WINNIPEG - Fired up for the first NHL playoff game in town in 19 years, Winnipeg Jets fans booed Corey Perry off the ice in warm-ups and cheered every icing call against the Anaheim Ducks. They went silent when the Ducks scored.
The waves of emotion ebbed and flowed throughout. The raucous "whiteout" crowd left on a sombre note when Anaheim's Rickard Rakell scored in overtime to beat the Jets 5-4 Monday night at MTS Centre and take a stranglehold with a 3-0 series lead.
"I personally have never had anything like that before, and we certainly fed off the energy," Jets winger Lee Stempniak said. "It's disappointing on a couple of levels to go down 3-0 in the series, and also not to deliver for our fans. ... You can't put into words how tough this loss is."
It's crushing not only that the Jets blew a third-period lead for the third straight game but that it came in as close to a must-win game as team can face before an elimination game. That'll be Game 4 Wednesday night.
"We've got a mountain to climb, and we're looking forward to the challenge," Jets centre Bryan Little said.
The mountain down two games to none didn't seem as difficult to climb because of the atmosphere players expected in the first Stanley Cup playoff game in Winnipeg since 1996. It delivered and then some.
"That's as good a building as I've ever seen in my life," coach Paul Maurice said. "We had good jump and good legs because of it."
There was enough jump to take a lead when Stempniak opened the scoring, when Tyler Myers tied it, and when Blake Wheeler and Little each scored go-ahead goals. The jump was there in the crowd almost every time goaltender Ondrej Pavelec made one of 26 saves, leading to enthusiastic "Pavy" chants.
But the building also went silent on Anaheim goals by Cam Fowler, Perry, Jakob Silfverberg, Ryan Kesler and then Rakell, who provided the dagger 5:12 into overtime. Fans chanted "Go Jets Go" half-heartedly as they streamed to the exits and the Ducks celebrated.
"We don't stop believing in that room," Kesler said. "It has been like that all year. To do it in the playoffs in three straight games, it's pretty special."
So special that the Ducks became the first team in NHL history to win three straight playoff games when trailing at any point in the third period in all three.
"The way we managed to come back, what three times now? It shows the character of some of the guys on our team is really strong," Rakell said. "We're very confident, and we never stop playing until they signal goals."
Each time a goal was scored Monday night, it took the sellout crowd of 15,016 on an emotional roller-coaster. The highs were deafening, and the lows were almost dead silent.
"That's one you'll always remember, just too bad it wasn't a more fond memory," winger Blake Wheeler said.
It wasn't a fond memory because Game 3 followed a familiar script. For the third straight time, the Jets led going into the second intermission and for the third straight time coughed it up.
This was a better third period, Maurice and players said, but the result wasn't any different.
"It was just more of the same," said Wheeler, whose goal was his first point of the series. "We lead the whole damn series and we're 0-3. That's the way it goes. That's hockey."
Hockey has been cruel to the Jets this series, as they've led for 65:53 to Anaheim's 11:21. Little had two Grade-A chances to win it in the final minute of regulation but hit the post on one shot and was robbed by Frederik Andersen (31 saves) on the other.
"That's just the kind of series it's felt like," said Little, who scored the go-ahead goal late in the second for his first point in the series. "You hit a post, the goalie makes an unbelievable save and they get that break in overtime."
All it took was that break, Rakell deflecting Francois Beauchemin's point shot past Pavelec, to put the Jets in an almost-impossible situation. Only four times in NHL history has a team come back to win when facing a 3-0 series deficit, though the Los Angeles Kings did it last year against the San Jose Sharks.
Maurice said the focus must be on the next game in less than 48 hours back at Portage and Main. His players are already thinking that.
"The first one's going to be the hardest one, apparently," Wheeler said. "You've got to make them win four games, so we're sure as hell not going to go down easy."
Notes — Dustin Byfuglien was given a two-minute minor for roughing when he hit Perry from behind seconds after the Ducks winger scored. Byfuglien could face further discipline. ... The Jets' franchise still has not won a playoff game, dating to their time as the Atlanta Thrashers. The one time the Thrashers made the playoffs in 2007, they were swept by the New York Rangers.
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