Matthew Tkachuk

Youth is being served early in Stanley Cup playoffs

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For all the value of postseason experience, youth is off to a nice start in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Teenage defenseman Miro Heiskanen built on his stellar rookie season in his playoff debut with Dallas, 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov tried to carry Carolina back from a big deficit, early 20-somethings Mitch Marner and William Nylander continue to be among Toronto’s best players and young Matthew Tkachuk did his part to finally win a playoff game with the Calgary Flames.

The NHL is getting younger and more skilled, and youth is being served in a big way early in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They may not get the attention like Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine or Toronto’s Auston Matthews, but Heiskanen and Svechnikov turned in two of the more impressive playoff performances in recent history for players before their 20th birthdays.

”Some people, it’s hard and some people it’s pretty easy, and those are the people it looks like it’s pretty easy,” Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen said of Svechnikov and fellow Finn Heiskanen. ”They don’t stress too much. They just go out and play and have some fun.”

Svechnikov became the youngest player in 22 years to score twice in a playoff game and the third teen to put up two goals in NHL postseason history after Pierre Turgeon in 1988, Eddie Olczyk in 1985 and Don Gallinger in 1943. The 2018 second overall pick will try to help Carolina even its first-round series against Washington in Game 2 Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

”There’s not pressure on him,” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams said. ”Just go do it. Go enjoy it. Go have fun. That’s what this time of year is about, and we’re going to need even more from him if we’re going to advance.”

The Stars won in Nashville thanks in large part to Heiskanen’s goal and assist in Game 1 . At 19 years, 266 days old, he became the youngest defenseman in franchise history to score in the playoffs and the fifth teenage rookie defenseman with two points in his postseason debut.

”My 19-year-old year, when it was April, I was drinking beers in my frat basement,” Dallas defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. ”What he is doing is just incredible. It’s so special. He is so good, it is just such a pleasure to watch him play and to be on his team. He’s such an asset. He’s going to do this for 20 years and I can’t wait to watch him.”

Coach Jim Montgomery would love to see Heiskanen and 22-year-old rookie Roope Hintz play like this for several more weeks. Game 2 in Nashville is Saturday (6 p.m. ET, CNBC).

In Boston, the Bruins have to be better in Game 2 (8 p.m. ET, NBC) on Saturday after losing the series opener on home ice. Marner was a big part of that with his two-goal game, including being just the fifth player to score a shorthanded goal on a penalty shot in the playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

”He’s an elite player in the league at a young age,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”Years ago I remember (people saying about Wayne) Gretzky, ‘Why doesn’t anybody hit that guy?’ Well, it’s not that easy.”

It’s not easy to hit or stop Nylander, either. The 22-year-old Swede scored for the second consecutive game and appears to have solved his late-season dry spell.

”It’s good for me,” Nylander said. ”I’ve been thinking just to hit the net and get it on it.”

In Calgary, Tkachuk’s two goals a series-opening victory against the Colorado Avalanche snapped his six-game goal drought, though the 21-year-old’s agitating ways stuck as much as his scoring. Teammate Andrew Mangiapane, 23, also scored in his playoff debut and the West’s top seed is off and running with Game 2 Saturday night in Calgary (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

”Now all of those guys have got their first game out of the way, they should get some confidence,” coach Bill Peters said. ”We’ll get better as the series goes along.”

INJURY WATCH

Even in the hockey-speak of upper- and lower-body injuries, playoff time brings an extra cloud of secrecy. Seemingly everyone is day-to-day or a game-time decision.

That’s the case for Carolina defenseman Calvin de Haan, who practiced Friday after missing the past six games with an upper-body injury. Coach Rod Brind’Amour said he hopes de Haan can play ”at some point” and added defenseman Jaccob Slavin was fine after getting a day off for playing a lot of minutes Thursday night.

Boston forward Jake DeBrusk is questionable with the injury that knocked him out of Game 1 against the Maple Leafs. Cassidy said if DeBrusk can’t play, veteran David Backes will go into the lineup.

AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker in Nashville and Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Mike Smith unlikely hero as Flames shutout Avalanche in Game 1

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Mike Smith certainly didn’t start this season on a positive note and while he did improve as the campaign went on, goaltending was still a big question mark for Calgary going into the series. Few would have predicted that Smith would end up being the standout in this battle between two high-powered offenses, but that was the case in the Flames’ 4-0 victory over the Avalanche.

Philipp Grubauer, who also had a poor start to the season before bouncing back, did hold up for most of the game. He couldn’t save the Avalanche Thursday night, but he kept them in this one despite the lopsided final score. It wasn’t until late in the second period that the Flames first solved him.

Continuing with the theme of Game 1 defying expectations, rather than one of the Flames’ many offensive stars netting the goal, it was Andrew Mangiapane, who has just eight career goals and was making his postseason debut. For a moment, he looked like an elite forward, weaving through the Avalanche and outmaneuvering Grubauer before finishing him with a backhand.

