CALGARY -- Once upon a time David Quinn coached a player named Tkachuk, and the two did quite a bit of winning together. On Friday night in Calgary, different Tkachuk, different story.
A year ago, Brady Tkachuk was Quinn's freshman phenom helping Boston University to a Hockey East championship; on Friday night, Brady's big brother Matthew had a career night very much at the expense of Quinn's Rangers in a 5-1 Blueshirts loss at the Saddledome. Matthew Tkachuk had a hand in all five of the Flames' goals, scoring two of them and setting up the other three, as a tie game through 20 minutes became one that the Rangers couldn't chase down.
Neal Pionk scored the Rangers' goal in the first period, his sixth goal of the season, off a play directed by Ryan Strome - providing a quick answer to Calgary's opening strike and getting the Rangers into first intermission locked in a 1-1 game. But Tkachuk's first of the night, on a redirect of Mark Giordano's shot, broke the tie and proved to be the game-winner as Calgary leapfrogged San Jose into first place in the Pacific Division.
David Rittich, meanwhile, made 24 saves, and made it a frustrating night for Filip Chytil, who was getting into scoring positions throughout the night - the teenager had at least one glorious chance on net in each period, but he couldn't get the drop on the Calgary netminder, who improved to 25-7-5 on the season.
The Rangers won't stew over this loss very long: They are right back at it on Saturday night in St. Paul, closing out their road trip with their fourth game in six nights, this one against a Minnesota Wild team fighting desperately for a playoff spot.
"Quick turnaround," Quinn said. "We've got to dust ourselves off and get ready for tomorrow night."
That sort of fight has been part of the Rangers' trademark this season, in all different types of games. But with his team playing its third game in Western Canada in four nights, Quinn noticed some of the mental aspects of their game slipping.
"it's disappointing," he said. "You want to come out with pace, you're playing a great team, you want to put your best foot forward and give yourself a chance."
It was a career night in a career season for the 21-year-old Tkachuk, son of U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Keith Tkachuk - who upped his career-best totals to 32 goals and 41 assists. Johnny Gaudreau, Garnet Hathaway and Michael Frolik also scored for the Flames, who finished a sweep of a three-game homestand.
Earlier in the day, Quinn had spoken about the mental toughness that Alexandar Georgiev, who "has answered the bell" repeatedly during his rookie season. And the 23-year-old had to summon a good deal of that toughness against the league's fourth-highest scoring team - one that three days earlier had thrown nine goals on the board in a home-ice rout of New Jersey.
"They were pretty good in front of the net, they scored most of their goals there. It's a tough place," Georgiev said. "Just have to battle. … You have to keep playing, keep pushing."
Gaudreau - who scored his fifth career hat trick as part of a six-point night in that Flames rout of New Jersey on Tuesday - opened the scoring in this one right at the 10-minute mark of the first. Near his own net, Tkachuk saw Gaudreau go into full sprint leaving the zone and lobbed a Hail Mary over everybody's heads; Gaudreau reached it first, then had the puck on a string for a breakaway goal.
Video: NYR@CGY: Pionk blasts puck past Rittich
Pionk's answer came just 1:10 later, with Gaudreau and Brendan Smith - who drew four Flames penalties in this game - serving matching slashing minors and the teams skating 4-on-4. Strome gained the line and threw on the brakes, then found Pionk coming late; the blueliner took one look, wound and fired, beating Rittich to the stick side.
Strome's assist was his fourth point in the last four games, and his ninth in the last 12.
Opponents have scored first in each game of this road trip and in six of the Rangers' last seven games overall. At some point playing from behind so often is sure to take its toll on a team - "but it's 1-1, after the first period it's 1-1," Quinn said about this night. What he lamented in the early stages of the second was giving up "goals that are completely avoidable."
"If we had managed the game a little bit better and were a little bit more mentally sharp, we could put ourselves in a better situation to not give up those chances," the coach said.
Tkachuk snapped the tie 2:56 in, deflecting a rising wrister from Giordano, the Flames' 35-year-old captain who picked up his 66th point. And right after Rittich came lunging out to swallow up a Chytil put-back shot, Hathaway made it 3-1 at 4:06, alone atop of the crease to turn his stick blade on Tkachuk's hard feed out of the corner. That one was Tkachuk's 100th NHL assist.
The Rangers allowed only five shots in the second period but returned to their locker room trailing by two.
"We make mistakes like that in front of our own net, and they've got guys that can put it away, and they usually don't make mistakes," said Marc Staal. "It cost us, and we end up going to that third playing down."
Rittich got Chytil one more time in the first 90 seconds of the third, off a patient 2-on-1 feed from Vlad Namestnikov, and it was less than four minutes later that Frolik scored over a helpless Georgiev who, like everybody else in the building, was waiting for Tkachuk to shoot the rebound he had just collected. Tkachuk finished the scoring at 9:49 after taking the legs out from Brady Skjei behind the Ranger net, then finishing off Mikael Backlund's pass.
Afterward, the Rangers headed for the airport for a flight to Minnesota, and as Staal put it, "We have a quick turnaround here tomorrow. We've got to try to get some positive energy going on the flight there, and try to rebound."
"This time of year it's a learning experience for everybody," Quinn said. "We've got to understand what we've got to do to have success in this league. We've had some good nights, but playing hard isn't enough."