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K. Allen: Tkachuk will be Public Enemy No. 1 when Jets play Flames Monday

August 2, 2020, 7:11 PM ET [29 Comments]
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By Kevin Allen:

Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice didn’t call Calgary forward Matthew Tkachuk a dirty player although it seemed like he wanted to Sunday afternoon.

“If you sin once, are you a sinner?,” Maurice said. “If you sin 10 times?...”

Maurice said he doesn’t regret saying Saturday that Tkachuk intentionally kicked Winnipeg No. 1 center Mark Scheifele who had to be helped off the ice. He didn’t return to the game, and Maurice said he was still waiting to hear definitive word about the extent of Scheifele’s injury.

The Maurice musings about the definition of a sinner came as an answer to a direct question about whether he considered Tkachuk a dirty player.

“I don’t think he came off the bench and said, ‘I’m going to stab the back of Mark Scheifele’s leg with my skate," Maurice said. "But I think he got to that point (and) I think that’s exactly what he did. He plays at a level, where’s he’s on the edge, and he crosses it sometimes. He crossed it in my mind clearly. That’s exactly how I feel about it.”

Tkachuk wasn’t penalized on the play, and didn’t receive a call from the league’s Department of Player Safety. Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler fought Tkachuk after the incident.

Unquestionably, he is public enemy No. 1 heading into Monday’s Game 2 of the best-of-five qualifying round (2:30 ET, NBC Sports Network). The game is too important for the Jets, trailing 1-0 in the series, to draw foolish penalties making Tkachuk pay, but undoubtedly the Jets will hit him with vigor.

“I don’t think it’s an accident,” Jets forward Adam Lowry said. “I think it’s intentional...how often does your skate come off the ice and land on a guy?"

Tkachuk is the son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk, a man who combined skill and toughness to become an impact player. The elder Tkachuk played a rough game, but his edgy style didn’t seem to irritate the opposition as much as Matthew’s does.

If Scheifele can’t play, it creates a major hole in Winnipeg’s lineup. He’s hard to play against. “He kind of does it all,” Lowry said.

Maurice indicated he was still weighing what to do if Scheifele is unavailable. He could move big -bodied Wheeler to center, but then he loses Wheeler’s speed and disruptive presence streaking down the wing. High-scoring Patrik Laine was also injured in that game. If Laine and Scheifele can't play, that’s a loss of 57 goals.

Meanwhile, the Flames aren’t happy about what Maurice is saying about Tkachuk.

“So, is (Scheifele’s injury) an unfortunate situation? Yes, it is,” Calgary interim coach Geoff Ward said. “But was it intentional? No. Not at all. And the one thing I will say about Matthew Tkachuk is that people have to remember is he's an elite player in our league as well. And there is no way, knowing him as a guy and knowing the family and the way that he was brought up in the game. There is no way he was brought up to kick. Nobody is. So, for me, looking at Matthew after and seeing how it really bothered him. The injury bothered him.”

This was Ward’s take of the play: “Mark Scheifele is an elite player in the league. He's an excellent player. The incident, for me, Mark Scheifele is coming into our zone, he's turning up to make a play to get away from contact. A lot of players do it in the area of the ice across the league.Matthew Tkachuk is coming up behind him. Is he going to finish his check? Absolutely he's going to finish his check. We want all our players to finish checks, legally at this time of the year. But we want to play hard. Tkachuk...there's no doubt in my mind he's coming in to finish his check. But when Mark Scheifele turns up, he changes his angle and Matthew gets a little bit off balance and they go into the wall hard. Now, knowing Matthew Tkachuk...was there intent for him to put his skate onto Mark Scheifele? No.”

Ward added: “If it was Johnny Gaudreau instead of Matthew Tkachuk, then we're probably not even talking about it. Is it an unfortunate injury?"

Although Tkachuk finds himself at the center of controversy from time to time, the Flames wouldn’t want him to change his style. He’s a valuable player. Every team would love to have him. The hard truth in the NHL: the Hockey Hall of Fame boasts multiple players who played on the edge of the rule book. If the NHL didn’t want players to push the envelope when it comes to rough play, they wouldn’t worship the players who do that.
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