WINNIPEG — Head coach Rick Bowness is predicting an intensity similar to an NHL playoff-series clincher when his Winnipeg Jets host the Calgary Flames on Wednesday.
“(Wednesday) night is probably going to be like a Game 7 for both teams,” Bowness said after the Jets practised Tuesday. “I think that’s the importance of the game for both teams.”
Bowness says it may not be an elimination game, but the Jets will treat it like one.
“There’s still three (games) for them, four for us after, but that’s the mentality both teams will probably have going into the game.”
The Jets head into the Western Conference match clinging to the second wild-card playoff spot with 89 points (43-31-3). They’ll have to wait to see if Calgary (36-26-15)) moves into a tie with them if the Flames pick up two points in their home game Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.
A tie in points would still give the Jets the second berth for now because they have more regulation wins than the Flames.
Wednesday’s game is Winnipeg’s annual Pride Night in support of the LGBTQ+ community and all the Jets will wear themed jerseys during pre-game warmup.
Players viewed the importance of the meeting with Calgary in the same vein as Bowness.
Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo was asked if it feels like a game of the year for the team.
“For sure. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “Obviously, I’m sure the NHL’s pretty happy with the way it lined up, schedule-wise.
“Two Canadian teams, obviously it raises the stakes a little bit. We know it’s a massive game.”
Jets forward Adam Lowry described it as a “huge” game.
“Coming down the stretch, Calgary, Nashville, those are the two teams we’re fighting (with),” he said. “It’s as close to a must-win as you’ll get in the regular season.”
The Predators are five points back of the Jets and host Vegas Tuesday night.
The Jets might have an advantage over the Flames because of the schedule.
Winnipeg has won its past two games with a combined 12 goals, including Sunday’s 6-1 victory over New Jersey and last Friday’s 6-2 win against Detroit. Both the Red Wings and Devils were coming off games the night before.
“This time of year it’s huge to have a little bit of extra rest and the ability to refocus, and each one of these games kind of feels like a playoff game for us,” Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey said.
“It really is for us in terms of trying to get in (to the playoffs), so a little extra rest, sleeping at home and everything else makes a big difference.”
Wednesday’s contest is the third game of Winnipeg’s five-game homestand, where they sport a 24-12-2 record at Canada Life Centre.
The back-to-back victories came after Bowness juggled lines to spark some offence. That features a top trio with Mark Scheifele on the right wing instead of at centre, Kyle Connor on the left and Pierre-Luc Dubois in the middle.
“It wasn’t that we weren’t creating the chances, there was just no finish,” Bowness said. “We changed the lines up a little bit just to give it a different look. Now the puck is going in. As long as that keeps going, we’ll keep going the way we’re going.”
PLAYING FOR PRIDE
While some NHL clubs and individual players have opted out of taking part in the Pride Night warmup, Lowry said the players decided together to all wear the themed jerseys.
“Diversity and inclusion are certainly important,” Lowry said. “You want everyone, whether they are playing the game of hockey or a fan of the game of hockey, to feel comfortable being who they are, what they believe in, their sexual orientation.
“I think visibility matters. We’ve come to the decision we’re going to wear it. I think that’s a positive.”
The players won’t use rainbow-taped sticks in warmup because a team spokesperson said some only use one stick, but they’ll tape sticks later to be auctioned off in June with the themed jerseys in support of programs in the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’ve got friends that are in the community so, for me, it’s really important,” DeMelo said. “I know the struggles they’ve been through and to make it inclusive for everybody it’s very important for me, so I’m really happy that we’re doing it.
“We’re a top-class organization here and I think the fans are going to enjoy it. Everybody’s going to have a good night.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2023.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press