In any assessment of the play-in series between the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets, there’s no doubt that the Flames played well and seemed to get scoring from their entire lineup. They also forechecked the Jets relentlessly, keeping them hemmed in throughout the series.
That combination of great Flames play and the fact that the Jets were clearly undermanned spelled disaster for the Jets. Calgary outscored Winnipeg 16-6 during the series and won three of four games.
Three things haunted the Manitoba-based team. First, the Jets did not get stellar goalie play from Connor Hellebuyck. Second, the Jets lost both Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele – two of the team’s top scorers – to injuries in Game 1. Third, the Jets two other top point producers during the regular season, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor, only had a couple of assists between them during the four games.
When the Jets’ stars simply didn’t shine brightly enough, the series outcome became inevitable.
Wheeler was quoted after the series loss that losing Laine and Scheifele was critical to the outcome. He noted, ”The guys that played this series, there’s nothing left in tank… Their goalie made some big saves, and it just wasn’t meant to be.”
In this edition of Flames News & Rumors, I’ll look at the Flames players who helped lead the team to the series victory.
Item One: Cam Talbot Hasn’t Played this Well in – Like – Forever
It’s simple: Cam Talbot has become the Flames’ goalie of choice during the 2019-20 postseason and will be their goalie into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 33-year-old Talbot was steady in net for the entire Jets series. Other than a single Jets victory, the Flames advanced easily to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In a bit of a surprise to me, head coach Geoff Ward designated the veteran Talbot as the team’s starter over David Rittich. Talbot has started five straight games for the team, but he saved his best for the series-clinching victory, turning away all 31 shots the Jets fired at him. The Flames’ winning score of 4-0 showed the team’s dominance.
The well-traveled Talbot had a stellar series and only allowed six goals in four games. As it stands, Talbot ended the postseason, play-in series with a record of 3-1, a goals against average of a 1.51, and a .945 save percentage. Although Hellebuyck is the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina Trophy this season, Talbot outplayed him in this series.
The Flames now wait to find out who they’ll face during Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next week. It will be either the Dallas Stars or the St. Louis Blues. However, regardless of who that foe might be, should Talbot play like he has, the Flames will be difficult to beat.
As Ward noted, “When we had breakdowns, our goaltender was huge.” (from “Flames lean on netminder Talbot in bounce-back year, Kristen Anderson, Calgary Sun, 07/08/20)
Ward added after Thursday night’s series-clinching victory, “Through the course of the series, he (Talbot) was our best player. And you need really good goaltending at this time of the year — he gave it to us. But I thought our team defense was a real key for us on top of the goaltending.”
Whomever the Flames will play next, that opponent will see Talbot in goal for Game 1.
Item Two: Milan Lucic Has Something Left in His Tank
Off the opening faceoff, Lucic reported that Jets defenseman Nathan Beaulieu challenged him to drop the gloves. Lucic did, and then beat Beaulieu into the ice. It was a metaphor for the remainder of the game.
Lucic’s fight injected immediate energy into the game, and the Flames capitalized on the emotional boost when Dillon Dube scored while Lucic was still in the penalty box.
Specifically Lucic noted, “I was lining up for the draw and he (Beaulieu) came over and asked me. He’s trying to show that they’re ready to play and that they’re not going to go down without a fight.”
That was the Jets’ hope. But Lucic noted, “For me, you just want to show that you’re ready to play and you’re not going to back down from their push.” And Lucic did not.
During Game 4, in addition to his fight, the 32-year-old Lucic scored an assist, recorded three shots on goal, and had three hits. He scored at least a point in each game of the series with a goal and three assists.
Item Three: Sam Bennett Continues His Solid Postseasons
During the 2019 playoffs, the Flames started well against the Colorado Avalanche winning Game 1 by a 4-0 score (with Mike Smith in goal). Then the Flames proceeded to lose four games in a row to dump their series. Despite his team’s failure in last season’s playoffs, Sam Bennett was a point-a-game player and hoped to have a similar impact this postseason.
He did. During the series-clinching victory on Thursday, Bennett was a force. His goal beat the first-period buzzer by less than a second remaining (0.7 seconds) and he added an assist. He played a physical game all series with 3 points and 22 hits during the four-game series.
Item Four: Matthew Tkachuk Makes His Presence Felt as a Moving Target
Matthew Tkachuk contributed to his team’s offense with an assist during Game 4. But perhaps his other contributions made him even more valuable. The Jets simply couldn’t leave him alone during the series, and probably extracted their physical revenge on his body. Still, bruises will heal and the Flames will play in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Jets won’t.
Tkachuk drew five penalties during the series. He only had two points in four games, but he was a force physically. With the Flames’ balanced scoring, he wasn’t needed during this series. However, he has the ability to score as well and it will be interesting to see how other teams engage him.
What’s Next for the Flames?
With the 4-0 victory over the Jets, the Flames move to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their next opponent, regardless of which team it is, will likely be a much more difficult test than the under-manned Jets were. Still, if Talbot can play like he did in this series, he’ll give his team a chance to win.
The Flames showed the scoring to get the job done during their play-in series. What happens now is what makes the postseason so much fun for fans.