In the aftermath of a disastrous Game 1 in a best-of-five Stanley Cup playoff series against Calgary, the good news for the Winnipeg Jets is no one in a blue-and-white jersey was diagnosed with COVID-19.
That’s about the only thing that went right for Winnipeg at Rogers Centre in Edmonton on Saturday night, where the Flames defeated the Jets 4-1 and the deities that govern the fates of hockey teams decided to bestow injuries on two of Winnipeg’s most important players.
Barely five minutes into the first game of the qualifying-round series, Jets centre Mark Scheifele — the team’s best playoff performer over the past two seasons — was knocked out of the game and potentially the entire playoffs, however long that may last for Winnipeg.
Scheifele was trying to elude a check from Flames super-pest Matthew Tkachuk when the Jets centre jammed his left leg into the boards, wincing in severe pain even before he tumbled to the ice and appeared to favour his knee.
Numerous replays appeared to show Tkachuk first had an arm on Scheifele’s back and then had glancing contact with Scheifele’s skate.
Sportsnet commentators stated that contact appeared to be incidental and appeared to play no role in the injury to the Jets centre.
Scheifele’s teammates were far less convinced of Tkachuk’s innocence. Jets Captain Blake Wheeler challenged No. 19 to a fight and the momentum seemed to favour Winnipeg for a few microseconds.
It even seemed like the Jets would use the early nightmare as fuel when Jets forward Adam Lowry dug a puck out from behind Calgary’s net and backhanded it to Andrew Copp in the slot, where he fired a quick one over the glove of Flames’ goalie Cam Talbot.
The Jets wouldn’t score again on Saturday night. Copp’s goal would be the lone moment of joy in a very grim series opener for Winnipeg.
Seemingly dejected by Scheifele’s injury and unable to reorganize their play, the Jets came out flatter in the second period than a Richardson’s ground squirrel caught below the wheels of an F-150.
The Jets simply could not compete with Calgary.
The Flames gifted the Jets with seven power plays, but Winnipeg could not establish themselves in the opposing zone, let alone mount any sustained pressure on Talbot.
They ended the night zero-for-seven with the man advantage and even gave up a shorthanded goal.
That power play lost another key piece early in the third period, when sniper Patrik Laine collided with Flames captain Mark Giordano and appeared to injure a hand.
WATCH | Jets star Mark Scheifele leaves game with apparent leg injury:
The severity of this cannot be understated: The Jets lost two of their most important offensive players in the first game of a series against an opponent whose strongest asset is team defence.
Winnipeg couldn’t seem to control the play at even strength on Saturday and failed on the penalty-kill as well. Calgary went two-for-four on the power play, including a goal by Johnny Gaudreau, who was criticized during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs for disappearing during an opening-round loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
Even Vezina-nominated goalie Connor Hellebuyck couldn’t work any magic on a night when he faced 33 shots, which is like a night on the couch eating Cheezies, given how many good chances the Jets usually give up. The Jets only managed 18 shots on Talbot.
To cap off the night, even the extra-man desperation effort also failed spectacularly for Winnipeg. On a play emblematic of the way things went for Winnipeg, Flames forward Andrew Mangiapane intercepted a net-front pass attempt and deposited the puck into the Jets’ empty net.
Winnipeg will have to develop a new game plan for Game Two on Monday, possibly without Scheifele and Laine.
All the Flames have to do to win is keep doing what they’re doing.