Matthew Tkachuk has heard the whispers and knows the only way to put an end to them is to change his team’s playoff fortunes.
Winners of just one of their last 11 playoff games, the Calgary Flames are known as a team routinely unequipped to handle the rigors of a game that gets ratcheted up in the playoffs.
Last year’s five-game ouster courtesy of a surging Colorado Avalanche club was an example of that.
That loss now serves as fuel for this year’s bunch.
“I’m sick of losing – sick of losing in these first rounds,” said Tkachuk, unprovoked.
“I know a lot of the other guys are also sick of losing, who want redemption after last year. It’s time for us to prove we’re an elite hockey team.”
It certainly is time for this group to prove the growing list of doubters wrong, or say goodbye to some of the team’s mainstays.
Every player in that room knows it, which only serves to add more pressure to a series with Winnipeg that is a coin flip on paper.
Winnipeg’s goaltending and offensive firepower makes them the slight favourite in the eyes of many who believe that their surge to the West Conference final two years ago gives them an edge.
Tkachuk has heard as much.
“Not too many people are saying stuff about us,” said Tkachuk, a voracious consumer of hockey info, analysis and opinions league-wide. “But we know if we play the right way you get this momentum going and the playoffs are all about momentum.
“We’ve just got to get the momentum going as long as we can. I feel our team looked pretty good coming out of the break. I’m very confident in this group and if we do the right things I hope we have a chance to prove people wrong.”
Last year, as surprise regular season champions in the West, they went in as favourites.
This year, no one is sure what to expect from the Flames.
Perhaps we’ll get a taste Tuesday when they face Edmonton, which Tkachuk suggests should be taken much more seriously than your typical exhibition game.
“We have got to treat Tuesday like it’s a playoff game,” said Tkachuk.
“If we just go in with an easy mentality and not a playoff mentality, kind of like we have the past couple times going into the playoffs we let off the gas right before, we’ll probably have a similar result.
“You look at the teams that win in the past and they’re winning going in. We have to play the same way we want to play against Winnipeg. We have to dial it in and play a good, hard physical game and take advantage of our opportunities and not give up much defensively.”
Carrying himself with a playoff intensity the team is clearly trying to foster, Tkachuk did show a more relaxed side when asked about the bubble his club will enter Sunday in Edmonton along with six other teams.
“It’s not like there were going to be brawls carrying over into the hotel,” he said when asked if he thought his club was put in a separate hotel from the Oilers by design.
“I saw a little bit the last couple days of what they’re going to have available for us. I keep telling people it reminds me of youth hockey tournaments in the summer.
“You’re in the hotel and seeing people in elevators and restaurants and checking other scores. It’s going to be crazy. I think it’s up to us to make the most of it. I think they’ve done a real good job.”
He originally believed it would be “hotel room, locker room, hotel room and rink,” with very little else to do while confined to the bubble.
Turns out the players will have so much more to do, thanks to a concerted effort from the league to give players endless options, including live concerts.
“Kinda cool… but then again I’m not going to be running around all day doing all these activities… it’s playoffs.”
A time to dispel the notion his team is destined to fall short once again.