He was a surprise entrant into the Battle of Alberta on Tuesday, but Calgary Flames defenceman Chris Tanev didn’t hold back, even if his body tried, in his return to the lineup in a tough 5-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
A gutsy effort from the veteran rearguard who was clearly ailing throughout the contest with an undisclosed injury he’s battled for more than a week.
“What can you say?” defenceman Rasmus Andersson started. “There’s a reason why he’s a leader on our team and I think he showed that tonight. It’s never easy battling through injuries, especially with what he’s battling through too. He showed a lot of heart tonight. All the guys on the bench, you know, we saw that. We tried playing for him as well.
“He’s a warrior. He’s an unbelievable teammate. He showed that tonight. He’s just an unbelievable guy, honestly.”
Tanev, who was injured in Game 6 of Calgary’s opening round series against the Dallas Stars, missed Game 7 and the first three Battle of Alberta bouts against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.
He returned to play 19:24 — including 2:03 shorthanded — and had one assist and a plus-1 rating. Understandably, he wasn’t credited with a hit.
Tanev took seven. Each looked painful.
“He’s a great leader for us,” alternate captain Mikael Backlund said. “It’s great to see him in the room. Has great character – always plays really solid and hard.”
Tanev’s return to the lineup might’ve surprised despite the fact he’s been skating throughout his game-time off, including Tuesday morning when he was partnered up with black ace Connor Mackey as Calgary’s fourth pair on the game-day skate.
Truth is, Tanev’s been lobbying to get back in.
“He’s wanted to play the last two games and it was just at the point where it was up to him and the medical staff and that was it,” Flames coach Darryl Sutter said.
“I thought it was a gutsy effort.”
An effective one, too.
Tanev had an expected goals percentage of 77.75 in his 17:12 of even-strength ice time, with an expected goals for of 0.62 and a goals against of 0.18, according to MoneyPuck. It was the highest, by a solid margin, of any player to hit the ice, and a significant spread over the next closest Flames skater.
Primarily featured with Oliver Kylington, his regular partner, Tanev was on the ice for 15 shots for and only six against.
They’ll need more of that.
The Flames, who now trail the best-of-7 series 3-1, are 0-9 lifetime in that scenario, including 0-6 when starting a series at home.
Making a potential Tanev return key the rest of the way.
“It’s never easy battling through stuff. But he did it,” Andersson said. “We hope to see him back next game, too. He’s one of the leaders on our team. There’s a reason for that.
“I think he showed that tonight, for sure.”