Matthew Tkachuk excels at centre, helps Calgary Flames take 31 win over Philadelphia Flyers

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Matthew Tkachuk insists he’s not a centre, despite the results.

Tkachuk’s rare face-off win led to his game-tying goal and the rookie later assisted on the winner to lead the Calgary Flames to a 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night.

Down 1-0 early, Tkachuk came in to take a faceoff in the Flyers’ end of the ice after Mikael Backlund got tossed out. Across from him was Claude Giroux, who at 55.7 per cent, ranks 12th in the NHL on the draw. Tkachuk won it, just his seventh face-off win of the season, and Backlund set up the 19-year-old rookie in front for an open net.

“I talked to (assistant coach Martin Gelinas) before the game, he said my percentage is actually going up, it’s up to 35 percent now,” Tkachuk said with a laugh. “So yeah, good win.”

Asked about his technique he quipped, “I just swing at the puck.”

Calgary took the lead for good at 12:45 of the second. TJ Brodie scored just inside the goal post with Sam Bennett screening Philadelphia goalie Michal Neuvirth.

“I look at that goal and (Tkachuk) made a great play and (Brodie) made a great shot, but the thing that we’re going to value was Sam Bennett standing in front and fighting his way there so the goalie couldn’t see it,” said Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan.

That goal stood up as the winner thanks to an excellent performance from Brian Elliott, who made 33 stops in net for the Flames.

“They got one on us early but I think we were still playing well. We did a good job not getting down,” said Elliott, who has won four of his last five starts. “Getting that first one tied it up right away and we just moved from there. For me, it gets you in the game a little bit easier.”

— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) February 16, 2017

One of his best stops was a sharp glove save off Jakub Voracek just minutes before Brodie gave Calgary the lead.

“He was dialled in all night long. Right until the bitter end he was making saves,” Gulutzan said. “This is a game our goalie won us.”

Mark Girodano scored into an empty net for Calgary (29-26-3). It was a big bounce-back win after an ugly outing on Monday when the Flames came out of their five-day bye week and got whipped 5-0 at home by the Arizona Coyotes.

The two points moves Calgary back into the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Although the Los Angeles Kings, one point back, hold three games in hand.

Nick Cousins scored for Philadelphia (27-23-7). The Flyers squandered an opportunity to pull even with Toronto for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

“It sucks,” said Cousins. “Obviously you want to start the road trip off the right way. I thought we took it to them there most of the game. I thought their goalie played well, but that’s been the excuse the last 10, 15 games. We’ve got to make it harder for them.”

Elliott improves to 12-13-2 while Neuvirth, only tested 23 times, fell to 9-6-1.

A big moment in the game came later in the first period. Flames right-winger Alex Chiasson was assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct for spearing Cousins long after the whistle.

Sean Monahan’s delay of game penalty resulted in two of those minutes being 5-on-3 but the visitors could not take advantage.

“That’s one pivotal point of the game where obviously we could have pushed the game back our direction,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol. “We didn’t win enough puck battles.”

Notes:

Flames improve to 21-0-1 when leading after two periods… Calgary adjusted its second defence pairing putting Brodie with Deryk Engelland. Brodie had been with Dennis Wideman since November 15… Matt Bartkowski. 28, has signed a PTO with Calgary. The defenceman played 80 games with Vancouver last season. He was playing for Providence (AHL)… Tkachuk moves into second on the team with 36 points.

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