Sports

Special Flames season not possible without career years from Tkachuk and Gaudreau


The standing ovation midway through the game was every bit as poignant as the one at the end of it.

The first came courtesy of Matthew Tkachuk’s milestone moment, which opened the scoring in a game punctuated by a clinched division title.

On a night in which everyone showed up hoping for both, it was the way they unfolded that was so fitting.

There was Tkachuk, parked in his office at the side of the net, receiving a power-play pass from Johnny Gaudreau he quickly spun into the net from his off-wing.

“If I was a betting man I’d probably say that was the best odds for me to score that one from that spot,” beamed Tkachuk, with the puck in hand following a 4-2 win over Dallas.

“I feel comfortable around the next, I like being around the net, and the way things have been going this year it’s fitting that Johnny was in on it too. Big goal at an important time.”

It was his 40th of the season, giving him an even 100 points.

The celebration almost ended before it began, as the wide-eyed 24-year-old reacted to the thunderous roar with a quick stumble he saved himself from with a hand on the ice.  

“Super excited, and a toe pick because of it,” he laughed, before explaining the trip. “Not enough (speed). There was a lot going on. Mang (Andrew Mangiapane) was coming and I had my arms out for a hug. One of those, kind of, blacked-out moments. Just super excited.

“Coolest part for me was the guys coming in and how they were way more excited than I was. I didn’t think that could be possible.”

No one would have believed either celebration was possible six months earlier, making it such a special night at the Saddledome.

Well, special for everyone not named Darryl Sutter.

“Team deserves it,” he shrugged. “Been the most consistent team in the division, deserved to win the division, regular season.”

Then came the money quote.

“I’ve won lots of em. It goes up there and you get nothing for it.”

Fair enough. But given that the NHL is in the entertainment business, this was a night Flames fans deserved to enjoy.

Ditto for Tkachuk, who was the first Flame since Jarome Iginla in 2010-11 to crack the 40-goal plateau. He and Gaudreau are just the fourth duo in team lore to eclipse 100 points in the same season. Last time was 1990-91 when Theo Fleury and Al MacInnis turned the trick.

“What hits immediately is I never would have imagined that happening,” said Tkachuk, who was mobbed by jubilant teammates as he raised both hands in the air and grinned through the mouthguard he so famously chews like a cigar. 

“If that happened in a loss I guarantee you myself and the rest of the team wouldn’t be that excited about it. We’re not stopping there. We’ve got bigger goals for our team.”

The lads were plenty proud of clinching the Pacific division for the second time in four years on home ice where this team distanced itself from the pack by winning 11 in a row at home as part of the games made up after Covid shut the team down at Christmas.

After missing the playoffs last year, the fans have been treated to a special season, dotted by plenty of individual accomplishments the coach hates talking about.

Fact is, without the career numbers being posted by Tkachuk, Gaudreau and many of their teammates, home ice for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs isn’t possible.

Tkachuk deserved his due, just as Gaudreau did when he recently hit the century mark in front of his visiting folks.    

“This is really the only place in the whole league that would give me an applause like that,” said Tkachuk. “That was really, really cool. Kind of fitting because I would love to have gotten it with my parents in attendance in Nashville (two nights ago), but I got to beat my dad’s (career-high 98-points) there, pretty cool.

“Then to get it at home in front of these unbelievable fans that have been so great to me my whole career. So special.”

And timely.

“It was a great night: Big win, Chucky got 100 points, crowd was really into it,” said Mikael Backlund, who created the traffic in front that led to a Chris Tanev game-winner bouncing in off of Luke Glendening.  “Special night. It’s an accomplishment to win the division.

“But we’re not satisfied yet. We want to do something really big here. We know we can do it.”



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