Even in their only meeting this year, played away in the Mosaic Stadium snow globe, things were so well balanced it took overtime to sort it out.
The Flames insist they are entering the series motivated by a chance to redeem themselves after last year’s embarrassing first-round exit against Colorado.
The Jets also lost in the first round last year, albeit to the future champions, which was a tough pill to swallow after going to the conference final a year earlier.
(5 v 5 via Natural Stat Trick)
Flames: 50,25% CF (15e), 47,67% GF (24e), 91,89% SV (15e), 7,64% SH (23e), 0,995 AOP (23e)
Jets: 48,55% CF (21e), 49,29% GF (21e), 92,42% SV (9e), 8,05% SH (18e), 1,005 AOP (12e)
Calgary: 21,2 PP% (11e), 82,1 PK% (8e), 204 GF (20e), 214 GA (16e)
Winnipeg: 20,5 PP% (15e), 77,6 PK% (22e), 213 GF (16e), 201 GA (12e)
It’s generally believed that the Jets have a stronger, more proven net, the Flames have a deeper, more powerful blue line, and the top five forwards on both sides are lethal.
Both “middle aged” clubs have players of depth of character who add size and moxie to a series that should be as close on ice as they are on paper.
Calgary’s second line of Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane will undoubtedly be tied against Winnipeg’s top line of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor, in an effort to limit their attack and provoke them.
While the Flames’ starting goalie, whether it’s playoff rookie David Rittich or veteran Cam Talbot, will have tons of pressure trying to match Connor Hellebuyck, the spotlight on this series is on the line. Superior of Calgary.
Last year Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm were sidelined in a five-game loss to Colorado that saw them combine for just two goals. Two years earlier, Gaudreau and Monahan were also held at bay during a four-game sweep by Anaheim.
If the Jets can take down Calgary’s biggest guns, it’s believed to be a short streak and the offseason will revolve around endless chatter about the need to shake things up at the Dome.
Scheifele, Wheeler and Connor make up one of the most powerful lines in hockey and will be one of two units likely to face Monahan’s line.
The other is Adam Lowry’s control unit with Jack Roslovic and Andrew Copp.
Josh Morrissey and Dylan DeMelo will see most of the ice against Calgary’s main threats, headlining a revamped blue line that will be motivated to prove the skeptics wrong.
The Jets certainly feel they can fight again given their firepower and goalie.
Calgary X-Factor: The Goalkeeper
Talbot and Rittich are capable of running runs that see them hanging on to any goalie in the league. Who the team starts off and how they stack up against the Vezina Trophy finalist on the other end will have a big say in who wins this match.
X-Factor de Winnipeg: Nikolaj Ehlers
The eternal 20-goal man took a lot of heat to be unable to score in 21 playoff games, adding just seven assists. He and Patrik Laine will be relied on a lot for the attack on the second row with Cody Eakin.
The biggest question in Calgary is, can the lead line live up to it?
Gaudreau and Monahan have been part of postseason pratfalls that have seen the Flames lose 10 of their last 11 playoff games. Now they have to play effectively when the intensity and the stakes rise. This may be their last chance together to prove they can be big game players in Calgary.
The biggest question in Winnipeg is: Can Hellebuyck regain his Vézina-like form?
Hellebuyck is 2-8 in his last 10 playoff starts, which is in stark contrast to the last three regular seasons he has billed as the second-most winning goaltender in the NHL.