When the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars kick off their first-round clash, it will feature a collision between Matthew Tkachuk and the man who helped design the template for him as a player: Corey Perry. Catch all the action starting at 5:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet. Full broadcast details for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs can be found here.
EDMONTON – Shortly after Drew Doughty called Matthew Tkachuk the most hated man in the NHL a few years back, the young Calgary Flames winger was asked whether he agreed with comparisons to Corey Perry and Brad Marchand.
He was okay with it, because of the resume the two have been building as Hall of Fame candidates.
“Corey Perry and Marchand have done a lot in their career — they’ve won Cups and been able to produce offensively and that’s what I look up to, the way they play the game from an offensive standpoint first and foremost,” said Tkachuk.
“I think you just want to be known as a guy who plays the game hard and is part of a winning team.”
Asked if playing with an edge helps make him an effective player, he added, “To a certain extent, but I just can’t be running around doing stupid stuff.”
Which leads us to Tuesday’s first round match-up against a Dallas Stars team that features the 35-year-old Perry — a man who helped set the template for 22-year-old Tkachuk as a rugged, agitating scoring threat who seems to relish the ability to wear the black hat in every arena in which he plays.
Both are first-round picks who starred at the world juniors and won Memorial Cups with the London Knights. Everywhere they’ve played they’ve used their 6-foot-2-ish, 205-pound frames to stir things up. They both have a knack for taking the temperature of a game and ramping it up by careening into netminders, finishing big hits, dispensing the odd whack and targeting opponents with verbal barrages.
Knee surgery and age have relegated Perry to the third line where the former Hart and Rocket Richard Trophy winner scored just five goals and picked up a third of the 61 points Tkachuk had this season.
However, you can bet the duo will find a way to be front and centre in a series that threatens to have either spark fireworks at any given time.
“It could be awesome for sure,” grinned Flames coach Geoff Ward when asked about the two villains. “Both guys are highly competitive and extremely smart players.
“The skill level is there, they love to compete, they play on the edge. There’s a lot of similarities between them. Both have strong leadership qualities – they both love the game. I could go on with the accolades for both.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see both of them on the same ice. Those are certainly two players hockey fans are going to be watching through the series.”
One of the men watching closely will be Theo Fleury, who helped write the book on being a controversial star while playing with an edge.
“There are no more of those guys around,” said the former Flames fireball whose stellar resume also includes a Stanley Cup and Olympic gold (like Perry), over 1,000 points and 1,800 penalty minutes.
“Those are the kind of guys that change a series, change momentum. Those guys are effective guys… if you don’t cross the line. Sometimes I crossed the line and put my team at a disadvantage, and I see Corey Perry do that throughout his career. But I haven’t seen Matthew cross that line where he’s a detriment to his team. There’s that fine line. Especially in the playoffs that’s where these guys can be incredibly effective or be a detriment.”
A fine line indeed – one that had the hockey world talking in the qualifying round when Tkachuk was at the centre of yet another controversy; the kind Perry is familiar with.
“Tkachuk hit Winnipeg’s best guy (Mark Scheifele), put him out of the series and won the series,” said Fleury.
“I believe with highly competitive guys who have more of a will to win than most players in the league, those kind of things happen. It’s not intentional or premeditated, it’s just being competitors.”
Which is what makes their match-up so intriguing.
Tkachuk was introduced to Perry in London by Knights coach and owner Dale Hunter years back and has been compared to him for years ever since.
“When I was younger he was one of the guys in London Dale would always talk about, and Dale would tell me I’m playing like him,” said Tkachuk, who took it as a compliment.
“A guy who is also on their team was one of my favourite players growing up — and who I still try to model my game after — is Jamie Benn. Two really good players. Perry is still a really good player and is really effective, and Benn is one of the best players in the world. There’s going to be a lot of physicality out there, but that’s how both teams want to play.”
The respect is mutual… for now.
“They’re high-end players that can score and really do everything out there, but at the same time can get under your skin,” said Benn of Tkachuk and Perry.
“(Tkachuk) is obviously a great player and leader of that team. He knows what he’s doing out there. He plays the game hard and tries to get under players’ skin. We’ll have to take note of that and come back and just play the game hard as well.”
Stars coach Rick Bowness said Perry is a calming influence on the bench whose role revolves around finishing checks in the offensive zone.
Viewers won’t be able to turn away when Perry inevitably lines up opposite Tkachuk.
“Both of them play on that edge, and both walk that line, but what doesn’t get talked about enough with both players is how good they are as players,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving.
“I think they’ll both be right in the fabric and meat and guts of the game. Matthew is a really important player for us and Corey will be someone we’ll have to contend with on the other side. They’re both competitors and their handprints will be all over the series for sure.”
Handprints, face washes, whatever — the two will indeed provide spice.
TRELIVING WEIGHS IN ON SCHEIFELE HIT
Suffice it to say Treliving didn’t see Tkachuk’s hit on Scheifele the same way Jets coach Paul Maurice did last week.
Treliving spoke on Monday for the first time since Maurice used words like dirty, filthy and disgusting to describe what he called a “kick.”
“Quite frankly I had to bite my lip listening to Paul’s comments – (Flames VP of communications) Peter Hanlon had me restrained because I did want to comment and protect my player,” said the Flames GM.
“We understand what Paul was trying to do — there’s gamesmanship this time of year. Nobody wants to see a top player — any player — go down, and you certainly never want to see it on your team. I know the frustration and rage that goes through you when that happens. So, I get where Paul is coming from in protecting his player.
“But I disagreed with it. Outside of the province of Manitoba I’m not sure there’s a bigger Paul Maurice fan, but I thought he was completely wrong in his assessment of the play. I thought it was over the line quite frankly. Obviously everybody at the league agreed in terms of the play. It’s an unfortunate play, but certainly nothing that was intentional. Some of the adjectives Paul used to describe it I would completely disagree with.”