Matthew Tkachuk is willing to shoulder the blame for another early exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Calgary Flames, even though he was unable to play the final four games.
The Flames were eliminated in six games by the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference First Round. Tkachuk did not play after sustaining a concussion in Game 2.
“I think this can’t happen anymore,” the 22-year-old forward said after completing his fourth NHL season. “We have to make sure this doesn’t happen. The thing that really frustrates me right now, especially with being out and watching games and having nothing to do [except] being on my phone and being in the bubble … everything’s about hockey … I couldn’t believe some of the criticism that some guys on my team were getting, getting the blame for this.
“Especially the criticism towards [forward] Johnny [Gaudreau] and [center Sean Monahan], it makes me sick and really upsets me. … Everyone was upset at them for offensive production. They produced more offense 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. That’s what hurts the most.”
Tkachuk scored two points (one goal, one assist) in four games against the Winnipeg Jets in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers in Edmonton, the Western hub city.
Gaudreau scored seven points (four goals, three assists) in 10 postseason games, one — an empty-net goal — at even strength. Monahan shared the Calgary lead with center Sam Bennett at eight points (two goals, six assists), including three (one goal, two assists) at even strength. Neither Gaudreau nor Monahan had a point playing 5-on-5 against Dallas.
“It really upsets me seeing some of the criticism to those guys being unbelievable players and great players in this league, and even more important, great friends,” Tkachuk said. “That really upsets me, I think as leaders and as core players in general, myself mainly, but our best players didn’t do enough to get us over the top and into that next round and into a run here. That’s frustrating.
“I know to get us over, especially when it comes to myself, just have to do everything I can during 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, even if we have one.”
Tkachuk said he was frustrated having to sit out because of his concussion.
“It was terrible. It was terrible,” he said. “It was just so hard when you’re watching. You’re just helpless. You just want to be out there so bad. It just couldn’t happen.
“At the end of the day, four years now, same result every year. It’s not fun. But watching it, it was a little bit different this time around. It was just as hard, if not harder. You see what the guys go through with little injuries or bumps and bruises and how hard they were working. You just want to be out with them and help them and go to war with them.”
Since Tkachuk entered the NHL, the Flames have been eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs three times and failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2017-18.
Calgary has not advanced past the first round since 2014-15, when they defeated the Vancouver Canucks before losing to the Anaheim Ducks in the second round. The Flames did not make the playoffs for five straight seasons before that.
They led Game 6 against Dallas 3-0 before losing 7-3 to be eliminated.
Tkachuk said he is well aware that postseason futility could lead to changes during the offseason. Gaudreau said Tuesday he wanted to remain with the Flames, who have to decide if Geoff Ward will return as coach.
“Realistically when you’re sitting here at home it’s about the result,” Tkachuk said. “We’ve had the same result now for however many years. I’d say the one positive this year was seeing some guys really step up, especially in the playoffs, I think of a few guys.
“That’s the positive I take out of it, is certain guys stepped up, but when it comes down to it, individuals can’t carry us through the whole playoffs. We need the full team. If it was about individuals, we’d be playing tennis or golf right now, not hockey. But we all went through that grind together. I’m super proud of the way the guys worked. I thought the work from our team was another positive. We cared so much, that’s why it’s so much more frustrating. We’re such a close group and there’s so many good guys.
“That’s why it hurts the most. We’ll never be able to play with all those guys again. I don’t know if there’s ever been a year where the same exact team has come back. That’s what hurts the most is that, that for sure.”