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Willes' Musings: Rust makes for some exciting hockey inside the Edmonton bubble

Milan Lucic #17 of the Calgary Flames takes a shot as Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets defends in Game One of the Western Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 01, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta.
Milan Lucic #17 of the Calgary Flames takes a shot as Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets defends in Game One of the Western Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 01, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta.

In honour of playoff hockey in August, we offer the following bubblicious musings and mediations on the world of sports:


Tkachuk’s intent remains unclear

Paul Maurice, who’s experienced some memorable wins in his six years as head coach of the Winnipeg Jets, was asked where Monday afternoon’s victory over the Calgary Flames ranked.

“It’s a real good question,” he said. “It’s top five for me.”

If that’s the case, you’d like to see the other four.

After a tumultuous two days that featured a devastating injury to Jets star Mark Scheifele, pointed commentary directed by the Jets at the Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk and another injury to sniper Patrik Laine, the Jets evened their qualifying-round series with an improbable 3-2 win on Monday afternoon.

The victory featured a goal by call-up Jansen Harkins, one of the players filling in for Scheifele; Nikolai Ehlers first-ever playoff goal after 22 games with the Jets; and enough bite and snarl to turn Tuesday’s Game 3 into appointment viewing.

“In the game we learned a lot of things we’re going to keep to ourselves,” said Ehlers.

But you could guess at some of them.

In Game 1, the Jets lost Scheifele early in the first period when he collided with Tkachuk, the Flames’ uber-agitator. Subsequent replays failed to reveal any premeditation on Tkachuk’s part and the Flames’ forward pleaded his innocence.

But that’s not the way Maurice or the Jets saw it.

“It was intentional,” Maurice said after the game. “It was a filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg.”

The Jets, of course, have faced their share of adversity this season with the sudden defection of Dustin Byfuglien and a season-ending injury to Bryan Little. But Scheifele and Laine represent about 70 goals and 160 points to their lineup.

Still, they found a way Monday with Ehlers scoring the winner on a deflection as he was being cross-checked with his back toward the Flames’ net.

It’s a crazy game this game we play,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “It’s an odd-shaped puck and there are cracks in the ice and the puck takes bounces for and against you. Sometimes you wonder if the hockey gods are against you.”

But for one game at least, they smiled on the Jets. Maurice didn’t offer any updates on Scheifele or Laine after the game: “I’m not going to give up an advantage on any part of this thing,” he said.

But he did offer this gem on the difference between playoff hockey and the regular season: It’s almost two different sports.”

Even when it’s played in the middle of summer in an empty arena.


Some general thoughts on the games thus far

— Special teams generally play a determining role in the post-season, but they’ve taken on an added importance early in the qualifying round. The first five games produced 58 power plays, which works out to an average of more than 11 man-advantage situations per game. There were 10 power play goals over those five games.

Penalty killing, moreover, isn’t exactly a strength of the Canucks. They finished 16th in the NHL during the regular season with an 80.5 kill rate and one of the reasons Jake Virtanen isn’t in the lineup is they’re thin on penalty killers.

— The rust factor has been self-evident for each team but sloppy hockey is generally more exciting than structured hockey. Not all the games were shootouts but there were enough scoring chances, odd-man rushes and scrambles to provide an entertaining product.

— It’s conceded the Calder will come down to Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar, but you wonder if Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik would have been a factor if the regular season had concluded.

Kubalik, who had five points in the Hawks 6-4 win over Edmonton on Saturday, had 30 goals when play was suspended and Chicago had 12 games left on their schedule. If he gets that number up to the high 30s, he might have changed some voters minds.


Pettersson holds his own

He didn’t hit the scoresheet but Elias Pettersson handled the extra attention afforded him by the Minnesota Wild in his first playoff game.

The Wild, as you’d expect, played him hard and played him physically, but, except for a late hit by Marcus Foligno in the third period that went unpenalized, there was nothing out of the ordinary for the post-season.

“It was about what I expected,” Pettersson said. “An intense game. A lot of hits. Both teams battling. Both teams want to win.”

“It’s the same with every team,” said Alex Edler. “We try to be hard on their top guys. He’s just got to keep doing what he’s doing. He knows how good he is. He’s got to battle through it.”

Hoop memories

We told you about the Canucks posting a video of Elias Pettersson shooting baskets during the lockdown. Now here’s a related entry from the limited Scandinavian hockey star playing basketball in Edmonton genre.

Some 30 years ago, Teemu Selanne and a younger, spryer reporter took on Phil Housley and Tie Domi in a spirited game of two-on-two at the old Centre Club in Edmonton.

We lost. Teemu, great guy, great hockey player, terrible at hoops. These are the things you think about at the end of the road.


The case for Evander Kane

And finally, Evander Kane has been branded as many things throughout his NHL career: talented, yes, but also lazy, immature, selfish and, ultimately, a coach-killer. He’s been traded twice, which generally doesn’t happen to a player with his skill set unless, you know, there’s a problem. And the second time, when he went from Buffalo to San Jose, he was dealt for 50 cents on the dollar.

But when you hear Kane speak these days on behalf of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, you see someone different; you see a leader, someone trying to make a difference while holding authority accountable.

Kane, the 29-year-old Vancouverite, has become one of the leading voices in the HDA, a relatively new group which has found its way into the game’s new cycle. The NHL, it seems, has noticed the world is changing and has adopted racism as one of its causes. Great, but their early efforts have registered as contrived and hollow, an continuing photo op which offers little in the way of substance and Kane has called them on it.

“The NHL can put ‘Black Lives Matter’ all over the rink, shout “Black Lives Matter from the mountains,” Kane told TSN’s Frank Seravalli. “No matter what they do or say they’re going to fall on deaf ears with every other person in HDA because the league has made no effort to support its own Black players.”

Wait a minute. That wasn’t in the NHL’s script.

This was the opening salvo in what promises to be a long campaign but, at the very least, Kane and his colleagues have put the NHL on notice. They’re agitating for change. They have concrete goals which are expressed on their website. These are serious men on a mission.

This isn’t something we’re throwing together as a publicity stunt,” Kane said on Sportsnet. “This is something we’re trying to do to create a cause and effect and change and grow out game in the right way, in a way it’s never been grown before.

“This is only a start.”

No, it takes time to change people’s hearts but this appears to be the time for Kane and his group.

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