That’s how much is at stake for him as he enters this series for Game 4 on Monday night. It wouldn’t necessarily have been the case had he remained a healthy scratch – although teams can petition to make that happen for players who don’t skate in at least 41 regular-season games or one in the final.
For Tatar, it’s been a long time coming. The winger has played 10 years of pro hockey in North America. And he’s patiently waited for his opportunity while being scratched for two-thirds of the Vegas games in these playoffs.
“It’s a lot. I bet it was everybody’s dream on this team,” he said. “It’s everybody’s dream [as] a kid probably to win the Cup. It’s a long way. The series just started. It’s going to be tough – we all know that – but we’re here for one goal and that’s what makes it so much fun.”
Based on the morning skate at Capital One Arena, it appeared that Tatar would replace David Perron in the lineup. However, Gerard Gallant would not confirm he was scratching a player coming off a career-best 66-point season.
The expectation is that Tatar can provide an offensive spark for a team trailing the Washington Capitals 2-1 in this series, just as he did upon entering the Western Conference final in Winnipeg.
The Golden Knights are not just unhappy with where they’re at, but how they’ve got there. They haven’t played anywhere near their top level.
“Just from what I’m watching, we have to get back on our game. We have to put pucks deep,” said Tatar. “Washington’s capitalizing from the turnovers right now, so we know we have to put it deep and have a good forecheck. Our game is O-zone game, so spend as much time [as we can] there.”
He’s poised to join a third line featuring Cody Eakin and Ryan Carpenter. A goal from that trio would be huge given that the middle-six forwards on the Golden Knights roster have been neutralized in this series.
Tatar has struggled to carve out a role in Vegas since coming over from Detroit at the trade deadline. They surrendered a first-, second- and third-round pick to bolster their depth on the wing and it would have been tough at that time to imagine him being scratched for 12 games in the post-season.
However, the veteran has chosen to look at the positives of his situation – warming quickly to the area where the Golden Knights live and embracing the opportunity to be part of a team that might win a championship.
“He’s been very positive, to be honest with you. He’s been A-one positive with our group of guys,” said Gallant. “I don’t expect people to be happy when they’re sitting out, but it’s part of the NHL. It’s part of our game. We’re having a chance to win the Stanley Cup.”
Tatar has spent a fair bit of time around that trophy despite never having been close to winning it himself.
He makes his off-season home in Trencin, Slovakia, and counts Zdeno Chara, Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa among his neighbours. Between them, they hosted Cup celebrations there in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Now Tatar has a chance to keep up with the Hossas.
If he can make a difference in this series and the Golden Knights can rally for a win, the Stanley Cup will make another visit to Trencin.
“All my neighbours, I would say, have a Cup now,” said Tatar. “Either if it’s Hoss or Zdeno Chara or Gabby. All these guys, they made it, they won it, so they know what it’s like. I’m getting a lot of support from them actually. It’s fun.
“You know, it’s not an easy task, but that’s what you’re dreaming for. Here we are and we have to play our best game.”