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PRIMETIME PLAYER

Tkachuk's big night helps Flames win critical, 'playoff-like' tilt against 'Yotes

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

He was an absolute monster - his fingerprints, all over this one.

From the drop of the puck right through to the buzzer, Matthew Tkachuk took over the game like the beast he can be.

Tkachuk was involved in all three goals for the homeside as part of crucial, 3-2 victory over their divisional foes from the Desert, further solidifying their grip on third in the Pacific, and closing the gap on 1-2 Vegas and Edmonton.

It was a game that resembled the kind of high-flying, yet tight-checking style that playoff hockey promises.

And it was, after all, a teaser of what the emotional spring dance could look like.

The kind of hockey No. 19 is built for.

"Yeah, but we've still got to be careful," Tkachuk - ever the stickler - declared post-game. "We were out there for two goals against.

"But, ultimately, you're right - the ones that we were able to put in were the difference, for sure.

Tkachuk got the ball rolling with a beautiful, one-touch pass to Johnny Gaudreau, who walked off the right circle, took it to the middle and rifled a shot over the shoulder of Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper.

Moments earlier, he kept the play alive by retrieving the puck along the half wall and rimming the puck hard to the opposite side, where Gaudreau did the rest.

 

Video: ARI@CGY: Gaudreau puts home PPG from the slot

 

Forty-one seconds later, with nary a breather between shifts, he clobbered Jason Demers in the far corner, gathered up the loose puck and fed TJ Brodie at the right point for the goal-ahead goal.

On the Flames' third and final tally of the night, he did a little bit of everything - from winning a battle, forcing a turnover and gathering a loose puck behind his own net, to moving his feet, taking a hit, beating the forecheckers and springing his linemate with a nifty back pass, Tkachuk's DNA was what orchestrated Mikael Backlund's critical 16th of the season.

"It's way easier playing with the lead than playing from behind," Tkachuk said. "We talked about it this morning. This was very similar to the Columbus team we played the other day. When you fall behind, it's a team that has the ability to shut it down, and you know, we're not able to produce as much when you're trying to press, when you're playing from behind.

"We were tested earlier this year against the same team and they took it to us pretty good when they had the lead, so it was nice to get the lead early after they scored first. We were able to roll after that which was which is really nice."

Along with one shot, two takeaways, two blocks and a game-high five hits in all, Tkachuk was most definitely the straw that stirred the drink in this critical March contest.

"I thought Backs was a beast tonight, too," Tkachuk said. "That goal by him gave us a lot of juice as a team, and put us up by enough to give us a little breathing room.

"He was he was really solid at both ends of the ice and he's been playing awesome right now."

 

 

The Flames had one of their best first periods of the season, thanks to those two.

With the Coyotes in chase and in need of a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, the visitors had a stronger second and really put the Flames on their heels.

But Tkachuk and the Flames had enough in the tank to fend off the dogs, preserve the one-goal advantage, and bring it home in true, playoff fashion.

"We've got to get comfortable in those games, definitely," Tkachuk said. "We were talking about it before the third. 'It's going to be a playoff-type period.' Up one goal.

"Not talking like shut it down in the third, because we still had some chances. But limit their chances, be above them, and get pucks out, have layers so they have to come through guys. They had one, maybe two good chances, but not much."

Playoff teams find ways to win games like that.

And playoff-type players find ways to make a statement like that in them.

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