Flames: 36-27-7 for 79 points in 70 games (.564 P%)
Jets: 37-28-6 for 80 points in 71 games (.563 P%)
LEADING SCORERS (REGULAR SEASON):
1. Matthew Tkachuk (23-38-61)
2. Johnny Gaudreau (18-40-58
3. Elias Lindholm (29-25-54)
1. Kyle Connor (38-35-73)
2. Mark Scheifele (29-44-73)
3. Blake Wheeler (22-43-65)
SPECIAL TEAMS (REGULAR SEASON):
Flames - 21.2 (12th)
Jets - 20.5 (15th)
Flames - 82.1 (8th)
Jets - 77.6 (22nd)
Corsi (shot attempts for/against):
Flames - 50.25% (15th)
Jets - 48.55 (21st)
Flames - 49.98% (15th)
Jets - 46.45 (29th)
Flames - 50.87 (11th)
Jets - 40.38 (31st)
FINALLY, IT'S GO TIME!:
To say the 2019-20 regular season was unprecedented is an understatement.
Completely out of left field, to borrow a metaphor from our baseball friends.
The English language is full of great adjectives, but none truly capable of describing what happened.
It's been nearly five months since the NHL season was paused when COVID-19 brought the world to a grinding halt.
Tonight, the Flames and Jets finally get back on the ice for a meaningful tilt in the first game of this pivotal qualifying series.
Winner goes on to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and a familiar best-of-seven series.
The loser is done, this time until the next season rolls around, likely not until December.
The last time the Flames played a best-of-five series was back in 1986. Guess who they played? Yes, it was the first incarnation of the Jets.
The Flames won and advanced to the Stanley Cup final that year, falling to Montreal.
Odder still? These two clubs only played once this year, waaaaaaay back in October at the Heritage Classic in Regina.
And it was an outdoor game, so not much you can take from it, say the teams.
Since then, both clubs have seen their fair share of ups-and-down and changes, notably Calgary which also saw themselves getting a new head coach in Geoff Ward.
So do the Flames have the element of surprise coming in?
"No, not really," said Ward on Friday. "They're a real good coaching staff. I'm sure they're well versed in terms of how we play now and sort of what they can expect from us. So I don't think there are any surprises.
"I agree with (Jets coach) Paul Maurice. I think that game was so far away a go - different circumstances in a lot of ways that you really can't put too much emphasis on that. But certainly I'm sure they look at our exhibition game the other night, they looked at our games through the stretch before the pause, as we did to them.
"They're fully prepared. I don't expect that they're not knowing the people on that staff. They're highly professional, they're highly detailed, they want their players to have the best information. They're going to be prepared. So to answer your question, that game so long ago doesn't mean anything."
Usually teams have tons of head-to-head tape and that all important familiarity with each other when the playoffs start.
"We would know the Calgary Flames less than any other team in the NHL, right," said Maurice. "We played an outdoor game early in the year with a different coach. … We might have shoved in the winning overtime goal but we didn't use any video from that game. So, you're right. What we don't have, and I think this is going to get rectified really soon based on styles of game, is a built-in intensity on the series. We just don't see each other enough. So I do think it has an impact. You're doing an awful lot off video.
"It's very, very difficult to change a team's DNA - maybe impossible. There's been some system changes, I think slight changes on both sides, that maybe weren't there during the regular season. But you're right on that. At least the teams in the East we saw once. Florida was the only team we hadn't played twice. So it's between Florida and these guys and these guys got a new coach so everything's changed."
All that said, the 70-some games in the season have provided plenty of viewing to prepare for this showdown.
"I think with all the video we've done the past few weeks on them, feels like we've played them 50 times already," said Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk . "Both coaches will have their teams prepared as we can be and even though we played them once, it was a different game. You can throw that tape out. That's not the way playoff hockey is gonna be. It was like more of a shiny game but we're prepared for them, we know what their strengths are, they know what our strengths are, we know how to try and exploit their weaknesses, they know the same, I'm sure.
