CALGARY — Unable to resist the temptation of scratching his biggest itch, Drew Doughty fired another salvo at Matthew Tkachuk Monday.
Two days after his NHL nemesis poked the Kings bear on Hockey Night in Canada, Doughty was essentially asked why the two just can’t bury the hatchet.
“We both know who the better player is, so, if he wants to compliment me first I’ll give him one back,” said Doughty, minutes after suggesting he was “done talking about him.”
It’s the latest in a two-and-a-half-year battle between the two that started with an egregious elbow on Doughty that landed Tkachuk a two-game suspension. What’s followed his been an ongoing exchange of verbal jabs that mirror their violent on-ice re-introductions.
A matchup made in headlines.
They’ve both clearly been nudged by their organizations to stop stoking the fire, but like warring brothers being forcibly separated, neither can stop trying to get the last shot in.
It is, quite frankly, something the league needs more of.
Just as the game itself could use lots more animosity and hatred on the ice, these guys are teaching a lesson on how to spice up a game that is really all about entertainment.
Tkachuk demonstrated that Saturday on After Hours when he was asked about Doughty’s declaration last March that he had no respect for the Flames winger, never would and had no interest in ever talking off the ice.
When Scott Oake wondered aloud if Tkachuk thought perhaps he should consider showing more respect to a Stanley Cup winner and former Norris Trophy winner, the 21-year-old disturber smirked after delivering this dig:
“I show respect to Gio — he’s a Norris Trophy winner,” he said.
Game back on.
On Monday it appeared Tkachuk’s mandate was to steer clear of fuelling the fire, speaking mostly about being fired up as a teammate for “these type of games.”
When asked if he respected Doughty, it’s what he didn’t say that said it all.
“He’s a good player and had a good career,” Tkachuk told a massive scrum. “Ya, he’s a good player.”
No, that doesn’t count as a real compliment. Doughty opened his availability playing dumb, insisting he heard nothing about Saturday’s stab.
When told about the Giordano comment, he raised his eyebrows as if mildly surprised.
“I didn’t talk to him or make up or anything, so I assume it will be the same thing tomorrow,” he shrugged. “Just battle hard and compete hard and try to get a win.”
Tuesday’s re-acquaintance at the Dome turns an otherwise ho-hum matchup into must-watch TV league-wide. There’s very little doubt Tkachuk will take every opportunity he can to punish Doughty, as he has for several years now.
Doughty certainly won’t cower.
While Tkachuk has indiscriminately infuriated players around the league with his penchant for perturbing, his targeted approach to Doughty is unlike anything else in the league. The only thing even close to this situation was seen last spring when Evander Kane and Ryan Reaves sparred throughout their playoff series.
This hate-fest has endurance.
“I’ve had individual rivalries with guys on every team,” said Doughty, trying most of the scrum to downplay anything to do with his red-clad adversary.
“You’ve got to pick someone on that team that gets you up for a game. If I come into a barn and don’t feel I have a rivalry with a team or with any player — like, say we go into Florida or something — I’m not the same player. I need to kind of have that to get myself going. If I’m not emotionally invested I’m not going to play well — that’s the bottom line.”
Doughty certainly has been engaged for every Flames game of late, which former teammate Milan Lucic knows well. Lucic’s presence in Calgary as Tkachuk’s teammate sweetens the pot on this delicious concoction.
“I love Drew Doughty, and he knows how much I like him,” smiled the former Kings winger, whose battles with Mike Komisarek fuelled the Bruins/Habs rivalry for a time.
“But now I’m on Tkachuk’s side, and I obviously have to stand up for Chucky if anything happens tomorrow.”
Doughty knows that, and said he’s had conversations with Lucic about it in the past. He certainly respects ol’ ‘Looch.’
It’s all phenomenal theatre the league should be embracing, as the fans and media have. Lucic said he’s followed their ongoing war since its inception, agreeing it’s all part of the drama often missing from today’s NHL.
“I was watching the game and the aftermath of it and the feud they’ve had the last two or three years,” smiled Lucic. “It’s one of those things where it matches up kind of nicely with a left winger and a right defenceman.
“I guess it is kind of a good thing because it’s something to talk about to build up the game, not to mention two really good players who are going to be on the ice a lot against one another.
“We’re not out here playing flag football — we’re out here playing a physical sport and fans pay to see the physicality of it. They love the speed and the hits and guys getting in each other’s faces. And most players like getting into it as well.”
Few more so than Doughty and Tkachuk.
Puck drop Tuesday is 7 p.m. MT at the Saddledome. Fireworks to follow.