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Tkachuk, Flames ready to turn up heat in Western Conference

Forward says Calgary looking to go on playoff run like Predators did last season

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com Correspondent

TORONTO -- Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames are looking at what the Nashville Predators did last season as motivation for what they hope to accomplish this season. Nashville got into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the second wild card from the Western Conference and advanced to the Cup Final.

"We all saw what Nashville did last year, you just have to go on a run," Tkachuk, 19, said Thursday at the annual Smashfest Charity Ping-Pong Challenge. "Hopefully we can go on a run this year. You can't think about the playoffs already, but for us, we didn't have the start we wanted to last year, so this year we just need a better start. We were a little bit streaky last year, but this year if we play more consistently, we should have a good team and do well."

The Flames were 10-13-2 on Nov. 28 and were not in a playoff spot. They recovered to earn the first wild card but were swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference First Round.

Tkachuk, the No. 6 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, was in Calgary's opening night lineup as an 18-year-old. The forward had 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists) in 76 games as a rookie, but the way the season ended left a bad taste in his mouth.

 

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"You could take some positives and negatives from the season," Tkachuk said. "I think we had a team where we could have gone a little bit deeper than we did, but unfortunately the playoffs weren't exactly how we drew it up. Personally, from making the team and playing in the regular season and getting in the playoffs, you don't really think about anything personally from the season, you just want to be on a winning team, so hopefully I can be a part of that this year."

Despite the disappointment of being swept, Tkachuk felt there were valuable lessons to be learned from the experience.

"I can relate to the playoffs now," he said. "You're playing teams that are so good, and in the playoffs, anything can happen. We obviously didn't win a game, but I felt like we were in all the games and could have won at least a couple.

"You have to be able to bounce back, and I don't know if we bounced back as well as we could have in the playoffs. You expect there to be some extra jump in the playoffs, but you don't realize how every shift, every time single time you touch the puck, there is somebody on you, everybody is backchecking hard. It's crazy how much more intense the playoffs are."

Heading into his second NHL season, Tkachuk is not worried about experiencing a sophomore slump and isn't approaching training any differently since he played for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program from 2013-15.

"I've prepared the same for any season every year whether it was with the USA team a couple years ago, the London Knights [of the Ontario Hockey League], the NHL, it doesn't matter," he said. "I just prepare in the summer, slowly start getting on the ice more so I'm hitting my stride when it comes to the first game."

The Flames acquiring goaltender Mike Smith in a trade from the Arizona Coyotes on June 17 and defenseman Travis Hamonic in a trade from the New York Islanders on June 24. They join a roster led by defenseman Mark Giordano, 33, and forwards Johnny Gaudreau, 23, and Sean Monahan, 22.

"I was very, very excited to see those moves," Tkachuk said. "Everybody's been asking me how busy my summer has been but I think our GM (Brad Treliving) has been the most busy on our team. That, along with the guys wanting to come play in Calgary, I think it's a spot you want to come play in right now. Obviously with the guys on our back end and our depth up front and now adding Mike Smith, I think we have a solid team."

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