EDMONTON - For Bill Ranford, it proved to be a defining moment.
With the NHL set to make a return to Winnipeg, the former Edmonton Oilers goaltender recalls fondly the 1990 first-round series against the Jets, which served as a springboard to another Stanley Cup championship and the Conn Smythe Trophy.
"Personally for myself, it didn't start off very well, we got trounced in the first game," said Ranford, who is now the Los Angeles Kings goaltending coach. "That was an emotional setback for me personally.
"From a team standpoint, the fact that we were able to come back from a 3-1 series deficit, which hadn't been done very many times, was a huge accomplishment by our group."
The Jets and Oilers had met in the playoffs on five previous occasions, with Winnipeg having managed just one win in 19 post-season encounters.
For the Oilers, the road to the Stanley Cup final had always gone through Winnipeg.
"I think we expected it to be a very tough series," Ranford said. "Winnipeg had a very strong team. They were pretty well-rounded. The question going in, was who was going to get the better goaltending?
"There were a lot of unknowns with Bob Essensa and myself. I was basically an unknown as far as the playoffs went."
Ranford had taken over the goaltending duties from the injured Grant Fuhr, who had backstopped the Oilers in their four previous Stanley Cup titles.
After losing the first game of the series 7-5, there were questions as to whether Ranford would be able to fill in.
"I took a lot of abuse in the media early on in the series and I think I used that to drive me during the Stanley Cup run," Ranford said. "Then to win it and then to get the bonus of winning the Conn Smythe trophy at the end, made it bitter-sweet."
The Oilers needed an overtime winner from Mark Lamb to win the second game of the series, then went to Winnipeg and dropped the next two.
Dave Ellett scored in double-overtime of Game 4 to put the Jets in control of the series.
"We didn't panic when we came back home, I think we started to feel stronger and stronger about our game," Ranford said. "We felt as though the tide was starting to turn. Our mission statement was ‘One game at a time.' I remember (head coach) Teddy Green being a Winnipeg boy, talking about getting that next win back at home, then getting back to Winnipeg."
Mark Messier scored the winning goal to give the Oilers a 4-3 victory, sending the series back to Winnipeg.
There, the Oilers were greeting by a charged-up crowd, all in white, hoping to see their team win its first ever playoff series.
"It's what you get with the atmosphere in Canada come playoff time," Ranford said. "The Canadian fans pick it up a notch. In cities like Edmonton, Calgary and
Winnipeg, people eat, sleep and breathe hockey. You're passionate about your city and it was no different going into a very hostile environment in Winnipeg."
Unfortunately for Winnipeg, it wasn't meant to be, as Jari Kurri scored the winner to give the Oilers a 4-3 victory. They completed the comeback two nights later with a 4-1 win.
The Oilers went on to sweep the Los Angeles Kings in the second round, get past the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the Conference final, then beat the Boston Bruins in five games to claim their fifth Stanley Cup championship.
Ranford was named playoff MVP. Just over 21 years later, he's happy to see the NHL back in Manitoba.
"I think having a city that has been dying to get NHL hockey back, that's exciting," Ranford said. "From a hockey side and a business side, it's important to move a franchise that isn't getting the support in the U.S. to a place that is excited about hockey and wants to see hockey, and I think that's what you'll get in Winnipeg."