Yes, they slipped to 11th place in the Eastern Conference but in the big picture, that actually improves their draft position.
This was the culmination of the welcome-back season.
In case there was any doubt, those full-throat voices were heard.
“I didn’t want to leave the ice,” said Jets centre Jim Slater, who scored twice in the third period to get the game to extra time. “It’s just a fantastic place to play. At the end there, it was us giving applause to the fans. You talk to guys around here and it’s tough leaving the ice.
“It’s a sad day for us because we have five months off before our next taste of it.”
Understandably, the fans inside the building didn’t want it to end either.
Five months is a long wait, but it’ll go by a lot quicker than the last time the NHL team in the Manitoba capital turned the lights out.
With so much emotion inside the building — most of it fan-generated — you had to wonder if it was going to be another one of those magical nights inside MTS Centre.
After one period of play, as the Jets were able to manage only three shots on goal and nary a glorious scoring chance, it looked like this game might turn into a dud, just like the 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the season opener back on Oct. 9.
It wasn’t as lopsided as that one, though Nik Antropov provided the common thread, scoring in both of the contests.
There was a landmark moment early in the third period as Lightning star Steven Stamkos scored his 60th goal of the campaign, becoming the first player since Alex Ovechkin (2007-08) to accomplish the feat.
Stamkos had received the usual chorus of boos that have been reserved for opposition stars throughout the game and a few fans voiced their displeasure with falling behind 3-1, but most folks in the house rose to their feet to salute the sniper.
“It was unbelievable. I had goosebumps,” said Stamkos. “Being a Canadian kid coming in here, it was probably the best crowd aside from my home fans in Toronto. They were booing me all game and when it went in they obviously knew the magnitude of that goal and I have a lot of respect for all the fans here that made it all the more special.
“It was amazing and I’m glad I was able to do it here.”
Before it was over, the Jets had given their fans a few more chances to rise up as a pair of goals from Slater, including one in the final minute of regulation and the net empty in favour of an extra attacker.
Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson went wild and he had good reason to, as Slater had deftly knocked Roloson’s stick out of his hands before taking a pass from Blake Wheeler and evening the score.
“My job is to get to the front of the net and cause commotion,” said Slater. “Sometimes you get away with it and sometimes you don’t.”
This time, Slater got away with it but the Jets were unable to complete the rally as Purcell spoiled the send-off by producing his third goal of the game 72 seconds into overtime.
Alas, the end of this Jets season is merely the beginning of the odyssey.
The NHL is back and it looks like it’s here to stay.
Hold onto your favourite memory from this glorious season, but know it was merely the start of something big.
See you in September for training camp, provided there isn’t another ridiculous work stoppage.
By the time the Jets get around to playing actual games again, there’s only going to be one more first that matters — and that’s the first time this team qualifies for the playoffs in their new home.
Jets players already have a good idea of what it might be like when they do.
“It’s pretty special how much they support us, the atmosphere in there was electric,” said Jets defenceman Mark Stuart. “I can only imagine what the playoffs would be like.”
The Jets fight back to force overtime after falling behind 3-1 in the third period but are unable to complete the comeback as Teddy Purcell finishes off his hat trick at 1:12 of overtime before the 41st consecutive sellout crowd at MTS Centre.
Forwards (C): Came up with three goals and showed grit as the Jets battled back from a two-goal, third-period deficit. Jim Slater led the charge with a pair fort a career-high 13 on the campaign, while Nik Antropov scored his 15h, giving him goals in the first and 82nd games of the season.
Defence (C): Had trouble handling the Lightning’s top line of Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and Teddy Purcell, but they’re not the only team to suffer that fate this season.
Goaltending (C): In a career-high 68th appearance of the season, Pavelec made 21 saves and didn’t have much of a chance on three of the four goals allowed.
The Jets finish the season with a record of 37-35-10 for 84 points, slip to 11th in the Eastern Conference standings and will clean out their lockers on Sunday.