The Calgary Flames are looking for a hero in Game 7 tonight.
Like most kids growing up with a hockey stick in hand, Matthew Tkachuk, pretended to be one countless times.
“It’s the stuff you dream about as a kid. Just picture millions of times scoring that big goal or wining that big game,” said the Flames winger. “It always revolved around Game 7. Very cool that I get a chance to play in one.”
In six seasons as a member of the Calgary Flames, this is Tkachuk’s first Game 7 appearance.
Given his tendency to provide big moments over his career, he’s a great candidate to rise to the occasion against the Dallas Stars in the winner-take-all scenario.
It’s also true that his playoff reputation has taken a bit of a hit through the first half-dozen contests. His previous playoff experience produced just three goals and five points in 15 games. And while the 24-year-old has engaged in these last six – throwing hits and fists and talking some trash – Tkachuk still hasn’t scored.
Granted, goals have been hard to come by in a series featuring tight checking and stellar goaltending from Jake Oettinger. But aside from the early rough stuff in Games 1 and 3, Tkachuk hasn’t been overly noticeable.
There has been some speculation about a hand injury from the fights. Others are looking at the past-years’ playoff numbers and his four assists this year and wondering if he is built for the post-season.
Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter chalks up some of his players’ struggles to make an impact to inexperience.
“For guys that haven’t been in Game 7s, it’s time to step up,” Sutter said. “If there’s guys in a series that haven’t been as productive as they’d like, it’s an opportunity to be a hero.”
Sounds like a lot of pressure. But Sutter says that’s not a bad thing.
“Pressure’s a good thing. In the long run, that’s what separates you. I’ve been through a number of those Game 7s,” said Sutter, who has been in many as a player but also more than any other coach in the history of the league. “In the end, that’s what separates you from where you stand in the league, too, as a player.”
Tkachuk said on Sunday morning that he’s looking forward to that pressure. And the opportunity that’s in front of him.
“Pressure’s good. Nervous energy is good. If you don’t have that, you’re probably going to come out flat,” said Tkachuk. “For myself, this is going to be the greatest atmosphere I’ve ever played in no matter what level. I’m expecting big things from the C of Red out there.”
And the C of Red is expecting big things from Tkachuk.
“Somebody’s got to make that big play,” said Tkachuk. “It’s pretty much what all Game 7s, from what I can remember, have been like.
“Obviously want to get that big goal here, make that big play here.”