Two Canadian teams out West will face off in Edmonton on Thursday in what is potentially the final game of the series. The Calgary Flames are one win away from being the second team to advance to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while the Winnipeg Jets are battling to send the series to a win-or-go-home Game 5 on Saturday.
Here is a preview of Thursday night’s Game 4 battle between the Flames and Jets, along with a series recap and a free pick. Currently, Calgary is a -165 favorite to close out the series tonight.
In the first game of the series back on August 1st, the Jets lost the game and two of their top forwards. Both Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine left the game with injuries and have yet to return in the series, as the Flames waltzed to a 4-1 victory in Game 1.
Johnny Gaudreau scored a power-play goal to put Calgary on the board, while Tobias Rieder also added a shorthanded score. Flames goalie Cam Talbot also faced just 18 shots the entire game.
For Game 2, the shorthanded Jets found the extra gear to win Game 2 by a score of 3-2. After Calgary tied the game late in the second, Nikolaj Ehlers’ power-play goal was about halfway through the third period that broke the tie and ended up being the game-winner.
Adam Lowry also added a goal and assist, as Winnipeg was much improved with their shots on goal total of 26. They also held the Flames to 0-for-6 on the power play.
However, things went back to the Flames in Game 3, highlighted by a dynamic power-play performance. Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, and Milan Lucic all scored with the extra attacker in the ice as Calgary cruised to a 6-2 win. The Flames converted on three of their four power-play attempts, a stark contrast from Game 2, while also getting a 33-save performance from Talbot. Ehlers scored for Winnipeg, who once again were missing Scheifele and Laine.
Keys to Victory
Flames will win if they control the puck during five-on-five. In both of Calgary’s wins, the power play was dominant, scoring twice in Game 1 and then three times in Game 3. But when the power play was shut down in Game 2, they struggled to get going.
Even though Winnipeg was one of the worst five-on-five teams in hockey during the regular season, they’ve been slightly better than Calgary at even strength through three games. Look for the Flames to improve at 5-on-5, with Gaudreau, Monahan, and Lindholm likely to lead the charge.
Jets will win if they don’t get buried early. Despite being one loss away from elimination, the Jets have scored the first goal in each game. But in their two losses, Calgary was able to follow those up with four un-answered and three unanswered goals, respectively.
Regardless of whether Scheifele and Laine suit up, it is imperative for the Jets to not succumb to any long scoring runs by the Flames and to aim to win those first two periods. That means an improved effort from Hellebuyck and d-men Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey.
Through the first three games, Talbot and Hellebuyck have stood in the crease for their teams. That should continue to be the case for Game 4. Talbot was strong in both of Calgary’s wins, particularly in Game 3, with 33 saves. The vet went 12-10-1 during the regular season with a 2.63 GAA and .919 save percentage.
Meanwhile, Hellebuyck has faced 30 or more shots in all three games, culminating in allowing ten total goals thus far. He was excellent during the regular season, going 31-21-5 with a 2.57 GAA and .922 save percentage.
A lot will depend on Winnipeg’s injured players suiting up or not. But even if they don’t, I think the Jets will even things up. Hellebuyck is the better goalie, and Winnipeg has been the better team at even strength.
Look for them to try to play a game that attempts to limit Calgary’s chances and shots on goal, as well as one that keeps them out of the penalty box. I’m picking the Jets to send this series to a decisive Game 5.
Pick: Jets +135