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3 Keys: Jets vs. Flames, Game 1 of Cup Qualifiers

Winnipeg looks to ride Hellebuyck; Tkachuk could be catalyst for Calgary

by Aaron Vickers / Independent Correspondent

No. 9 Jets vs. No. 8 Flames

10:30 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, NBCSN, NHL.TV

The Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets open a best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifier series on Saturday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the Western Conference. The winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Calgary and Winnipeg played each other once during the regular season, a 2-1 Jets win in overtime at the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, on Oct. 26. They were scheduled to play two more times, March 14 and 31 at Calgary, before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

There hasn't been a best-of-5 series in the NHL since 1986. The League used them for the preliminary round of the playoffs from 1980-86, and the team that won Game 1 went on to win the series 87.5 percent of the time (49 of 56).

Here are 3 Keys to Game 1:


1. Quick studies

There's a shortage of sample size in head-to-head competition between Winnipeg and Calgary because they've played each other just once. That has forced the coaching staffs and players to study via video, and will have each lineup adapting on the fly to in-game adjustments.

"We just don't see each other enough," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "I do think it has an impact. You're doing an awful lot off video, and it's very, very difficult to change a team's DNA -- maybe impossible. There have been some system changes, I think. Slight changes on both sides that maybe weren't there during the regular season."


2. Solving Hellebuyck

Connor Hellebuyck, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the top goalie in the NHL, appears to give Winnipeg an edge in net. He was 31-21-5 with a 2.57 goals-against average this season, led the NHL with six shutouts, finished second in wins and was seventh in save percentage (.922) among goalies to play at least 20 games.

"It's not like this year was a fluke. He's been consistently one of the best for a big stretch now," Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk said. "When we get our shots, we just can't be throwing in some muffins from the corner and making it easy saves for him. We have to get guys to the net. We have to get the second, third, fourth, fifth chances."


3. Keeping Tkachuk in check

Tkachuk, who led the Flames in points (61) and penalty minutes (74), has been Calgary's most consistent threat this season with his skill and feistiness, and is seen as the Flames' engine up front. Keeping him neutralized could go a long way to limiting Calgary's emotion early in the series.

"You can't give him too much time and space, he can make plays when he has space," Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey said. "It's sort of the same theme with the rest of their team, but obviously he's a great player and we're going to have to really do a good job against him if we're going to have success."


Jets projected lineup

Kyle Connor -- Mark Scheifele -- Blake Wheeler

Nikolaj Ehlers -- Cody Eakin -- Patrik Laine

Andrew Copp -- Adam Lowry -- Jack Roslovic

Mathieu Perreault -- Nicholas Shore -- Mason Appleton

Josh Morrissey -- Dylan DeMelo

Dmitry Kulikov -- Neal Pionk

Nathan Beaulieu -- Tucker Poolman

Connor Hellebuyck

Laurent Brossoit

Scratched: Gabriel Bourque, David Gustafsson, Jansen Harkins, Mark Letestu, Logan Shaw, Anthony Bitetto, Carl Dahlstrom, Sami Niku, Luca Sbisa, Mikhail Berdin, Eric Comrie

Unfit to play: Bryan Little


Flames projected lineup

Johnny Gaudreau -- Sean Monahan -- Elias Lindholm

Andrew Mangiapane -- Mikael Backlund -- Matthew Tkachuk

Milan Lucic -- Derek Ryan -- Dillon Dube

Sam Bennett -- Mark Jankowski -- Tobias Rieder

Mark Giordano -- TJ Brodie

Noah Hanifin -- Rasmus Andersson

Derek Forbort -- Erik Gustafsson

Cam Talbot

David Rittich

Scratched: Austin Czarnik, Byron Froese, Alan Quine, Zac Rinaldo, Buddy Robinson, Oliver Kylington, Michael Stone, Juuso Valimaki, Alexander Yelesin, Jon Gillies, Artyom Zagidulin

Unfit to play: None

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