The wait is finally over. The Winnipeg Jets will kick off their playoff run tonight against the Calgary Flames in Edmonton. That still sounds really weird to say!
Saturday 9:30 PM CT – Jets @ Flames
Monday 1:30 PM CT – Jets @ Flames
Tuesday 5:45 PM CT – Flames @ Jets
Thursday TBA – Flames @ Jets
Saturday TBA – Jets @ Flames
This has all the makings for an intense, tight, evenly-matched series.
The Flames and Jets were separated by just one point at the time of the pause as both teams were engaged in a tight battle for a playoff seed in the Western Conference. Now, they’ll be duking it out to see who moves on to the true playoff rounds.
Calgary came into the 2019-20 season looking to prove a point after a miserable flop in last year’s playoffs in which they got dropped in five games to the eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche. That didn’t happen. Instead, Calgary took a big step backwards and spent the season fighting for a playoff berth rather than defending their crown as the top team in the Western Conference.
To be fair, though, the Flames have looked like a much better team under head coach Geoff Ward. They were 12-12-4 with Bill Peters but went 24-15-3 after their mid-season coaching change.
The big difference for Calgary from last year to this year has been their offence. The Flames finished 2019-20 ranked 20th in the league in goals scored which is a far cry from the elite offence they boasted last season.
In 2018-19, the Flames had 11 different players score at least 10 goals and they had three players eclipse the 30-goal plateau. This season, offence from depth players like Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski completely dried up, while Johnny Gaudreau declined from 36 goals down to 18.
The Flames will be in tough to score on Connor Hellebuyck, who was undoubtedly Winnipeg’s MVP this season. While the Jets do leave a lot to be desired offensively, Hellebyuck can certainly steal games.
On the other side, Winnipeg’s offence will be going up against a strong Flames’ blueline. Even without Travis Hamonic, who opted out of the playoffs, Calgary is still a stingy team defensively with a couple of solid goaltenders in Cam Talbot and David Rittich.
The key will come down to whether Calgary’s top trio of Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm can look like their 2018-19 selves or not. Otherwise, the Flames will have a hard time going toe-to-toe with Winnipeg’s depth group of top weapons like Mark Schiefele, Blake Wheeler, Nik Ehlers, Patrik Laine, and Kyle Connor.
And, of course, Winnipeg will have to ignore Matthew Tkachuk, who’s developed into the league’s best pest. He can get under anyone’s skin and earn him team plenty of power-play opportunities. So, if Calgary’s offence is stagnant, the Jets can’t bring them back to life by allowing Tkachuk to get under their skin.