April 28, 1996 is a date of infamy in Winnipeg hockey history. It was the day that the final Winnipeg Jets game was played as the Detroit Red Wings defeated the OG Jets 4-1 in game six of their Western Conference Quarter-Finals series.
Jets fans are probably very familiar with the story leading up to the final chapter that was the OG Jets. Before the 1995-96 season had even started, it was well known that the Jets were playing their final season in Winnipeg. The team has been sold to Richard Burke and Steven Gluckstern back in May 1995, and there had even been a hastily thrown together rally (“The Funeral” as some called it) that allowed Jets fans to say good bye to their departing hockey heroes, but the plans Burke and Gluckstern had to move the team to Minneapolis fell through and the sale was off.
In August, a local consortium of business owners known as “the Spirit of Manitoba” made one last ditch effort to save the club, but were unable to come up with the money needed to buy the team and cover existing debts. Burke and Gluckstern then came back with a partner in the form of Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo to finalize a deal and eventually announce a move to Arizona even while the Jets season continued on.
That the Jets had even gotten to the playoffs that season seemed like a bit of a minor miracle. The team was 23–30–4 as of February 21, 1996, barely clinging to the last playoff spot in the West by two points, and had just traded Teemu Selanne to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks a couple of weeks earlier to make things seem even more bleak. The Jets rallied though and posted a 13-10-2 record in their final 25 games to clinch the last spot and a series with the Presidents’ Trophy winning Red Wings.
The series rather predictably was lopsided for Detroit as they won games one and two at home by scores of 4-1 and 4-0. The Jets shocked everyone though in game three by handing the Wings a 4-1 loss of their own.
That was the last Jets victory in Winnipeg Arena. The Wings dominated the Jets 6-1 two days later in game four and were set to close out the Jets in five back at home in Detroit, but the Jets – just like they had for seemingly the last five seasons with rumors of a departure lurking – persisted and came away with a 3-1 game five victory to give Winnipeg fans one more NHL game.
The Wings jumped on the Jets early in the first period with a 3-0 lead and even though the Jets battled and got within two goals in the third period, a late empty net goal for the Wings sealed the deal.
On this day in 1996, the Red Wings defeated the Jets 4-1 in Game 6, eliminating them from the playoffs. It was the last NHL game in Winnipeg for 15 years #Hockey365 #LGRW #GoJetsGo pic.twitter.com/IRhFose126
— Mike Commito (@mikecommito) April 28, 2020
All that was left was for the last seconds to tick away and a classic, poignant final call from CBC’s Don Wittman