WINNIPEG, Manitoba | It was hard to figure what was the loudest moment Friday night at MTS Centre when the Winnipeg Jets saved their playoff hopes by beating the Washington Capitals 3-2. Maybe it was when Dustin Byfuglien scored the game-winner, or perhaps when Brooks Laich’s sent the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty or for when the Jets cleared the zone in the final minute.
One thing’s for certain: the capacity crowd of 15,004 was a memorable part of the game as usual.
“The crowd is a big part of their game; that’s why their home record is so good, I think,” Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said.” When they get going at the beginning of the game, it’s tough not to get up for it.
“It can be intimidating for opposing teams coming in when it’s a small rink but it’s such a loud rink. The fans here, they love their hockey and they show it every night.”
NHL starved since 1996, Jets fans show their appreciation by chanting “True North” during “O Canada” and by upping the decibel level seemingly every night. Friday was special with so much on the line.
And though it is a big home-ice advantage, Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman enjoys the atmosphere.
“I don’t think it’s hard. I don’t find it hard at all. I think it’s exciting,” Wideman said. “I’d much rather have the building loud and crazy like that than a morgue. I enjoy playing in these buildings. You’ve got to find a way to take that energy from the crowd and make it feel like they’re cheering for you.”
That’s hard to do when the chants are “Go, Jets, Go,” or mocking chants of “Vo-koun,” “Ovi sucks” and “Crosby’s better.” But for this Caps team that admitted it had trouble getting up for a game in a dead arena in South Florida recently, the electric atmosphere is a preview of playoff hockey on the road.
“It was a great atmosphere in here and both teams battling,” coach Dale Hunter said.
As for the derisive chants directed toward Ovechkin, he smiled afterward and seemed to enjoy it all. Even the less-than-favorable comparison to Sidney Crosby.
“It’s always nice when they talk about you and then get the chants. I love it,” the captain said. “It’s great for the league, it’s great for us. Everybody thins who’s better, who’s not. For me, it’s nice atmosphere and I love that kind of stuff.”
That, too, is something Ovechkin and the Caps should expect in the coming weeks and treatment they hope to receive by playing well into April.
“It’s playoff hockey and you expect it,” Hunter said.