The Winnipeg Jets not only lost Game 1 of their qualifying round series against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night, they also may have lost one of their best players in the process. Mark Scheifele suffered a lower body injury during the first period of the series opener and didn't return to the game.
During a play along the boards, Scheifele went down awkwardly and appeared to take a skate to the back of the leg from Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk. It was immediately clear that Scheifele was in an immense amount of pain as he fell to the ice and clutched at his leg while screaming in pain. He couldn't put any weight on the leg as he left the ice with the help of trainers and teammates.
Over the course of his first four seasons in the league, Tkachuk has earned a reputation of being a pest that is greatly disliked by opponents. After Saturday's Game 1, Jets coach Paul Maurice was adamant that the Flames forward intentionally tried to injure Scheifele on the play.
"It was intentional," Maurice said. "It was a filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg. You can't see it on the program [camera] feed, but you take the blue-line feed and you zoom in. He went after the back of his leg. Could have cut his Achilles [tendon]. Could have ended the man's career. It's an absolutely filthy, disgusting hit."
Asked about the incident after the game, Tkachuk frustratingly laughed off the idea that it was intentional before saying he "felt terrible" about what happened.
"No, absolutely not," Tkachuk said. "I'm backchecking on him. It's such an accident. I felt terrible. He was turning away, and I just went in and my left skate had a little bit of the speed wobbles. I was probably moving too fast for myself, and I was going down. It looked like my leg probably jammed him up.
"I feel terrible. He's a top player in the NHL and someone I've gotten to know in the past few summers [training with him]. It's not good for the game when somebody like that isn't in the game. It was very unfortunate and unlucky. But there's really nothing that could have happened."
Intentional or not, Scheifele's injury could have a major impact on Winnipeg's postseason hopes this year. He's the top line center on a team already thin down the middle and had a team-high 73 points (29 goals, 44 assists) for the Jets this season. Add in the fact that Winnipeg also may have lost another top forward in Patrik Laine, who exited Saturday's game with an apparent wrist or hand injury, and things look pretty dire.
Both Scheifele and Laine will be evaluated by specialists on Sunday.