Toronto, you had been warned.
You had been told all about the legend of Matthew Tkachuk and how no matter how that tree is chopped down in front of the net it will always fall on the goalie — sometimes with both knees on the back of a prone victim.
So, when that very scenario played out late in the Leafs’ win Sunday at the Saddledome, no one in Calgary thought twice about it.
No penalty on the play, no fight to follow — nothing to see here. Just another afternoon for Calgary’s top shift disturber.
With his team down a goal and in desperate need for something to spark his club, he was in the guts of the game, battling for the game-tying goal with a net-front scramble that finished with him deposited on top of Jack Campbell.
Happens nightly. That’s his office, where he does his best work.
If bodies are flying everywhere and the game is on the line you can bet Tkachuk is in the middle of it.
Whether it be with a goal, a slick setup, a hit, elbow, screen, fight or mere lip service, the Flames leading scorer last year has proven to be one of the league’s biggest difference-makers/agitators. Only Brad Marchand is in the same stratosphere.
Combine Nazem Kadri and Darcy Tucker, with a hint of Doug Gilmour, to start understanding the annoyingly diverse skill set of Calgary’s No. 19.
So, when T.J. Brodie leaned into Tkachuk while the lads played blanket hockey in the Leafs crease with the Flames goalie pulled, Tkachuk’s momentum saw him crash down on Campbell before being forcefully removed by Zach Bogosian.
In the ensuing 20 seconds it took for Campbell to slowly get to his feet and shake off the discomfort that appeared to be caused by Tkachuk’s Winnwells, the temperature of Toronto’s Twitter reactions rose higher than local house prices.
This is not a storyline in Calgary. In fact, ask 10 Flames fans about the “incident” and nine will admit they don’t know what you are talking about.
Ditto for Tkachuk.
“Which one? I feel like there were a lot of scrums in front of the goalie throughout the game — which one are they making a big deal about this time?” chuckled the 23-year-old winger who figured Campbell was slow to get up due to a tweak he suffered minutes earlier.
“It was just a battle in front – I actually thought I tipped it and it went in. A 6-on-5 situation, just banging away at the puck
“I live in that area – I live in that crease area throughout the games. I was just digging for a puck. I was battling with Brodes (former teammate TJ Brodie) a little bit there and guys started coming in. I just got knocked over. Obviously I had no intention of falling into him or anything like that. It’s just a classic thing to try to accuse me of there.”
Does it ever surprise him when a fan base, players or the media single him out for innocuous incidents?
“I’d like to say no, but yes, I get very surprised at some things that come out of peoples’ mouths these days,” he said. “It’s a good thing I don’t listen to it. I just get asked about it from other people. Thank God I don’t go on my phone too much after games, otherwise It would drive me crazy. I know my parents do and it drives them crazy. It’s just classic.”
Some of it has to do with the fact the game has gotten too soft and Tkachuk is old school enough to prioritize physicality.
These scrums involve Tkachuk with the sort of regularity that prompted us to declare in this space months ago that, with the advent of the North Division, Tkachuk would be the most hated player in Canada.
On Sunday, Leafs fans got a relative spoonful of the type of fury Tkachuk can prompt amongst fan bases. For hockey newbies, type ‘Tkachuk’ and ‘Oilers’ into Google. We’ll wait.
Hey, we get it – Leafs fans are understandably sensitive about the health of their goaltenders. However, even Campbell dismissed the “incident” on his Zoom call after the game, saying, “I don’t look at him as a menace, I look at him as a really good hockey player.”
An infuriating one too, yes. But in this case, there’s no fire at the root of the smoke.
Midway through the second period, Wayne Simmonds shared a few words with Tkachuk as they lined up for a faceoff. Ten seconds later Simmonds was sitting in the penalty box for boarding, after taking a run at Andrew Mangiapane.
Did Tkachuk have anything to do with Simmonds’ over-aggression? Only those two know, but it wouldn’t be the most shocking possibility given Tkachuk has drawn more penalties than anyone in the NHL the last four-plus years, with 163.
With that, he’s also drawn endless heat from infuriated observers. Nobody gets under the skin of opponents or fans like the son of Keith, brother of Brady.
Will there be retribution in Tuesday’s rematch?
Well, despite the fact no other Leafs seemed fazed by it, it’s entirely possible Simmonds will try to take issue with it, as he was signed to be the Leafs muscle and would be keen to endear himself to teammates and fans alike.
“Are we really talking about this?” asked Flames coach Geoff Ward of this contrived fury.
“Seriously? To be honest with you, if that’s anybody else we’re not even talking about it.”