'There is a World Cup feel to this': Winnipeg Jets brace for series opener

The Winnipeg Jets had their final full practice on Friday ahead of Saturday’s start to the NHL’s qualifying round.

The Jets and Calgary Flames are the fifth and final game on the schedule, and won’t drop the puck on game one until 9:30 p.m. Manitoba time. So there’ll be some nervous anticipation leading up to their first real game in more than four months, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s going to be a lot of coffee in the morning, and a lot of waiting in the afternoon,” Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice said.

The next 24 hours will probably feel like an eternity for Jets’ players as the long wait finally comes to an end.

“It’s a long day for sure,” Jets forward Patrik Laine said. “But try to stay active, try to get some rest, take care of your body and your mind. And do whatever you need to do to be ready when the puck drops.”

READ MORE: ‘It’s been pretty darn normal’: Winnipeg Jets enter ‘the bubble’ ahead of first exhibition game

When the puck does drop on the playoff run, experience is usually one of the key factors come playoff time, but no one has been through anything like this ever before.

“There is a World Cup feel to this,” said Maurice. “But this is completely different. What it has allowed me to realize is that you need to look at this as a special time, and to enjoy it.”

Another big difference this time around is that almost everybody is completely healthy.

“I think you’re going to see just fantastic hockey,” Maurice said. “You’re not carrying 70, 80 games on you. So there’s a real enthusiasm for the hockey.”

READ MORE: Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets square off in game 1 of qualifying round

Matthew Tkachuk was the Flames leading scorer this season with 61 points in 69 games, but the Jets are also quite aware of his reputation as an agitator with the ability to be a thorn in the side of opponents.

“He’s really good around the net and he’s not afraid to go there,” Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey said. “He’s a great player, and we’re going to have to really do a good job against him if we’re going to have success.”

“The style that maybe he plays during the regular season becomes more the style that everybody plays in the playoffs,” said Maurice. “It’s a gritty game.”

READ MORE: Hextall on Hockey: Hellebuyck, Tkachuk the stars in Jets vs. Flames

The Jets won their only meeting with the Flames, but that was way back in October on the outdoor ice when the Flames had a different head coach. And the Flames are listed by oddsmakers as slight favourites.

“We would know the Calgary Flames less than any other team in the NHL,” Maurice said.

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