EDMONTON — The Calgary Flames are expecting to be a battle-tested lot when they face-off against the Winnipeg Jets in their opening round playoff series starting Saturday. And they can thank an old foe for helping to get them ready.
Calgary renewed hostilities with Edmonton on Tuesday night at Rogers Place in an exhibition game that was anything but ordinary. The two teams were at each other’s throats during the regular-season with all kinds of shenanigans, so dialing up the intensity should come naturally even if there weren’t going to be any bloodthirsty fans in the building for the first contest being held in the Western Conference hub.
“It’s an important game. You want to get your feet under you, you want your timing there, and there’s no better way to start than against a team like Edmonton. We know what’s there in the past, and we’ve got to amp up and get ready for playoffs,” Flames forward Sean Monahan said prior to the 9:30 p.m. CT puck drop.
“You want to try to set the tone early. A best of five (against Winnipeg) is obviously a little bit quicker and you don’t want to be playing catch-up in something like that. For us, our mindset is we have to come out with a good start to the series and set the tone right away.”
The Jets will get their one dress rehearsal tonight, although their meeting with the Vancouver Canucks doesn’t come with the same built-in hate that the Battle of Alberta does. Whether Calgary can use that to their advantage remains to be seen.
“We don’t want to come in flat-footed and not prepared. We have to try to get off on the right foot and not just go through the motions because it’s an exhibition game,” said forward Johnny Gaudreau.
“Obviously the history is there between both of our teams, everyone remembers that. But at the same time we’re trying to get ready for the playoffs and make our statement there,” added Monahan.
Unlike the Jets who have Vezina Trophy favourite Connor Hellebuyck in goal, the Flames still don’t even know who will tend their net in Game 1. David Rittich and Cam Talbot were expected to split the game against the Oilers with coach Geoff Ward still weighing his options.
“There’s a few things we will be looking at, for sure,” said Ward. “From there the evaluation stage of our training camp will be set, and then we’ll use the next couple days to make a decision on who will start.”
Rittich made the bulk of the regular-season starts, appearing in 48 games with a 24-17-6 record, 2.97 goals against average and .907 save percentage. Talbot, who came over from the Oilers after last season, was 12-10-1 with a 2.63 GAA and .919 SV% in 26 games.
Ward is also still playing around with some line combinations and defence pairings. Despite the hype and excitement, he wasn’t expecting any real nonsense on Tuesday, considering the stakes. Nobody wants to get injured or suspended just days before the playoffs officially begin.
“I think both teams are aware of that. It’s a good opponent for us for a couple reasons. Number one, the rivalry is there, so I think the intensity will probably be where you want it to be in a type of game like this,” said Ward.
“They’ve got really good special teams, Edmonton does, so that’s going to be good for us in terms of getting our special teams some work. And they’ve got some obvious high-end, elite-level players that we’re going to see in the series against Winnipeg. I think a lot of things about what Edmonton has in terms of their team will make us a much more prepared team than maybe if we played somebody else.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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