The Calgary Flames have played a pretty solid series so far and have a chance to close things out against the Winnipeg Jets. It’s not a situation the Flames are overly familiar with though.
The last time they played a game where they had the chance to eliminate their opponent was over five years ago in their first round series against the Vancouver Canucks. They didn’t have that chance last year against the Colorado Avalanche, and didn’t have that chance three years ago against the Anaheim Ducks.
This is still a relatively inexperienced team when it comes to the playoffs, and tonight’s game will be a big one in learning, development, and a tone setter for how the rest of the playoffs will go. Win or lose, we’ll learn a lot about this Flames team based on their performance tonight.
The series has been a tale of two teams so far. In Games 1 and 3, the Flames were dominant and cruised to victories. In Game 2, the Flames fumbled and faltered. The Jets ran the show and the Flames couldn’t find a rhythm in the matinee. If the Flames want to close things out tonight, here are the keys to the game:
1. 3m, keep doing what you’re doing
The line of Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund, and Matthew Tkachuk has been absolutely incredible all series long. It’s been vintage 3M, and they’ve really taken it to the Jets. What makes this line so amazing is that they’ve started only 50% of their shifts in the offensive zone. They’ve been matched up against Winnipeg’s top line of Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, and Andrew Copp for basically the whole series and have completely dominated.
In terms of 5v5 play, which includes the late game pushes from the Jets in both the first and third games, here’s how this line has played:
- 59.6% CF
- 66.7% SCF
- 55.6% HDCF
- 66.8% xGF
To keep the wins coming, this line has to just keep doing what they’ve been doing for three games so far. Tkachuk has been impactful in all games so far, Backlund and Mangiapane took huge steps last game, and the whole line has operated like a well-oiled machine. This is the Flames’ best line and it can’t let up tonight.
2. Team defense
The big storyline heading into the series was Connor Hellebuyck. He’s the likely Vezina Trophy winner this season as the NHL’s best goaltender, and to his credit, he has shown why that’s the case each game this series. Hellebuyck was supposed to be the one standout edge the Jets had over the Flames.
In actuality, that hasn’t really been the case, and it’s not because Hellebuyck hasn’t been good. Cam Talbot was named the Flames’ starting goalie and has been rock solid in net since the puck dropped in the first game of the series.
After the first three games, Talbot holds the edge in GAA and SV%. Talbot has been everything the Flames have needed in this series, but the credit for outscoring the Jets 12-6 so far has been the commitment to playing team defense.
Geoff Ward has touched on this in a few press conferences, and it really is an important area the Flames need to continue to stick with. Playing solid team defense in front of Talbot allows him to see shots, be in the right position, and make key saves in all situations.
Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau being committed to defense in their own zone is a massive improvement and help to this team. Mark Jankowski backchecking doesn’t go unnoticed. These are the types of players who need to commit to locking it down on defense and helping out the defensemen.
They’ve done a great job so far and with the Jets facing elimination, the Flames will need full commitment to shutting down what will almost certainly be a desperate, hungry Jets team.
3. Keep the Powerplay rolling
The most important contributor to offense this playoffs has been the powerplay. The Flames scored on three of their four attempts in Game 3 which allowed them to run all over the Jets and earn a lopsided victory. The powerplay will need to keep clicking for the Flames to advance.
The Jets are shorthanded with Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, and Mason Appleton out of the lineup. Hellebuyk has been stellar this series and the Flames need to keep taking advantage of their powerplay opportunities to beat him. Hellebuyck has a .935 SV% at even strength, so it’ll be tough for the Flames to score lots of goals at 5v5. Powerplays will be a major factor again in Game 4 and the Flames need to stick with what’s been working.
4. Stay out of the box
It’s not just this series. All series so far have seen many, many power penalties called that is typical for playoff hockey. Maybe this is due to players readjusting to the rules of the game, or maybe they’re being reckless as the intensity of the playoffs has the tendency to take over.
My bet is that the refs want more goals and have been instructed to call more infractions, but whatever the reason actually is, it is paramount that the Flames play a clean game and stay out of the box.
The Jets power play boasts some of the most lethal weapons in the game. Connor can beat you from anywhere, and Nikolaj Ehlers finally got his first NHL playoff goal on the power play. Limiting their opportunities to generate offense on the man advantage is a major key to the Flames winning this series.
Despite the firepower, the Jets power play hasn’t been as large a threat so far, sitting at just 13.7% (whereas the Flames are operating at 35.7%), but with the Jets’ skaters, they’re bound to find some goals at some point and it’s better to just not allow that to happen by not giving them power plays to begin with.
Discipline was a problem in Game 2 and the Flames did a good job cleaning that up in Game 3. Sticking to that script will give them the edge in Game 4. Give the Flames credit, their penalty kill has been nothing short of phenomenal.
5. Attention to detail
One of the most obvious problems for the Flames in Game 2 was their lack of polish and attention to detail. Pucks were dropped to empty spots on the ice, passes weren’t clean, shots were missing the mark, changes weren’t efficient, and there were too many odd man rushes allowed.
The Flames just didn’t have good enough attention to detail in that game and they paid for it. In Game 4, it’s important they make plays with purpose. Passes have to be deliberate, shots need to be aimed properly, and everyone needs to keep a close eye out for their check.
If the Flames can take care of the little things, they’ll be much more likely to find success. Talbot has been solid in net, but you can’t make him bail you out on every play. Be careful, take the necessary time, and make purposeful plays. That’s how the Flames will win and ultimately eliminate the Jets from the postseason.
Tonight is a big opportunity for the Flames to advance to the round of 16. In a big opportunity to prove themselves, they can finally break free from old reputations of not showing up when it matters. Getting a series win will do much good for the Flames. They’re the better team on paper, and sticking to these notes will be critical in making them be the better team on the ice as well.