Honestly, I was a bit surprised that Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk wasn’t called on – and made to pay – for his borderline knees to the back of the Toronto Maple Leafs backup goalie Jack Campbell. If you’ve missed the action, during the first game of the two-game series between the Maple Leafs and the Flames on Sunday night, the Maple Leafs were ahead 3-2 and the Flames were pressing.
Close to the end of the game, while making a save Campbell tweaked something, was obviously hurt on a play, and had a hard time getting to his feet. From what I could see, no Calgary player was involved in that play – just a wrong body movement on Campbell’s part.
However, shortly thereafter there was a scrum in front of the Maple Leafs’ goalie. This time, during the bumping around, somehow Tkachuk landed, was pushed, or jumped directly onto Campbell with both knees planted and pushed squarely into Campbell’s back (see the lead video above). Campbell stayed on the ice for quite a while. However, he got up and made it through the last 37.5 seconds of the game.
Tkachuk Claims to Be Innocent of any Bad Behavior
The Maple Leafs won the game by a single goal. After the game, Tkachuk was questioned by the Calgary media about how that injury unfolded from his perspective. Basically, he made light of the play suggesting that he would never intentionally jump on Campbell. He claimed it wasn’t his fault and that he was pushed.
All that might be true, but then Tkachuk went into victim mode and questioned the stupid things that came out of people’s mouths – as in “Why would they always blame me for such things – it’s a ‘classic’ move” for others to blame him for being guilty of such egregious behavior when he’s innocent of any wrongdoing.
Tkachuk Calls Blaming Him, When He’s Innocent, a “Classic” Behavior
During the interview, the issue in my mind wasn’t whether Tkachuk had intentionally or unintentionally landed on Campbell’s back. Only he knows that. However, when he went into the “Poor me. How come everyone’s blaming me when I’m innocent?” commentary, I immediately wondered about his veracity.
He knows his own reputation. He’s been suspended; he’s been called embarrassing; he has on-going feuds with current NHL players. Anyone who knows Tkachuk’s history knows that he often plays on or over the line during a hockey game.
The Maple Leafs Had to Have Seen the Interview
I’m guessing the Maple Leafs also saw the interview where Tkachuk basically called them whiners. Ironically, I saw or read nothing from a single Maple Leafs player or anyone in the organization who publicly made a big deal about Tkachuk’s behavior. Head coach Sheldon Keefe called it a non-issue. Campbell said he didn’t think Tkachuk was a nasty hockey player – just a good one.
But obviously, it was an issue with the Maple Leafs. But they played it well. During the game, there was no payback by the Maple Leafs in any way even though, as a result of his injury, Campbell has been listed out for a number of weeks.
However, what happened after the game suggests that the Maple Leafs did consider what Tkachuk had done an issue. And they responded in a perfectly-played head game that was something Tkachuk might have done himself: instead, this time he got caught in the snare.
Perfect Payback: Thackuk Caught by His Own Ways
I have to admit, I thought Wayne Simmonds would go after the youngster. However, he did not. Simmonds retribution was to score the first goal of the game. Tkachuk simply played the game. And, not all that effectively. He wasn’t really much of a factor.
However, just as the Maple Leafs finished the game – their second win in a row in Calgary – defenseman Jake Muzzin made like a wise veteran. Instead, of inviting Tkachuk to stand up to any physical threat, which might have made Tkachuk look heroic, Muzzin simply acknowledged that he had his eye on Tkachuk wherever he was on the ice. And, he reminded Tkachuk that he had seen his actions and didn’t appreciate them.
In an act of supreme irony, when the horn sounded Muzzin flipped the puck into Thackuk’s lap as he was kneeling on the ice. Sort of as in “By the way, here’s the game-winning puck – and, it’s yours. You deserve it.
As the Mastercard Commercial Says, “Priceless”
Tkachuk’s reaction was priceless. The Maple Leafs couldn’t have scripted it better in their wildest dreams. Tkachuk “lost his mind.” Feeling disrespected or angry over losing and made to look foolish – perhaps he even realized he had been caught in his own trap. He went after Muzzin, but Muzzin wouldn’t engage – other than to laugh at him.
Muzzin’s reaction is ironic because refusing to fight is so Tkachuk. He’s done it himself with Zack Kassian. When it became obvious no outlet could be had with any Maple Leafs’ player, Thackuk tore the bench, the hallway, and (although I didn’t see it) probably the dressing room apart on his way to a shower.
Thackuk Made a Mess of Things
Metaphorically and literally, Tkachuk made a mess of the place, his anger escalating because he found no one interested in offering him an outlet. The Maple Leafs showed they were obviously interested in his presence on the ice, but uninterested in allowing him an outlet for his out-of-control anger.
Tkachuk then took out his frustration at the Flames bench while his teammates patiently waited for him to finish throwing his toys.
In a really nice short article written by Yahoo Sports, hockey writer Justin Cuthbert suggested it was a savvy move for Muzzin and the Maple Leafs. It couldn’t have worked out better. Tkachuk was largely a non-factor in the game and wasn’t offered a chance to earn respect by fighting a bigger and stronger opponent to atone for his role in the Campbell incident.
Worse than a bloody nose and his pride, Tkachuk will now have to stew in the fact that he got caught in the irony of his own actions. He’ll have to watch – or at least hear about – his outburst for another month before the two teams play each other again.
How will Tkachuk act during that game? I’m putting no money on a bet that he’ll act as coolly as Muzzin did after the game on Tuesday night. Well played, Jake Muzzin.
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