a game maybe in the series, but over a potential seven-game series the best team almost always wins, and they were better than we were."
Bryan Little opened the scoring in Game 4, and Mark Stuart scored in the third period to cut Anaheim's lead to 3-2. For the first time all series the Jets didn't lead going into the third period, but the result was the same.
Maurice said the Ducks had the benefit of losing in seven games last playoffs to the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings. Now the Jets hope this is one step they had to take to winning this time next year.
"There's a fine line between winning and losing in the playoffs," Ladd said. "They're a team that went through those ups and downs last year and probably learned from that. So I think we take the experience we got this time and learn from it and next time we're in the situation, we'll handle it better."
The lesson from the first three games had to do with the inability to keep a lead. Wednesday night was more of a final exam, with the Ducks passing and the Jets knowing they need to come back next year with better.
Minutes after seeing and hearing fans roar while they shook the hands of Ducks players, the Jets had an immediate appreciation for the value of the series and that moment. The franchise, dating to its time as the Atlanta Thrashers, is still without a playoff victory, but the atmosphere for the first two post-season games in Winnipeg since 1996 won't easily be forgotten.
"All the guys in this room were dying to see what it was going to be like to play a playoff series in this city," Little said. "Even though it was a tough series and didn't end the way we wanted it to, it was still a great experience."
Notes — Defenceman Adam Pardy missed the game with an undisclosed injury, Maurice said. ... Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in attendance wearing a white Team Canada sweater. He tweeted: "Wow – what an atmosphere. Happy to be part of the #WPGWhiteOut tonight." ... Dustin Byfuglien registered his first point of the series with a secondary assist on Little's power-play goal.
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