"It is weird - it's definitely weird we haven't played them as much - I think we had them two times if the season didn't get paused over the (final) few weeks. But we're ready for them. We know what we have to do to try and beat them. And I'm sure they're saying the same thing over there. Both teams will be prepared."
The recipe for success in the NHL is a lengthy, multi-faceted one.
Nothing simple when it comes to winning a series.
That said, Ward did have an answer when asked to boil it down.
"I'll give you the simple Derek Sanderson answer," joked Ward. "We have to score more goals than them, ultimately, at the end of the day.
"Just kidding with that. We really feel like there's no weaknesses in their game. They're a deep team, they're an experienced team. I mean, a couple of years ago they were in the Western Conference final. So there's an awful lot of things. They are extremely well coached. The coaching staff understand what it takes to win. They've all been on long playoff runs, they've won Cups.
"You know … we're going to have be at the top of our game. The thing is at playoff time, and I'll just leave it at this, is that defending has to be there and they're a highly explosive team and for us, I think the whole thing comes down to that we have to be able to defend them. If we can't defend them, then it's probably not going to go the way we want and so for us, that's going to be a real focus in the series is being able to defend and it'll start (tonight) and we're looking forward to seeing how it unfolds."
As for the much-talked about current environment - games at odd times, practices all over the board, no fans in the building, and, perhaps most notabley, the best-of-five format - Ward said at the end of the day, it's about hockey and what happens on the ice.
That's all that matters.
"Once the game starts, you're into the game. It's whatever you have to do on a game-management basis," he explained. "All of that is going to be normal, totally. We just have to all understand it - the stakes are going to ramp (up). The emotion will build, the intensity will build. The players are going to determine that, obviously. But everybody on both teams will be ready. And then it's just managing the game.
"So, we're looking forward to it, as they are. Like I said, once the puck drops this is now going to be exactly what people expect. It's going to be a hard playoff series."
THE CHUCKY FACTOR:
While there's no shortage of player storylines in this series, straight across the board throughout the rosters, one player who has been talked about a lot this week is the aforementioned Tkachuk, who leads Calgary in scoring and is also lauded by his teammates as one of their heart-and-soul players.
He's a guy who does so much more on the ice than score and pick up assists - he hits, he tips pucks, he mixes it up all over, he draws penalties. As coaches often say, all those little - and big - things.
The Postmedia newspaper chain not surprisingly listed him as one of the five players from both sides to watch out for when the action gets underway.
Maurice was asked about the impact Tkachuk has on games.
"This guy's a good hockey player," he answered. "That's the most important thing he brings to the game. He plays a physical game, he's effective on the forecheck and he has a great set of hands ... The extras that happen after the whistle, that happens in a lot of games and it's only an issue if it becomes an issue so take care of your own, take care of your net front.
"Add playoff hockey, I think players are so dialled in to being disciplined but being hard, the style that maybe he plays during the regular season becomes more the style that everybody plays in the playoffs. It's a gritty game. So, awareness of him but first and foremost it's the hockey you need to respect, the game he plays is a good, solid game and you have to be at your best defensively to try and control it."
Jets blueliner Josh Morrissey echoed that.
"I mean, obviously he's a power forward," said the Calgary native. "He's strong guy. He goes to the tough areas. He plays a physical game. I think he's really good around the net and he's not afraid to go there. So, obviously, I think as a defenceman you have to have good body position on him, try to have a good stick on him, cause he's good around the net. Just try to not give him too much time and space. He can make plays when he has space. Sort of the same theme as the rest of their team, for sure. But obviously he's a great player and we're gonna have to do a really job against him if we're gonna have success."
THIS, THAT, & THE OTHER:
THIS:Milan Lucic comes into this series with more playoff experience than anyone on either roster. Lucic's has 114 post-season tilts to his name with 28 goals and 70 points. This is his 10th trip to the post-season. He won a Cup with the Bruins in 2011 ... THAT: The Flames have a 5-3-2 record in their last 10 games against the Jets ... THE OTHER:Johnny Gaudreau is the current team leader in goals scored against the Jets with nine in his career.