The Calgary Flames will face off against the Winnipeg Jets in a best-of-five Qualifying Round series beginning on Saturday night. The Flames enter the series as a very slight favourite among odds-makers, and there are a few reasons why they could come out on top.
Johnny Hockey does Johnny Hockey things
So here’s the deal: Johnny Gaudreau is a wizard. Moreso than any player on the Flames roster, perhaps in decades, he has the ability to tilt a hockey game with his mad offensive skills. He’s a season removed from putting up 99 points (and two seasons from putting up 84 points). His offense quieted down a bit this season (as his personal shooting percentage dropped from 14.7% in 2018-19 to 8.6% in 2019-20).
If Gaudreau can find his old magic, and his shooting percentage normalizes a bit, he could tilt the series on his own.
Mark Giordano takes over
A year ago, 35-year-old Mark Giordano was a runaway Norris Trophy winner and an absolute force. This season, he was good but not great. But Giordano is probably the best Flames player in terms of regulating the flow of a hockey game – both offensively and defensively.
In a short series, if Giordano can find his Norris mojo, it could easily tilt a game or two.
They win the goalie battle
This is a less likely scenario, but Jets superstar goalie Connor Hellebuyck could get out-played by Calgary’s goalie (probably Cam Talbot). Talbot was pretty good this season, while Hellebuyck was excellent. But in a short series, weird stuff happens.
Playoff Bennett isn’t their best player
What’s a common thread from the Flames’ playoff appearances in 2015, 2017 and 2019? Sam Bennett being the team’s most impressive player… and early post-season exits.
The Flames have a roster full of young, talented players: Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, Dillon Dube, Andrew Mangiapane, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson… (Giordano and Milan Lucic aren’t young but they’re good.) If Bennett isn’t the only player that stands out, they’ll have a good chance of winning the series.
But if the team’s biggest guns combine for five freakin’ goals like they did against Colorado, this could be a short playoff run.