Hockey is back a big way and there’s a lot to cover in a relatively short period of time. That means it’s time to cut back on the boilerplate introduction and get on with the show.
Up next, the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.
This is the all-Canadian clash that has people talking. Both teams had some off-ice theatrics prior to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, so it’s probable both teams benefited from the break. The Jets went through that whole Dustin Byfuglien thing, while Calgary struggled with a coaching change early in the campaign.
The Flames are 24-15-3 with coach Geoff Ward, a step up from the .500 club they were prior to Bills Peters’ departure. But trouble goes back awhile, with Calgary ousted from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the hands of Colorado. That still stings because the top line was limited and because the Flames pushed out 50 wins in the regular season.
The Jets had momentum when the regular season ended but it’s hard to tell where that stands now. Winnipeg outscored their opponents 15-5 in their last four games, with Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, and Patrik Laine finding their respective grooves.
The Flames counter with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm, but the trio is prone to silent streaks in the post-season. They didn’t show up against Colorado and had a similarly disappointing showing against Anaheim two years earlier.
Does that give the Jets the offensive edge? Hard to say. The Flames have a robust defensive group and play some pesky hockey, with Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, and Andrew Mangiapane set to take on the top Winnipeg line.
The Jets have the goaltending edge. Calgary will counter Connor Hellebuyck with either Cam Talbot or David Rittich. The Flames table solid goaltending with either decision, but it’s not likely they’ll win the duel. That said, the Jets’ netminder is 2-8 in his last 10 playoff starts.
Both teams have a lot to prove and want to put the 2019-2020 season to bed in a big way. The Jets have the slightest of advantages, but if the Flames get their lines rolling and gain the upper hand physically we could be looking at some surprises.