Photo courtesy of NHL.com
The Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets are both teams who finished above .500 and finished the regular season strong. Starting this Saturday, these two high-caliber teams will face off in Edmonton for a best-of-five qualifying series.
The Season Series
The two cross division teams met once this regular season in an October outdoor classic. Winnipeg handed Calgary a 2-1 overtime loss on a night in which both goaltenders shined. David Rittich for the Flames stopped 43 of 45 shots while Jets’ phenom Connor Hellebuyck allowed only one of 30 shots to get by him.
The Flames were leading for more than a period when finally Josh Morrissey buried his first goal of the season. Then, in overtime Kyle Connor found Bryan Little for a shorthanded game-winner.
While their depth is not fantastic, the eighth-seeded Flames have a very good first two lines of forwards. Featured on these lines are star wingers Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, both who were on pace for their third straight 20-goal season. Calgary has a pair of centers in Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund who are productive as well. While Monohan is more of a pure playmaker, Backlund provides value on both ends of the ice.
On the blue line, the Flames are also pretty solid. Their top pairing of Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie is perhaps among the best in the league. While they are lesser-known entities, Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin are young defensmen who have stepped up in the midst of injuries. Calgary also acquired valuable depth in this department at the deadline, with Derek Forbort and Erik Gustafsson.
One of the big story lines going into the resumed season is the Flames’ goaltending battle. While Rittich has gotten more playing time, Cam Talbot has actually been statistically better. Rittich seemingly tapers off as the season progresses. It is still unknown who will be the playoff starter.
The No. 9 seed Jets are a team that thrives on offense and elite goaltending. Their top six forwards are stacked with talent. Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Patrik Laine were all essentially point-per-game players in the regular season. While there is a big question mark with depth at the center position, it is unquestionable that Winnipeg will be able to put pucks in the back of the net.
The Jets’ defenseman are not great but Josh Morrissey and more surprisingly, Neal Pionk, have stepped up to be solid foundational pieces. Both are young skaters with a ton of upside who can patrol the ice and produce on the offensive end.
However, the biggest key to the Jets’ success this season has been Vezina candidate goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. While facing the most shots in the NHL, he recorded six shutouts and was among the top three in the league with a .922 save percentage.
While these two teams are pretty evenly matched as skaters, the Jets have a heavy advantage in the goaltender department. That will make a huge difference and is the reason the Jets will win this series in four games.
If Calgary’s top forwards can rise up and keep the puck in the Winnipeg end for long periods of time, they have a chance. However, the concern for Calgary is that Winnipeg’s high-powered offensive attack will be too much to handle.
Expect a fast-paced series featuring a ton of big plays, but the Jets are overall a superior team and should end up moving on to the next round.