Late in the second period, Matthew Tkachuk capitalized on a power-play opportunity to score his first career playoff goal. That 2-0 edge would hold for most of what remained until the floodgates opened late. Mikael Backlund added another power-play goal at 17:01 of the third period then just 14 seconds later, Tkachuk scored again to make it 4-0.

Colorado was the clear underdog going into this series, so from that perspective this outcome wasn’t surprising even if how we got to it did deviate from the script. At the same time, the Avalanche couldn’t be discounted and still shouldn’t be. Any team headlined by Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen has the potential to be very dangerous and the Flames know full well that their work is far from done.

Avalanche-Flames Game 2 from Scotiabank Saddledome will be Saturday night at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Drew Doughty continues beef with Flames’ Tkachuk

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The Los Angeles Kings are in Calgary on Monday night and that means it is time for defenseman Drew Doughty to continue what has become a longstanding feud with Matthew Tkachuk.

The 21-year-old Tkachuk has only been in the league for three years but has already earned himself quite the reputation as being one of the NHL’s most irritating players to play against, and no one seems to share that opinion more (publicly, anyway) than Doughty.

On Monday, he was asked about the “rivalry” that currently exists between the Flames and Kings only to downplay it as nothing more than Tkachuk going after him all the time.

“Our rivalry is not even close with this team compared to other teams,” said Doughty. “I think most of it is just because of Tkachuk going after me is why the rivalry kind of started. We never really had a playoff series against this team, never really had any big games against this team, so I think the rivalry just kind of started with all that [expletive].”

He did not stop there.

Doughty also said, via Sportsnet’s Eric Francis, that he has “no respect” for the Flames’ forward and that he will never talk to him off the ice, while also adding that Tkachuk is not respected by most  players in the league.

This is not the first time Doughty has publicly sounded off on Tkachuk or cited other players in the league not respecting the Flames’ forward.

A lot of this started during Tkachuk’s rookie season when he earned a two-game suspension for elbowing Doughty in the head, sparking this reaction from the Kings’ defender.

“He’s a pretty dirty player, that kid. To be a rookie and play like that is a little surprising. I don’t know exactly what happened because I got hit in the head, but I thought he elbowed me. I can’t tell you for sure, so I’m not going to say if I think anything should happen, but whatever it was, it hurt pretty bad, and it’s going to hurt for a little bit.”

This is the play that resulted in the two-game suspension.

The feud has only continued to escalate from there, including this little exchange in the penalty boxes early in the 2017-18 season…

… which was followed by Doughty saying later in that year that he is “pretty sure” Tkachuk is the most hated player in the NHL.

“I’m pretty sure he might be,” Doughty told Francis back in January, 2018. “I have lots of friends on other teams and they don’t love him either. But whatever, that’s how he plays.”

If nothing else, this might add some heat to what would be an otherwise dull game between a team (Calgary) that is rolling toward a division title and another team (Los Angeles) that is rolling toward the draft lottery.

It is also worth keeping in mind this fact about Tkachuk: For all of the talk about him as a pest and agitator, he is also one heck of a hockey player that has developed into a top-line player. His production has consistently improved across the board every year he has been in the league and he enters Monday’s game with 76 points (34 goals, 42 assists) in 75 games and is one of the league’s leading scorers.

He is one of four Flames players in the top-25 in the points race, joining Johnny Gaudreau (7th), Elias Lindholm (21st), and Sean Monahan (25th). Together they are a big part of why the Flames have emerged as a surprising Stanley Cup contender in the Western Conference.

Doughty, meanwhile, is having what might one of his worst seasons in the NHL and enters Monday’s game with five goals, 36 assists, and a minus-30 rating that is among the league’s worst.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Tkachuk brothers ready for first NHL matchup as Flames visit Senators

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The Tkachuk brothers are big, strong, physical hockey players who are as competitive as they come. So, when the Calgary Flames and Matthew Tkachuk visit the Ottawa Senators and his younger brother, Brady, on Sunday night, the potential for some fireworks is real.

“For all the people coming in, it’s probably more of an event than a game,” 21-year-old Matthew told the Flames website. “I’m sure everybody in the NHL who’s played against their brother, after a while, feels like it’s just another game. Well, this isn’t just another game. It’s the first game. So, it’s a special one.”

Special enough their parents, Chantal and former NHLer Keith Tkachuk, will be on-hand for the tilt.

“I’m super-excited,” said Brady, 19. “It’s gonna be a little different, a little weird, for sure. To finally be playing against each other, and at the highest level, is pretty cool. This isn’t going to change the way either of us play, though. We’re going to go hard. Family before and after, but inside the game you’re not changing a thing.”

