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Countdown to Game 3: Winnipeg Jets fans have been waiting since 1996

Winnipeg Jets haven't hosted a playoff game since 1996

This isn't just a playoff game. It is a community celebration for a city and an even larger area, the province of Manitoba.

Some were taking it as a sign that there was some snow on Monday morning here. Then again, it has snowed (rarely) in May.

But let's go with the omens, OK?

The Jets will be hosting their first playoff game in 19 years on Monday night. They face the Anaheim Ducks in Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinals at MTS Centre, trailing 2-0 in the series.

"It's a real special day for the people that have been here a long time, losing a team a number of years ago and then having it come full circle," said Jets forward Blake Wheeler. "It's a great day for the people of Winnipeg. For us as players, we're more focused, obviously, on the task tonight. It's going to be a celebration for our community and we're excited to be a part of it.

"We're the players, we'll worry about the game. We'll let everyone celebrate how they will within the community. The people here have earned that right. They had a team taken away from them and now that it's come full circle, they get the chance to celebrate today and be a part of something pretty special. But we weren't here for that."

The community lost its team in 1996 when the Jets moved to Arizona. The considerable patience of the fans and persistence of civic leaders was rewarded when the Atlanta franchise was relocated to Winnipeg in the 2011-12 season.

For the current Jets, the last few weeks of this year's regular season was like a mini-playoff run. The made the playoffs after the second-to-last game of the season, finding out they got in after losing a shootout at Colorado. However, Calgary's win over Los Angeles a few minutes later sealed the deal for the Jets.

For the fans, it's almost like several holidays wrapped into one, or at least the anticipation of Christmas morning.

The players have been talking about making the crowd energy work for them and against the Ducks.

"It is definitely going to help us, especially the first 10 minutes when they're coming out and they're hearing the fans," Jets defenseman Adam Pardy said. "It's going to be a little intimidating for them, and we've got to use that to jump on them and back us, drive our intensity.

"Keep that intensity up in the building for the full 60 [minutes] and use that. I know the city's been buzzing since we found out we were making the playoffs, so it’s going to be exciting tonight."

Follow Lisa Dillman on Twitter @reallisa

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