But playoff animosity didn’t take long to brew in Calgary’s 4-1 win over the Jets to start their qualifying round series Saturday.
Winnipeg didn’t recover from losing centre Mark Scheifele to a left-leg injury in the first period. The Jets were outshot 33-18 and dominated by the Flames in the second period.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice accused Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk of intentionally injuring Winnipeg’s scoring co-leader, which Tkachuk denied.
"It was a filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg," Maurice said. "He went after the back of the leg. He could have cut his Achilles (tendon). He could have ended the man’s career.
"It’s an absolutely filthy, disgusting hit."
Tkachuk’s reputation is one of playing on the edge, but the forward insisted what happened to Scheifele was bad luck.
"It was such an accident and I feel terrible about it," Tkachuk said. "I hope he’s OK because he’s a top player in this league and he’s great for the game."
Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan produced power-play goals and Tobias Rieder scored shorthanded in the second. Andrew Mangiapane added an empty-net goal.
"It was a really good complete game from power play to penalty kill to goaltending, five on five I thought we did a great job tonight," Gaudreau said.
Andrew Copp countered for the Jets in the first period.
Cam Talbot earned his first playoff win as a Flame with 17 saves.
Whether it was the 33-year-old or David Rittich who would get the nod for the opener of the best-of-five series was much-debated in Calgary, and not revealed until game time.
Talbot had less work than Vezina Trophy nominee and Jets counterpart Connor Hellebuyck, who stopped 29 shots in the loss.
Calgary’s goaltender weathered three straight Jets power-play chances in the third, however.
"Every save is important in a game like that especially when the guy at the other end is up for the Vezina," Talbot said. "You know he’s not going to give up too many.
"You can’t say enough about how well we played in our d-zone tonight. I didn’t have to make a ton of Grade A saves tonight."
The potential loss of Scheifele would be devastating for Winnipeg’s Stanley Cup prospects. The Jets’ No. 1 centre had 73 points, including a team-leading 44 assists this season.
Scheifele scored 14 playoffs goals for the Jets en route to the Western Conference final two years ago.
"We don’t know the severity of it," Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler said. "We don’t know what’s going to happen."
"Arguably your top offensive player and log so many minutes. You can’t replicate what he brings to our lineup."
The Flames (36-27-7) ranked eighth in the conference and the Jets (37-28-6) ninth when the NHL suspended the season March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their one previous meeting was the Oct. 26 outdoor Heritage Classic in Regina, which Winnipeg won 2-1 in overtime.
Scheifele appeared to jam his left leg under him skating into the boards, as Tkachuk applied his arm to Scheifele’s back.
While Scheifele writhed in pain, Winnipeg’s bench directed a stream of expletives at Calgary’s. No penalty was called on the play at 5:41 of the opening period.
Tkachuk denied his skate made contact with Scheifele’s.
Wheeler summoned Tkachuk for retributive justice on the Flames forward’s next shift. Tkachuk obliged and the two traded punches.
Just 31 seconds after that scrap, Adam Lowry dished a backhand from behind the net out front to Copp to whip over Talbot’s glove.
But the Jets otherwise mustered little offence. Their power play held scoreless on seven chances.
Winnipeg’s attack was further weakened in the third period when Patrik Laine headed to the dressing room after a collision with Flames captain Mark Giordano.
Backlund buried a high shot on Hellebuyck’s blocker side at 18:14 of the second period. Calgary’s Rieder shelved a backhand on a short-handed breakaway at 12:51.
The puck bobbling on a pass from Sean Monahan, Gaudreau deftly corralled it to get a sharp-angled shot away and by Hellebuyck’s glove at 7:06.
In the lone Canadian-team matchup of the qualifying round, the Jets and Flames got their first taste of playoff hockey without fans.
The cold, cavernous interior of Edmonton’s Rogers Place was tarted up with multiple large light screens throwing colour onto blue netting covering empty seats.
The clack of the puck on sticks and exhortations from the players’ benches were often the only sounds heard after faceoffs.
Calgary was the home team Saturday and will be again for Game 2 on Monday. Winnipeg is the home club in Tuesday’s Game 3.