In his rookie season, Brady has collected 13 goals and 30 points in 50 games. Matthew, in his third NHL campaign, has already equaled his career high with 24 goals and set a new mark with 59 points in 61 games. That said, facing his younger brother could be the tonic he needs, as the older Tkachuk has no goals and four assists in 13 games.

The clubs are certainly heading in different directions. The Senators, who sit last in the league, have begun selling off what few stars their have. On Friday they dealt away Matt Duchene to the Columbus Blue Jackets and the promptly lost a 3-0 game to them hours later. On Saturday, they dealt away forward Ryan Dzingel, also to Columbus.

Pending unrestricted free agent forward Mark Stone won’t play again for the Senators unless he is re-signed by the team as the organization looks to trade him away by Monday’s deadline.

With the upheaval, combined with not having their best players in the lineup lately to avoid potential injuries, Ottawa has been shutout in two straight games, lost three consecutive affairs and dropped five of six outings. Worse yet, the Senators traded away their first-round pick to acquire Duchene last season, which very well could be the top selection in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Meanwhile, the Flames are atop the Western Conference and won their fourth straight game with a 2-1 home victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night.

While the Flames are known for being one of the most prolific offensive teams in the NHL, they’ve shown better defensive play in their last few games as they prepare for the playoffs.

“We’re comfortable we can win in any type of game,” Matthew Tkachuk said after the victory over the Ducks. “We’re comfortable no matter how it goes that we can win.”

“It was a real tight game, just trying to throw pucks at the net and make plays wherever you can,” added Andrew Mangiapane, who scored the game winner. “It was just tight, just a lucky bounce that went our way. It was definitely good for our confidence, just grinding one out, sticking with it and playing a full 60 (minutes).”

Flames, Sharks meet as battle for Pacific heats up

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Thursday night’s game between the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks offers plenty of intrigue. They are the top two teams in the Pacific Division, and they are also the two highest scoring teams in the Western Conference. And after their most recent meeting on December 31 – an 8-5 Flames win – the scoreboard might not be the only place we see fireworks this evening.

In the final 41 seconds of that game, the two teams combined for 66 penalty minutes, including a match penalty for Sam Bennett after he concussed Sharks defenseman Radim Simek with a questionable hit. There was no supplemental discipline for the play, which the Sharks called “gutless” and “predatory” afterwards, so one wonders whether there will be any retribution sought by the Sharks on Bennett.

Close watch should also be kept on Evander Kane and Matthew Tkachuk, who each picked up 10-minute misconducts in a brawl just prior to the Bennett hit. There are fewer Kanes and Tkachuks in today’s NHL – both in terms of their style on the ice and their unfiltered remarks off the ice – which makes the build up to this game even more interesting. However, neither would fully take the bait when asked about things carrying over from December:

“I know what you’re asking, I know what you’re trying to get me to say. We’ll see,” Kane said via The Mercury News. “It’s something that, hopefully, everybody in this room remembers because it doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re a skill guy, a big guy, a tough guy or a small guy, it’s on each and every person in this room to stick up for one another. We’ll see.”

Said Tkachuk: “I’m don’t think I’m going to be the guy who’s going to give you what you want on that quote. Those games are fun to play in. I love those games. Our whole team’s thriving in those games this year. We have guys that can play that style, too. (Kane) is a good player. They’re a really good team. It’s going to be a great game.”

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was much more definitive in downplaying the revenge factor, telling reporters yesterday, “We know where everybody is in the standings, so that’s first and foremost. This isn’t about settling scores. This is about trying to close the gap on these guys in the division. There’s going to be a lot of emotion. It’s going to be physical. That stuff takes care of itself.”

He is right about the importance of this game in the standings. Since that New Year’s Eve meeting, the Flames have not lost to a Western Conference opponent, and they now have an opportunity to create a six-point cushion over the Sharks. Considering these teams play only once more during the regular season – and not until March 31 – this may be San Jose’s best opportunity to chip away at that deficit.

It would be an even bigger boost for the Sharks considering they will be without Erik Karlsson (lower body) for a sixth straight game, however he could return on the team’s current road trip. It should be noted that in the middle of this absence, Karlsson did participate in the NHL All-Star Game.

Regardless of the outcome tonight though, it is safe to say these are two of the most complete teams in the conference. Bill Peters is a Jack Adams candidate in his first year behind the bench for the Flames, and fellow former Hurricane Elias Lindholm has joined with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau to form one of the most potent lines in hockey. The Sharks are dangerous up and down their lineup, with a pair of Norris Trophy caliber defensemen, as well as five different forwards with 19+ goals – the most such players in the league.

San Jose and Calgary have not faced each other in the playoffs since 2008, but if they keep up their play from the first four months of the season, this could wind up being a high-scoring, hard-hitting, and headline-grabbing second round Stanley Cup playoff matchup.