They wore white painters' coveralls and white logo T-shirts, glued fluffy white beards to their faces and pulled white wigs over their heads, a blindingly bright background for the blizzard Winnipeg Jets fans created Monday when they waved and twirled small white towels to vent an outburst of pure joy that the MTS Centre barely contained.
The good citizens of Winnipeg and surrounding areas of the snow-dusted Canadian prairie had waited 19 years to see NHL playoff hockey. They couldn't hold back their roars of thanks for the gift the hometown Jets had given them first by bringing the league back to Winnipeg and, on Monday, by bringing them postseason play in all its sweaty, bloody, deliciously tense glory.
The Jets fed off the fans' pulsating energy as the roars grew louder and louder — until the sound clicked off, as if a plug had been pulled. Ducks center Rickard Rakell turned off the noise when he redirected a shot by Francois Beauchemin past goaltender Ondrej Pavelec 5 minutes 12 seconds into sudden-death overtime, giving the Ducks a 5-4 victory and propelling them within one win of advancing to the second round of the playoffs.
"Growing up I was playing in smaller cities and they didn't have that many people with that kind of noise, so it was really special," said Frederik Andersen, the Ducks' Danish-born goalie. "This was one of the best crowds I've seen. It's awesome to see how much passion they have up here.
"It's fun to play during the game," he added, "and it's nice when they get quiet after."
The sound of silence was never more beautiful for the Ducks, who can finish off this first-round series Wednesday at MTS Centre. They staged their third straight third-period comeback of the series, tying the game with 2:14 left in the third period when Ryan Kesler — booed lustily all night as he is in most NHL rinks — scored on a backdoor play set up on a pass from winger Jakob Silfverberg.
As he celebrated, Kesler flung his arms open wide toward the crowd as if he were embracing each disappointed fan. Maybe they'll try the silent treatment next time, because their derisive chants seemed only to spur him to play harder.
"I love it. It energizes me," said Kesler, who contributed a goal, an assist, a blocked shot and two hits in addition to winning 16 of 28 faceoffs.
"My dad told me that you must be doing something right if people are all over you. It's obviously a tribute to what I do on the ice. It was a great win by the boys. It was a hard-fought effort."
The teams were credited with a combined 105 hits, 61 for Winnipeg and 44 for the Ducks. They played at a breakneck pace early in the game, with the Ducks hoping merely to weather the storm as the Jets drew strength and heart from the crowd's roars.
Winnipeg had waited since 1996 for this playoff game, and every person in the building rode waves of emotion the entire evening.
"The energy in the building, that's as good a building as I've ever seen in my life," Jets Coach Paul Maurice said. "We had good jump and good legs because of it. We needed it. We used it to good effect for a big chunk of the game."
But the Ducks also savored the moment instead of being swamped by the noise and music and spectacle. And it was a spectacle.
"It's an amazing atmosphere and I think a lot of our guys enjoyed it too," Silfverberg said. "Obviously they're cheering for them, but it's fun for us too.
"It's loud in there, you've got to say that, but it's a lot of fun."
Made more fun, of course, by the fact that they won.
This series is not over yet. The Kings, of course, lost the first three games of their first-round playoff series against San Jose last spring and won the next four, their first step toward the Stanley Cup.
"It can happen," Silfverberg said. "You can't take any game lightly. You've got to keep pushing even harder in the next game."