Flames’ Tkachuk breaks silence, is ‘sick’ over criticism of teammates

Brian Burke talked about changes the Calgary Flames may need to look at and thinks the Canucks have a bright future ahead, if they just sign Jacob Markstrom.

CALGARY – Saddled with a concussion that made returning to the Calgary Flames‘ series against the Dallas Stars an impossibility, Matthew Tkachuk said he was still able to watch TV and use his phone.

It was on those devices he saw plenty of criticism levelled at lads who were supposed to be his top teammates, and it magnified the frustration he was already dealing with.

“I couldn’t believe some of the criticism that some guys on my team were getting, and getting the blame for this – especially the criticism towards Johnny (Gaudreau) and Monny (Sean Monahan),” said Tkachuk in his first public comments since leaving Game 2.

“It makes me sick, and it really upsets me, and pisses me off. Everyone was upset about them for offensive production. Well, they produced more than me, so put the blame on me. I didn’t do nearly enough to get this team over the top when I was in the lineup, and that’s what hurts the most. That really upsets me to see some of the criticism for those guys, being really great players in this league and, even more important, great friends.”

The consummate team player, it’s not surprising Tkachuk would try falling on the sword for Gaudreau and Monahan.

Yet, when rolling through a list of players he praised for stepping up throughout the Flames’ 10-game playoff stint, the two top-liners were noticeably absent.

It would have been impossible to include them.

Instead, he spoke in general terms when it came to those who still haven’t found ways to turn the team’s undying confidence and belief into something more tangible like a first-round win.

“As players and core players and myself mainly, our best players didn’t do enough to get us over the top and into the next round,” said Tkachuk, who had one goal and an assist in six playoff games.

“This just can’t happen anymore. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen. When you’re sitting here at home it’s all about the result and we’ve had the same result for how many years?

“I know that to get us over, when it comes to myself, I have to do everything I can in this offseason to make sure I come back ready to go and not take this opportunity for granted because we don’t know how many years together as a group we’re going to have, if we even have one.”

Changes are certainly in order.

Tkachuk won’t be one of them, as he’s not only the future captain of the club, but the only forward who can be deemed untouchable. (Juuso Valimaki would be the only one at the back end).

The 22-year-old left winger led the club in scoring this season with 23 goals and 61 points in 69 games, and while single-handedly reigniting the Battle of Alberta he demonstrated once again how many ways he can lead.

He was sorely missed late in the Dallas series when the Flames were outplayed in four straight games and couldn’t find a way to turn the momentum around.

That is Tkachuk’s forte, which is why Sportsnet had a camera fixed on him during the team’s elimination game in which the masked forward was shown in a suite, tossing his toque and losing his mind as the team allowed seven unanswered goals.

“It was terrible – it sucked,” he said of an evening he deemed the toughest of his young career.

“It was just so hard when you’re watching and you’re helpless. You want to be out there so bad. It just couldn’t happen. At the end of the day, four years and the same result – it’s not fun.”

Tkachuk left the game three times on Aug 13, including a final disappearance that came after he was left woozy from a Jamie sandwich, courtesy Jamie Oleksiak and Jamie Benn.

“I obviously knew right away when I got back in the locker room things weren’t great – I wasn’t myself,” said Tkachuk, who didn’t want to get into the symptoms he experienced, which he said have since disappeared.

“You can’t put a timeline on it, but in my mind it was going to be at least a week or two. I was definitely trending in the right direction too, feeling better each day. Right about now I’d be ready to go again and that’s the hardest part.”

Blessed with a self-awareness that comes with being raised in NHL dressing rooms, Tkachuk went out of his way to commend the team’s medical staff for keeping him from harm’s way.

“I have to applaud and thank our medical staff and our doctors for taking care of me and really caring about me and making sure we got this right,” he said.

“Ultimately it comes down to my health. I can’t thank them enough, because as much as I want to be out there, who knows if I would have went out there for one of the last games of the year and made it worse. Then I’d be back home and feeling worse and not normal, the way I feel now.”

Emphasizing endlessly how tight the team is and how proud he is of their work ethic, he listed seven players who stepped up, including Cam Talbot, Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, Sam Bennett, Milan Lucic, Dillon Dube and Mikael Backlund.

No Gaudreau or Monahan, who have been widely criticized for failing to score an even-strength goal.

“Individuals can’t carry us through the whole playoffs – we need the full team,” said Tkachuk. “If it was about individuals we’d be playing tennis or golf right now and quitting hockey.”

He said Lucic told him earlier this week about how his Bruins hit an all-time low one year before winning the Stanley Cup the following season – a tale he hopes his team can mirror.

“We don’t have an old team but we have a lot of key pieces of all ages – we want to go after it and bet on ourselves when nobody else is,” he said. “Probably nobody had us making a splash in these playoffs except us. We have that belief.

“The next step is doing it.”

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