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Tkachuk looking to play with edge for Flames in playoffs

Forward's 'annoying' style relished by teammates heading into first round against Avalanche

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

CALGARY -- Matthew Tkachuk's teammates expect him to be at his best when the Calgary Flames play the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference First Round, which begins with Game 1 at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, ALT).

The forward is, after all, equal parts producer and pest.

"It's going to be annoying, that's for sure," Flames forward James Neal said. "I look forward to that. [Tkachuk's] a great player. He's been really good for us all year and this is a really good chance for him to take his game to the next level. There's guys that can be a great player in the regular season, but if you want to take your game to the next level you have to be really good in the playoffs. 

"He has that ability. He annoys guys. He gets them out of their comfort zone, for sure. … That's a sign of a good player. Obviously we love him in our locker room and he's a good kid. He's been fun to be around, fun to play with. He's going to be ready to go. You can just tell."


[RELATED: Complete Flames vs. Avalanche series coverage]


Tkachuk was Calgary's fourth-leading scorer with a breakout season of 77 points (34 goals, 43 assists) in 80 games. He was third in penalty minutes with 62 and was second with 29 minor penalties drawn (forward Johnny Gaudreau drew 42).

Since entering the NHL in 2016-17, only Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (120) has drawn more minor penalties that Tkachuk (118).

Video: VGK@CGY: Tkachuk pots goal off feed from Frolik

"He's definitely got that element in his game," Flames coach Bill Peters said. "It comes to him natural. He enjoys it. He's a skilled guy who's hard to play against. There's few of them in the League.

"He's got a little twinkle in his eye, doesn't he? It'll be fun. He's a big-game player. He likes the spotlight. He likes to be right there in the trenches and in the middle of everything. I'm sure he will."

Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov said he expects Tkachuk to be front and center, for better or worse. 

"I don't think he's a physical player, he just tries to get under the guys' skin," Zadorov said. "He's a little rat on the ice, so we saw that before. It's nothing special. We won't make any specialties for him, we're just going to go up there and play hard against them.

"I don't think we have any players [who are] doing that stuff. Our physical guys just play a physical game; they're not playing dirty. If you want to be a guy like that that people hate, I don't think it's a good thing."

Tkachuk enters the series largely untested in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His only other NHL postseason was two years ago, when he was a 19-year-old rookie; the Flames were swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, and Tkachuk had no points with four penalty minutes. Calgary didn't qualify for the playoffs last season.

"This is my third year, second time in playoffs," Tkachuk said. "I haven't proved anything yet this time of the year. I think for each individual to be successful the team has to be successful. That's what I'm looking forward to."

His teammates are too.

"I think that's what's most frustrating for the other team is he plays an in-your-face, gritty style and is a guy who contributes night in and night out on the scoreboard," Flames captain Mark Giordano said. "I'm sure he'll be at the top of his game. He's been really excited the past couple days. 

"I'm looking forward to getting him out there in Game 1 and seeing what he can do." correspondent Rick Sadowski contributed to this report

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