EDMONTON - The wait is finally over.
Well, almost. A late night puck drop means a little more waiting for the Winnipeg Jets, but come 9:30 pm CT, the Jets and Calgary Flames will drop the puck on their Qualifying Round series.
"Fortunately we've had experience with it in our exhibition game with the later time. It's recent memory, you have to handle the day," said defenceman Josh Morrissey, referencing Wednesday's identical puck drop against the Vancouver Canucks.
"The adrenaline will be there at puck drop," he said. "That won't be a problem."
The adrenaline won't be an issue, but a regular pre-scout on the Flames has been a bit more of a challenge for head coach Paul Maurice.
The two teams have only met once this season - a 2-1 Jets win in overtime - at the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in Regina, Saskatchewan on October 26.
Video: PRACTICE | Laine, Morrissey
Since then, the Flames have had a change at head coach with Geoff Ward coming in, while the Jets have added Cody Eakin and Dylan DeMelo to the roster through trades prior to the deadline.
"We would know the Calgary Flames less than any other team in the NHL," said Maurice. "You're doing an awful lot of video. It's very difficult to change a team's DNA, maybe impossible. There has been some system changes, slight changes on both sides, that maybe weren't there during the regular season."
It may take some time before the rivalry builds between the two teams. At the most, they see each other three times in the regular season due to Calgary being in the Pacific Division and the Jets in the Central.
So compared to the classic rivalry match-ups for the Jets - which include Central rivals the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild - the animosity between Winnipeg and Calgary will need to be built from scratch.
Maurice doesn't anticipate that will take long.
"The extras that happen after the whistle, that happens in a lot of games," said Maurice, citing Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk as someone who brings that element to his game in the regular season.
"The style maybe that he plays in the regular season is the style everybody plays in the playoffs."
Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice
Tkachuk's 61 points led the Flames in the regular season. Morrissey - who was born in Calgary - expects to see a lot of Tkachuk in the series.
"He's a power forward. He's a strong guy. He goes to the tough areas and he plays a physical game. He's really good around the net and he's not afraid to go there," said Morrissey.
"As a defenceman, you have to have good body position on him and have a good stick on him. Just try not to give him too much time and space because he can make plays when he has space."
Of course, Tkachuk isn't the only weapon the Flames have up front. Four-time NHL All-Star Johnny Gaudreau has nine goals and 19 points in 15 career games against the Jets.
"Playing against guys like (Sean) Monahan and (Johnny) Gaudreau is always fun. They're special players. They have a lot of skill," said Mark Scheifele. "The Matthew Tkachuks, who is only stuck his baby toe in the water, he's going to be a special player in this league. It's playing against guys like that that motivate me."
It has been 142 days since the Jets last played a game that had meaning to it, so waiting a few extra hours for a late puck drop won't be so bad.
"There's going to be a lot of coffee in the morning and a lot of waiting in the afternoon," said Maurice.
"I don't think it's going to affect the players on either team. Everything is different, and we've all become accustomed to it."
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com
The Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames begin their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier Series on Saturday night in Edmonton at Rogers Place.
The Jets beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 on Wednesday night in their lone exhibition game prior to the playoffs. Game 2 of the series goes Monday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. Central Time.
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