With five games on Saturday’s playoff schedule, the 2020 postseason certainly started with a bang. However, it could not have begun much worse for the Winnipeg Jets. Not only did the team give up an early lead to long-time, Canadian rival, the Jets lost key forwards Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine in the contest, before putting up an uncharacteristically sloppy display on special teams throughout Saturday’s opening game of the best-of-five Qualifying Round series against the Calgary Flames.
An eventful opening frame saw a potential series-changing injury, some physicality – climaxing with a fight, a number of penalties and a drastic swing in the shot department. Unfortunately for Winnipeg, the injury came to first line centreman Mark Scheifele, as a result of an awkward check into the boards from Flames’ agitator Matthew Tkachuk.
Just 5:39 into the game, a hush fell upon the approximate 150 arena staff, media and team members as Scheifele writhed in pain directly across the ice from the players’ benches inside Rogers Place in Edmonton. Needing heavy assistance to get off the ice, the Jets’ 2019-20 point leader did not put any weight on his left leg and was immediately ruled out of the contest.
It didn’t take long for captain Blake Wheeler to step up for his fallen linemate and member of the return-to-play committee, Scheifele, as he scrapped with Tkachuk in a spirited tilt shortly thereafter. With Wheeler in the box, the Jets built upon the gained momentum, and opened the scoring on a goal off the stick of Andrew Copp. From his backhand behind the Flames’ net, centreman Adam Lowry found Copp alone in the slot, who made no mistake putting the puck past Cam Talbot high on the glove side.
After jumping ahead to a 7-1 shot lead to start the game, Winnipeg looked like a totally lifeless squad for the next 40-plus minutes, allowing Calgary to go on a 26-6 shot run through the completion of the second period. Included in the 26 shots against, were a number of power play opportunities and three goals from the Flames – two which came while the Jets were shorthanded.
With Nathan Beaulieu in the box for slashing, speedy Johnny Gaudreau tied the game 7:06 into the middle stanza. An Erik Gustafsson rebound found its way to ‘Johnny Hockey’, who skillfully corralled the puck, before beating a sprawling Connor Hellebuyck, knotting the game at ones.
Just over five minutes later, Tobias Rieder gave Calgary the lead, capitalizing on a dysfunctional Jets power play, beating Hellebuyck high glove side on his backhand with a shorthanded tally. Then with 1:46 to play in the frame, Mikeal Backlund gave the Flames a two-goal lead off of a great power play setup from Andrew Mangiapane. The 3-1 dagger came while Cody Eakin looked on from the penalty box.
After seeing the versatile Wheeler shift to the centre position in Scheifele’s absence, Patrik Laine moved up alongside the captain and Kyle Connor on the team’s top unit. However, that did not provide much luck for Laine, who also ended up leaving the game early, nursing a left hand that came as a result of a dust up with Calgary’s Mark Giordano behind the Flames’ net.
Although taking their share of minor penalties, Winnipeg did have a number of power play opportunities on the night. Missing Schiefele and Laine did not help the cause, as the Jets hardly managed to enter the Flames’ zone, let alone set up anything near a high-danger scoring chance on any of their seven man advantages. Winnipeg finished the game a brutal 0/7 on the power play, compared to Calgary’s 50 percent success rate.
Neither team managed to find a way to score in the third period, until Winnipeg pulled its netminder for an extra attacker. A Mathieu Perreault giveaway to Mangiapane sealed the deal for Calgary, 4-1. Connor Hellebuyck faced 31 shots, giving up three goals, while Cam Talbot stopped 16 of the 17 pucks directed his way from the Jets in the game.
The teams will renew acquaintances on Monday afternoon in Game 2 of the Qualifying Round best-of-five series. Once again, the game will be available on Sportsnet, with puck drop set for 1:30 PM central time.