EDMONTON – This is the type of moment Matthew Tkachuk lives for.
It’s the type of game that begs for his skill set.
It is now, with the Calgary Flames on the brink of elimination, that Tkachuk is needed most.
Whether it be with a goal, a pass, a big hit, some stick work, a facewash or simply his mouth, the NHL’s top agitator has the ability to use his sixth sense for when and how to turn his team’s fortunes around.
His departure from the series, following a Jamie Sandwich (hit simultaneously by Jamie Benn and Jamie Oleksiak in Game 2), coincides with the Dallas Stars taking over with a stifling defence that has been almost impenetrable at 5-on-5.
The Stars have carried all the momentum ever since.
Without someone like him helping to sustain offensive pressure, the Flames’ best hope to score appears to be on the power play, which he not only dominates down low on, but helps create as the man who has drawn more penalties in the NHL than anyone else the past four years.
His net-front presence and ability to redirect shots are also sorely missed on a team that has been kept to the perimeter the entire series, unable to mount many serious threats offensively.
He could help change that.
Tkachuk revels in cycling down low, working the wall and creating offence from those places — something the team hasn’t been able to do with any success of late.
His ability to distract, impede and infuriate goalies could be key to disrupting Anton Khudobin, who hasn’t been nearly as busy as Cam Talbot.
Geoff Ward reiterated Wednesday that Tkachuk’s status remains day-to-day. Assistant coach Ryan Huska suggested earlier this week that Tkachuk is “getting closer.”
Ward refused to answer whether Tkachuk has skated at all since the injury, which could be anything from a groin to a concussion.
The odds are strong he won’t be back in time for Game 6 (or 7 if necessary), which would be a shame given all he can provide.
Unlike the Flames’ previous series, when talk out of Winnipeg revolved incessantly around the crushing absence of Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, no one seems to contemplate how different things in this tight series might be with the Flames’ leading scorer in the lineup.
Tkachuk’s importance to Calgary has never been more evident than now, when this close series could be swayed by his spark, emotional leadership and offensive prowess.
Livestream the Flames in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, plus every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Sportsnet NOW.
Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane were the team’s best line the last two months of the season — but without the 22-year-old assistant captain, the line has been quiet up front.
Tobias Rieder filled in admirably on that line Tuesday, bringing energy, emotion and defensive responsibility. Backund scored the Flames’ only goal – an unassisted finish preceded by an elite fake to open up a shooting lane.
But it’s not the same.
“You don’t replace a Matthew Tkachuk,” coach Geoff Ward said. “You have to do it by committee.”
This committee just can’t find a way to solve the defensive wall the Stars have perfected over the past 20 years.
Tkachuk specializes in disrupting such structure.
Although unlikely, imagine the impact it could have on the team to have Tkachuk stride out for warmup, to be part of the team’s biggest game in his NHL career?
It’s the type of kickstart the Flames could use as they try to stave off another off-season of questions and even the series, 3-3.
“He’s so skilled offensively – he’s in their face and all over their defencemen,” said Sam Bennett, the closest thing to Tkachuk the Flames have in these playoffs.
“He’s an important player – if we get him back it would be huge, a big boost. If not, other guys have to step up and perform.”
Easier said than done.
AROUND THE GLASS: Two Flames players suited up with heavy hearts Tuesday following the death of Dale Hawerchuk – Andrew Mangiapane and Rasmus Andersson. Both were coached by Hawerchuk with the Barrie Colts. “Dale is a great man,” said Mangiapane, a sixth-round pick. “I don’t know where I’d be without him. Very sad news today. I owe my whole career to him and the Barrie organization.” Andersson fondly recalled Hawerchuk inviting him to his house to welcome him to Canada as a teen. “Dale was a fantastic human being. Such a great person. Obviously, he was a really good coach too. I really feel for the families – it’s awful news.” … Just wondering when Blake Comeau is going to get the bill for smashing a hole in the glass with his stick earlier in the series to delay the game. Surely he should have to pay for his destructive rage … Funny moment after the national anthem before Game 5 when Flames owner Al Markin screamed out, “Go Flames Go” in the otherwise quiet, empty Rogers Place. Markin, who flies in for every game, wanted to show his support and just couldn’t help himself … This is the first playoff series to feature a short-handed goal in four straight games since the Canucks and Blues’ first round series in 1995, when they scored shorties in five straight games.