The Winnipeg Jets‘ 4-1 exhibition win over Vancouver Wednesday night is in the books and the next game is for real.
While hockey is the ultimate team sport, this series comes down to two players: in net for the Jets, Connor Hellebuyck, and out front for the Flames, Matthew Tkachuk.
A Vezina Trophy nominee this season, Hellebuyck has been a workhorse for the Jets. He led all NHL goalies in games played with 58 and his shots faced, saves and six shutouts topped all ‘tenders. Hellebuyck was in net for 31 of the Jets’ 37 wins this season and is a major advantage for Winnipeg against Calgary.
The Flames have rotated between their two goalies in David Rittich and Cam Talbot, but neither has stepped up as the starter this season and statistically, they both reside in backup status for most NHL teams.
Read more: Flames, Jets the all-Canadian clash
The Jets have a definite advantage in net against the Flames in the five-game series, but out front, there is a forward — with a last name familiar to Jets fans — that Hellebuyck will deal with often: No. 19 in red, Matthew Tkachuk.
Tkachuk is a star. The 22-year old is the Flames’ leading scorer with 61 points in 68 games. His 23 goals are second on the team to Elias Lindholm.
The Jets’ biggest question is, how do you solve him?
Not only because he’s such a talent but also because he’s fearless and he’s a major pain; the ultimate instigator.
The guy you hate when he’s your opponent but would love to have on your team.
How do you stop him from getting under the skin of Hellebuyck and the likes of Mark Scheifele? It will be a challenge, but one that Winnipeg will accept.