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Flames say 'we're the better team' entering Qualifiers against Jets

Confident they'll advance to playoffs by creating turnovers, solving Hellebuyck

by Aaron Vickers / Independent Correspondent

The Calgary Flames claim they aren't the underdog in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Winnipeg Jets.

"If we play our best, I think we're the better team," Calgary center Mikael Backlund said. "I think we have a really good chance to move on here if we do our job and play the way we can."

The No. 8 seed Flames and No. 9 seed Jets play Game 1 of the best-of-5 series in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city, on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV, CBC, SN). The winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the loser will have a chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, to be held Aug. 10.

Despite the lower seed, some are saying the Jets have the better chance to advance.

"I try not to even almost listen to it, underdog or favorite," Flames forward Andrew Mangiapane said. "Everyone's been off for three months. Anything can really happen. It's all wide open. We have to worry about ourselves, bring our A game to the table and I think we'll be OK."

To advance to the playoffs, the Flames will have to solve Connor Hellebuyck, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy given to player voted the top goalie in the NHL. Hellebuyck was 31-21-5 with a 2.57 goals-against average when the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. He led the NHL with six shutouts, finished second in wins and seventh in save percentage (.922) among goalies to play at least 20 games.

Hellebuyck made 37 saves to defeat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 in an exhibition game at Rogers Place on Wednesday, 

"Hellebuyck, he's a good goalie," Mangiapane said. "I was watching him there. We have to take shots on him when we can and keep it simple and get traffic out front and I think we'll be OK."

The Jets were tied with the Boston Bruins for the fewest goals-against per game (2.11), with the Minnesota Wild for sixth in goals per game (3.32) and with the Carolina Hurricanes for seventh on the power play (24.5 percent) from Feb. 1 until the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

The Flames were second in goals per game (3.72) in the same span.

Video: EDM@CGY: Lindholm buries rebound on power play

"I think (the key is) to keep it in their own zone, make it hard on their [defensemen], keep the pressure on," Backlund said. "They're a good team offensively and on the rush and obviously have a very good goaltender. It'll be a big key for us to make it hard on their own zone and pressure them all over the ice and create turnovers and chances. We have to find ways to score on one of the best goalies in the League."

Calgary and Winnipeg played each other once in the regular season, a 2-1 Jets win in overtime at the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in Regina, Saskatchewan, on Oct. 26. 

The Flames and Jets were scheduled to play two more times, March 14 and 31 at Calgary.

"They're well-coached," Calgary coach Geoff Ward said. "They're very well detailed. We don't see any weaknesses in their game whatsoever and watching the game yesterday just reaffirms that. We understand that we have a tough test. At the same point and time, we're looking forward to dropping the puck in Game 1 and seeing what unfolds."

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