West-leading Flames, Jets clash in Winnipeg
The first-place team in the Central Division, the Winnipeg Jets, facing the first-place team in the Pacific Division -- and Western Conference leaders -- in the Calgary Flames... Now, that's a marquee matchup for a Saturday night.
"They're a good team. (Head coach Bill Peters) came in and put in a good system for their team," Jets defenseman Ben Chiarot told the team's website. "They have good skill up front, and they've also got some grit and a back end that's considered one of the best in the league. It's a deep team that plays fast with that new system.
"They're comparable to us I find. But we haven't seen them for a long time, so it should be a different story."
The Flames beat the Jets in their first two meetings this season by a combined score of 10-4, with the most recent game in late December.
The host Jets (41-25,4, 86 points) go into the affair after a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins on Thursday, which snapped a two-game losing skid. Curiously, Winnipeg has struggled against top-level teams, so the win over Boston helps clear a mental hurdle.
"We've been in a good place in the standings for a long time," Chiarot said. "You can see guys get a little comfortable. You play teams like that and it brings out the best in us."
If the Flames continue to play the way they have this week, the Jets had better bring their best. Calgary has been blitzing teams lately, having scored 20 goals during a three-game winning streak.
And it's not just one line that's been doing the damage. The top line of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm has combined for 15 points in the last two games, while the trio of Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik have collected 21 points in the last three games. Tkachuk, who had a five-point game in an emphatic 5-1 win over the New York Rangers on Friday night, collected six goals and four assists in the three-game homestand.
The Flames (44-20-7, 95 points) will become just the second team in the NHL to claim a playoff spot if they can earn a single point on Saturday.
"I had no idea about that," forward Garnet Hathaway said during an interview with the team's radio broadcaster, Sportsnet 960 The Fan. "I don't think anyone in the room did either. Nobody talked about that. Right now, especially the last three games, we've been playing our game and that's what we're focusing on."
Facing the Jets with a quick turnaround, the Flames know they have to be smart, especially since they will likely be without Monahan for the game, as he's battling an illness that's impacting their team.
"They've got a pretty good power play," Hathaway said of the Jets. "We've got to stay disciplined. We start rolling four lines, I think that's our best game plan, and that's when we're effective."
Both clubs know they're facing a stiff test and best ramp up their game.
"We're getting close to the playoffs now and everybody wants to get into that playoff mentality," Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers told the Winnipeg Sun.
--Field Level MediaHome