The Stanley Cup Qualifiers will use eight best-of-5 series and two four-team round-robins to determine the field and seeding for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
NHL.com will preview every series with an alumni roundtable, featuring a former player from each team debating key points.
Today, former Winnipeg Jets forward Laurie Boschman and Calgary Flames forward Theo Fleury take a look at the series between Winnipeg and Calgary, to be played at Rogers Place in Edmonton beginning Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, NHL.TV).
Boschman had 577 points (229 goals, 348 assists) in 1,009 regular-season games for the Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators. He played eight of his 14 NHL seasons with the Jets and was with them when they defeated the Flames in the Smyth Division Semifinals in 1985 and 1987.
Fleury, who scored 1,088 points (455 goals, 633 assists) in 1,084 NHL games for the Flames, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche, played 11 of his 15 NHL seasons with Calgary. He won the Stanley Cup with the Flames in 1989.
Boschman: "Personally, I think it's a very close matchup. There are so many intangibles that are in play here ... like how, in a best-of-5 series, will they come out of the gate? And goaltending and special teams. I've been hearing the guys are chomping at the bit. Each team has strengths up front and on defense. Surprisingly, Winnipeg's defense, which was decimated last summer, had some players that came in and filled in quite well. Before the break, they were doing quite well. It remains to be seen in a short series what the most important factors will be, but it makes it very interesting."
Fleury: "Calgary has always had trouble playing against bigger, stronger teams, and they're going to have everything they can handle with Blake Wheeler, [Patrik] Laine, [Kyle] Connor and all those guys. But I think it will come down to goaltending. Both teams have great offense and your last line of defense is always your goalie. So Calgary has struggled with its goaltending ever since Miikka Kiprusoff left (in 2013), and has been trying to find a No. 1 guy. Mike Smith was actually their best player the last time they were in the playoffs (last year) and now he's in Edmonton. I don't know if David Rittich or Cam Talbot can take that workload and responsibility, but it will be interesting to see. Special teams are big in playoff series. Calgary's penalty-killing has improved quite a bit, but Winnipeg has a pretty potent power play so Calgary is going to have to be really disciplined and stay out of the box."
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Fleury: "The way the game is played now, you've got to push the puck past the defensemen and put as much pressure on them as you can. You can't hold up anybody anymore. I see guys like Milan Lucic and Sam Bennett trying to match the physical style of the Winnipeg forwards, and then obviously Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau have to be at the top of their game in order for Calgary to win. If they don't score, Calgary doesn't win a whole lot of games."
Boschman: "I think (Winnipeg's) speed. Calgary is a fast team as well, but Winnipeg is a big team and they'll try to get physical and they'll try to get on the Calgary defense. And special teams, they'll be important in a short series. So discipline will matter; Winnipeg has the potential on the power play with shooters like Mark Scheifele and Connor, Wheeler and Laine."
Fleury: "For a guy who used the fans as motivation in visiting buildings, it would be really weird for me to be out there and not feed off of that energy. Obviously we've never seen a tournament like this in the history of the NHL. It will take some getting used to. I can see the first couple of games having some awful mistakes. It's the playoffs and we know the intensity in the playoffs is 10 times what it was in the regular season. The pace of the game is ramped up, so if you haven't played in four months and you have to turn it on, this will be interesting for the fans."
Boschman: "These are unprecedented times in all sports; I agree with Theo that it's so different. I expect we'll be able to hear the chirps from the benches because there's no other noise. And I can see the guys' competitive nature kicking in. I'll be very interested to hear from the players on this subject after the first couple of games."
Boschman: "Experience always matters. Guys who have been there know the feeling, but now this is more like the start of the regular season in the sense that guys are chomping at the bit to get going, so expect more intensity, more contact, more battles. I agree with Theo that this is likely to take a few games for the players, but they won't have long to adjust."
Fleury: "I don't know if experience is a big thing anymore. I understand it's part of it, but these guys are so much more prepared as young people to come into the game and be impact players. I think momentum is going to be huge in this playoff. The team that grabs it right away could make it really easy on themselves to advance."