In the summer of 2020, the Calgary Flames know full well the spring of 2019 still looms large.
As the Flames ready to kick off their best-of-five qualifying round series against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night in Edmonton, the horrid memories of their unceremonious upset at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche in the opening round of last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs is fresh in their minds — and motivation going forward.
“I’m sick of losing. I’m sick of losing in these first rounds,” Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk told reporters recently. “I know that a lot of guys in this room feel the same way, and we want a little bit of redemption after last year. It’s time for us to prove we’re an elite hockey team.”
“We know what people have been saying about us, the past couple of playoffs and what happened last year,” Tkachuk added. “We lived it. We will be the first ones to say that we underperformed last year. We put pressure on ourselves to perform. We put pressure on ourselves to have a shot at redemption, and we’ve been given that shot. That’s why it’s so nice to get this opportunity and get this chance to play in the playoffs.”
Of all the qualifying round matchups, the Flames-Jets series is likely the biggest pick ’em of the bunch. When the league shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the Jets had one more point than the Flames, but played one more game. Calgary is the higher seed thanks to an edge in points percentage.
Winnipeg claimed the only meeting during the truncated regular season, a 2-1 overtime affair played outdoors in Regina way back in late October.
“There probably isn’t another team in the NHL, that based on last season, we know less about,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said of the all-Canadian matchup. “We had one game against them, so that would almost make them like an Eastern Conference opponent, and it was an outdoor game and they had a different coach. So both teams don’t have any memory of a style of game or what it might look like. … So this is going to be unusual for sure, but certainly exciting.”
If there’s one area with an obvious difference between the clubs, it’s between the pipes. While Calgary has no clear-cut No. 1 goalie with its duo of David Rittich and Cam Talbot, Winnipeg has a standout netminder in Connor Hellebuyck, who is well deserving of potential Vezina Trophy accolades.
Flames forward Mikael Backlund flatly stated this week he believes Calgary is the better team but knows Hellebuyck is a difference maker.
“I think it will be important to keep them in their own zone, make it hard on their D, keep the pressure on,” Backlund said. “They’re a very good team offensively and on the rush and obviously have a very good goaltender, so I think it will be a big key for us to really make it hard on them in their own zone and pressure them all over the ice, but especially on the forecheck and create turnovers and chances. And then we have to capitalize. We have to find ways to score on one of the best goalies in the league.”
Both teams will be without a noteworthy player. Winnipeg center Bryan Little won’t play due to a season-ending head injury suffered in November, while Calgary defenseman Travis Hamonic opted out of playing due to concerns about the virus.
–Field Level Media