Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk wants to be a playoff difference-maker

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CALGARY — In a low-scoring playoff opener, Matthew Tkachuk made a difference in ways a multi-faceted player can.

Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm both generated a team-leading 42 goals in the regular season for the Calgary Flames.

In a 1-0 win over the Dallas Stars to open their conference quarterfinal series Tuesday, Tkachuk was held without a goal, but was the straw that stirred the Flames' drink in the opening period.

A few opening hip checks, setting up the lone goal scored by Lindholm, a thunderous hit on Stars defenceman John Klingberg and a buzzer fight with Michael Rassl that sparked another scrap provided the Saddledome a plethora of entertainment in the first 20 minutes of the game.

"Matthew, he's a leader on our team. He's a player that's definitely built for playoffs," Flames defenceman Noah Hanifin said Wednesday at the Saddledome.

"He's playing his best hockey when he gets that emotion going.

"He's a physical presence, but he's also got so much skill, and he can kind of play any type of game."

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Thursday in Calgary before switching to American Airlines Center in Dallas for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday respectively.

Tkachuk's 42 goals and 62 assists for a career-high 104 points in the regular season makes the 24-year-old relied upon for post-season production alongside Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau.

The six-foot-two, 200-pound winger also plays a hard-edged style, and has since his NHL debut at age 18, that complements his expanding skill set.

"I just enjoy playing playoff hockey and try and make a difference, no matter which way that is," Tkachuk said.

"(If) it's a low-scoring game, you've got to try to make a difference in more ways than scoring. Playoff hockey is his the best hockey. We haven't had that much success in it."

Tkachuk's playoff experiences in his first five years in the NHL were forgettable. Calgary missed the post-season twice and was ousted quickly in the first round twice.

Tkachuk's concussion took him out of a first-round series against the Stars two years ago in Edmonton's playoff bubble, where Calgary lost out in six games to Dallas.

"I think that not just me, but for the guys that have been here before it's experiences that were pretty upsetting and frustrating at the time, but the best that we could have done with that happening is you have to use it as motivation, you have to use it as a learning moment because we never want to have that feeling," Tkachuk said.

Flames head coach Darryl Sutter is loath to praise players individually, particularly in the post-season, but allowed that Tkachuk was "a forceful player" in the series opener.

"He's the heartbeat right now," Flames forward Blake Coleman said post-game.

"He's a tough guy to play against. This is obviously a big stage for him. He had a great season. I expect we haven't seen the best of Matthew Tkachuk yet."

Tkachuk knocking Klingberg into the boards behind Calgary's net in the dying seconds of Tuesday's first period drew the ire of Rassl, who upended Tkachuk with his stick.

The two battled at the buzzer.

As their bout ended, Klingberg and Flames defenceman Rasmus Andersson threw punches, which resulted in top defencemen on both clubs ejected from the game.

Klingberg's veiled threat at Andersson post-game generated a talking point ahead of Game 2.

"I'm not saying I'm a tough guy, but he's acting tougher than he his," Klingberg said.

"He's the one guy there in the scrum, he doesn't have a guy. He's standing there shaking his gloves to me like he wants to go against me.

"He's acting a little tougher than he is. We're going to go after him."

Said Tkachuk: "I don't even really know what that means 'going after somebody' but I think we've got enough guys who can handle ourselves outside of Raz, who can handle himself quite well."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2022

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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