Flames’ Tkachuk gets last laugh after polarizing battle with Kassian

Elias Lindholm scored twice, Johnny Gaudreau also scored, and the Calgary Flames hung on to win a spirited game against the Edmonton Oilers.

CALGARY – Even after the final whistle blew, Matthew Tkachuk chose not to hold back on Zack Kassian.

“If he doesn’t want to get hit, then stay off the tracks,” said the Calgary Flames winger of his second-favourite NHL target.

“I caught him three times there – you think he’d learn after the first one. If he wants to react that way we’ll take the power play, we’ll take the game-winner, and we’ll move on to first place.”

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As the dust settled on one of the most entertaining, hard-hitting and intense Battles of Alberta in decades, Tkachuk’s summation was bang on.

Kassian’s double-minor and misconduct penalties for rag dolling Tkachuk following the second of three hellacious hits on the rugged Oilers forward set up Elias Lindholm’s game-winning goal in a 4-3 Calgary win.

Just like Nov. 2018, when Kassian received a triple-minor (baby-steps) for failing to entice Tkachuk into engaging, the Flames agitator had Oilers nation in a tizzy for refusing to drop his mitts. Again.

The debate raged on after the game over whether its incumbent on Tkachuk to eventually “answer” for his physicality by agreeing to get pummeled by a trained assassin who got a half-dozen lefts in on Tkachuk as he threw the Flame around.

“I’m not fighting him,” smirked Tkachuk, who punctuated the scene by flexing his left arm as he skated past the Oilers bench.

“Tough little trade-off there.”

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At the same time as Tkachuk rubbed salt in the wound, Kassian’s trademarked over-exuberance was on display in the Oilers locker room where he had a string of choice words for Tkachuk, saying he wished it was a playoff series so he could return the favor in a couple of days.

“There was a lot up for grabs tonight so you have to do whatever it takes to win,” shrugged Tkachuk, who rocked Kassian three times with the type of targeted, yet clean hits, he generally reserves for Drew Doughty.

“That is part of my game. If I don’t do that I’m not the same player. Right now the puck isn’t going in the way it was at the beginning of the year, but you’ve got to be that type of player where you can provide stuff other than that. I think these are games I needed to play like that tonight. I needed to be physical and not pass up on a hit.”

Several Flames players clearly delighted in seeing Tkachuk at his familial best, but perhaps none more than Rasmus Andersson who took to the Fan 960 afterward to roast Kassian and stoke the fire.

“They’ve got a lot of pretenders out there – it’s really nice to beat those guys,” he said.

“That’s one of the biggest coward moves I’ve ever seen from Kassian. We make guys like that pay. That was a coward move…that’s the kind of player he is.”

Beatdowns are apparently all in the eye of the beholder.

To demonstrate just how polarizing the battle and its latest hijinks are, Flames fans are puzzled how Kassian was able to remain in the game for gooning it up.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Oilers fans can’t comprehend how Tkachuk wasn’t penalized for the hit, or how he can continue playing the way he does without repercussion.

The debate, finger-pointing, and provincial mudslinging will rage on for weeks.

Kassian’s antics came with two minutes left in the second period of a 3-3 game that had a little bit of everything…except the fireworks the provincial battle was once known for.

Enter Tkachuk, with a hit so hard on a prone, engaged Kassian that it knocked his helmet off.

Lindholm’s second of the game came on the ensuing power play, 39 seconds into the third period, setting the stage for all four Flames lines and goalie Cam Talbot to shut the door on the Oilers two lines.

Kassian’s return to the ice halfway through the final frame included a third hellacious hit on him by Tkachuk, followed minutes later by a brief discussion with Milan Lucic which likely included a warning to avoid Tkachuk.

Or else.

Now that would be a fight no one would disagree on.

Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.

It could happen as early as Jan. 29 when the lads will reconvene in Edmonton before a bounce-back meeting in Calgary on Feb. 1.

Maybe the schedule-makers got this right after all.

“Chucky was great for us tonight,” said Johnny Gaudreau, whose 13th of the year was an answer to Connor McDavid’s latest Picasso ten minutes earlier.

“He was laying the body on him. I guess that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

Few others bit their tongues, including Oilers coach Dave Tippett, who understood Kassian’s rage, but agreed it essentially cost them first place in the Pacific division.

“It was a hit and a reaction and we had to kill the penalty and we didn’t, said Tippett, whose club entered the game tied with Calgary thanks to a three game winning string that preceded the showdown.

“Kass, I would like to see him get a number. It’s a tight game, 3-3, get a number and deal with it later.”

Oh, he will.

Well, at least, he’ll try.

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