The Winnipeg Jets could be without forwards Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine when they play the Calgary Flames in Game 2 of their best-of-5 series in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Monday (2:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, NHL.TV, SN).
If that is the case, it would be the latest test this season for the Jets after losing 4-1 in Game 1 on Saturday.
There hasn’t been a best-of-5 series in the NHL since 1986. The League used them for the preliminary round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs from 1980-86, and the team that won Game 1 went on to win the series 87.5 percent of the time (49 of 56).
Scheifele, Laine and forward Mason Appleton did not practice Sunday.
“So that’s our challenge today,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. “But (we’ve been) getting up off the mat with some work to do seemingly every week, and we’ll get it put to the test now.”
Scheifele sustained a lower-body injury 5:39 into the first period on Saturday during a play along the right boards in which he dumped the puck behind the net and attempted to avoid a hit by Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk. Laine left the game at 5:44 of the third period with an apparent upper-body injury after an exchange with Flames defenseman Mark Giordano.
Maurice said after the game each would see a specialist on Sunday.
But adversity is nothing new for the Jets. They had defenseman Dustin Byfuglien decide not to report this season before each side agreed to terminate his contract on April 17, and they saw three other defensemen (Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot) leave via free agency or trade before the start of the season.
Winnipeg is also playing in the Qualifiers without veteran center Bryan Little, who sustained a perforated eardrum and dealt with vertigo after being struck near the ear by a shot on Nov. 5.
“This is our year,” Maurice said Sunday. “This event, almost the inexplicable, is the story of the Winnipeg Jets from your ‘A’ defenseman not showing up to play, to losing a veteran (Little) for the season, maybe for a career, to all the inexplicable things that (have) happened to this hockey team this year.
“This would be par for the course. I think we had the pause and thought that we had gotten out of that situation, and last night was a reminder we were right back in it, so we’ve got an awful lot of experience with it.”
Now facing the possibility of trying to even the shortened series without their two top centers, one of the biggest decisions Maurice will have to make for Game 2 will be where to use Blake Wheeler. The captain had been playing right wing on the top line with Scheifele and Kyle Connor, but he also played center at times this season following Little’s injury.
Winnipeg also has natural centers Jack Roslovic and Andrew Copp, who played left and right wing, respectively, on the third line with Adam Lowry in Game 1.
If neither Scheifele nor Laine are available to play on Monday, it’s likely forwards Jansen Harkins, who had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 29 games this season, and Gabriel Bourque, who had six points (two goals, four assists) in 52 games, would replace them in the lineup.
“No one single player is going to be able to replace all the things [Scheifele] does,” Lowry said. “It definitely leaves a big hole in our lineup, but it gives an opportunity for guys like [Roslovic], [Copp], [Wheeler] to get even more minutes and kind of try to fill that void.”
Looking ahead, defenseman Neal Pionk said the Jets’ priority should be focusing on their strengths, not the mistakes of Game 1 or potential absences.
“I think we can use our speed,” Pionk said. “We have a fast team, especially up front. We know they’re a physical team and if they get a little overaggressive, we can make a couple of passes and make some plays. We’ll have to carry that into Game 2.”