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MacGregor: As the Jets fly home, Winnipeg prepares for a perfect storm

Some might think it unseemly for Mother Nature to get on a bandwagon.

But there you have it.

After a week of "A Storm is Coming" T-shirts and headlines – a week in which warm weather and dry winds have reduced the Red River to the Red Creek – Environment Canada put out an alert Sunday morning for the city of Winnipeg.

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As the Winnipeg Jets prepared to fly home from sunny California, where they departed Sunday down two games to none in their quarter-final playoffs against the Anaheim Ducks, fans back home were unfurling umbrellas and scurrying about the same streets where, a few days back, many of them were dreaming of a Stanley Cup parade.

Sure, it was rash, but why else cheer for a team if you cannot kiss off reality? The Jets were the last team to make the playoffs, the Ducks the best team in the Western Conference.

The determined Jets had led both games into the third period but had lost both. No surprise there: the Ducks set an NHL record this season with 18 wins while trailing at the end of the second period. Saturday night it was Jakob Silfverberg scoring with 19.8 seconds left in the game to give the victory to Anaheim.

But neither the NHL record book nor Elias Sports Bureau knows the inner workings of Winnipeg Jets fans. The full word – "fanatic" – does not do them justice. They fully expect a win Monday night when the series switches back to Winnipeg and the "whiteout" the predicted "storm" will bring inside the MTS Centre.

"It's going to be such an amazing atmosphere," Silfverberg told Anaheim reporters.

"I think it's going to make a huge difference," Jets forward Drew Stafford told Winnipeg reporters before boarding the charter flight home. "We can feed off that energy and use it to our advantage."

The true believers are convinced. Superfan Jeremy Harder, the man who created the now familiar "TRUE NORTH!" shout in the middle of the anthem to honour the group that brought the Jets back home in 2011, says fortunes can still shift.

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"The mood is still very positive," Harder says. "We've waited a very long time to witness NHL playoffs again and being down 2-0 won't rain on our parade."

Harder's friend and fellow fan, Geoff Brookes, concedes that "the exuberance has been tempered a little by the two losses to the Ducks.

"With all the wonderful 'love' given to the Jets by the media," Brookes says, "I think many of us began to wonder whether the Jets would sweep the series.

"Reality has come back to us now – but I still think that the Jets have not played their best hockey yet."

The Jets, not surprisingly, spoke with confidence before boarding their flight. "We know we can play with those guys," young centre Mark Scheifele told reporters of his first NHL playoff experience. "Both games have been a battle on both sides and we've come up on the wrong end in both – but we know there's still plenty of series left.

"It obviously sucks, but that's hockey for you."

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Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice says that there is another level his team can get to – and must get to if they are going to have any success against the powerful Ducks.

"We need to find a little more of that confidence that will keep us moving quick through 60 minutes," Maurice said in California on Sunday. "There are parts of the game where we're moving at the right pace, the right speed, [but] there's another level that we can get to.

"It's not something that you see during the regular season – but there's another place."

Defenceman Adam Pardy certainly found another level Saturday in Anaheim. A healthy scratch in Game 1, the big defenceman learned only during the warmup that he would be playing in Game 2. He played very well, hitting every Duck he could catch, making key checks with his long stick and, surprisingly, scoring the goal that put the Jets up 1-0.

It was Pardy's first goal in 173 games. His goal could not hold up, though. Team captain Andrew Ladd, whom the players describe as the "heart and soul" of their team, took a foolish penalty when, on a line change, he rapped his stick off the helmet of Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. With Ladd off for high-sticking, the Ducks tied the game when a Cam Fowler point shot bounced in off Ducks forward Pat Maroon.

"A bad one for me to take at that time," Ladd admitted.

Silfverberg then won the game for Anaheim in the dying moments when he walked out from the corner and beat Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec to the short side.

Pavelec had again played brilliantly, but it was not enough against the powerful Ducks.

"We're going home," said a relieved Jets forward Blake Wheeler. "It's going to be a pretty great atmosphere."

"The energy in the arena should help them make it through the full 60 minutes without a 'let down' in the third period," Brookes said.

"The extremely loud crowd will definitely be a benefit," Harder added.

"We might even overwhelm them with the 'white' noise."

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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More

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