The puck drops Thursday on the NHL season-opener for the Winnipeg Jets, and many are expecting several pairs of gloves to drop as well.
Winnipeg is hosting the Calgary Flames, who left the Jets battered and bruised last time they met.
“We got beat in that series and I’m still bitter about it until this day, because I want to win,” said Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who was named the NHL’s best goalie in 2019-20.
“They ruined our chances at a Stanley Cup, so for me personally, I’m going to use it as motivation.”
Calgary shut out the Jets 4-0 on Aug. 6, ending Winnipeg’s post-season. But the best-of-five series was effectively over after Game 1.
Two of the Jets’ top scorers, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, were lost due to injury, along with Mason Appleton, as the Flames brought an intensity and physicality the Jets struggled to match.
Before the series officially ended with Game 4, the Jets had also lost Mathieu Perreault.
The tone of the scrappy series was set by Flames super-pest Matthew Tkachuk, who said he won’t be surprised if there is some emotional carryover at Bell MTS Place Thursday night.
“I’d say there probably will be,” Tkachuk said Wednesday, before the Flames’ departure to Winnipeg. “I’m expecting to go in there and whatever happens, happens. I’m just excited to get back playing and I expect them to be fired up and not happy with the way things went for them over the summer.
“I expect it to be a very intense, hard-fought game.”
Scheifele’s injury happened when he and Tkachuk tangled along the boards.
As Scheifele writhed in pain on the ice — after what Jets head coach Paul Maurice later called a “dirty, filthy kick” from Tkachuk — Winnipeg’s bench directed a stream of expletives at Calgary’s.
Jets captain Blake Wheeler summoned Tkachuk for retributive justice on the Flames forward’s next shift and the two traded punches.
‘It’ll be a good test for us’
Josh Morrissey was asked Thursday about his expectation of emotional carryover but played it straight.
“We’re just trying to focus on our game and coming out with a great start to the season,” said the Jets defenceman, who was born and raised in Calgary.
“They beat us in the playoffs and they had a recipe to beat us. [Now] we get a chance, right away, to put the things we worked on in camp into play against the team that knocked us out.”
Jets centre Andrew Copp said the tempo of the game could be wide open, “given the skill of each team” — or it could be “a very physical, grinding-type game, which I think we’re comfortable in.”
“I’m not exactly sure what type of game’s going to be played, but I do know it’s going to be hard and fast,” he said.
For his part, a now-healthy Scheifele said he gets his motivation simply from suiting up to play the game he loves.
“Just being back in hockey is all you need,” he said. “It’ll be awesome, we’re playing against a really good team.”
The Jets and Flames finished within a point of each other in the Western Conference last season.
Many in the hockey world feel both teams have vastly improved in the off-season, with the Jets bringing in Paul Stastny, Trevor Lewis and ex-Flame Derek Forbort, while Calgary has defenceman Chris Tanev and a new goalie in Jacob Markstrom.
Scheifele lauded Calgary’s skill, as well as the team’s willingness to “go into the dirty areas” and battle for pucks.
“We have to be on our game to beat them. They’ve got it all on that team,” he said.
The Jets and Flames will play their entire 56-game seasons against the five other Canadian teams as part of the NHL’s special North Division, created for this pandemic year, as the border between Canada and the United States is closed to non-essential travel.
The Jets and Flames only met once last regular season, when Winnipeg won 2-1 in overtime at the 2019 NHL Heritage Classic in Regina.
This season, they will meet nine times. Five of Winnipeg’s first 12 games are against Calgary, including four consecutive games from Feb. 1-9.
Their post-season match-up last season marked the first playoff series between the franchises, both of which relocated from Atlanta (Calgary in 1980 and then Winnipeg in 2011).
Thursday’s game begins at 7 p.m. CT.