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Tanev inspires young Flames through injury scare, showing what it takes to win


NEWARK, NJ – With scouts from half of the NHL’s teams on hand to scrutinize a Flames club with several juicy trade targets, it appeared for a couple moments some of them could have gone home early Thursday night.

The man many came to see, Chris Tanev, had disappeared down the tunnel midway through the game following a collision with netminder Jacob Markstrom.

Before the Twitterverse could explode with news of his departure, he returned minutes later.

As he always does.

Disaster averted for a club that is counting on at least a second-rounder and young player in exchange for the 34-year-old’s services down the stretch.

Late in the third period it happened again, this time with an even more dramatic exit as it appeared Tanev was cut by an opponent’s high stick.

But just in time to avoid the debate over whether the club should protect their asset by considering sitting the veteran out until he’s traded, he skated back out.

Just another night at the office (and trainer’s room) for the team’s ultimate warrior.

“I think honestly, maybe he just catches his breath and realizes he’s made out of steel,” laughed Connor Zary of Tanev’s nightly tunnel turnaround.

“It’s pretty impressive.

“Every day it surprises me the things he does, and the way he puts his body on the line and, and that’s what you need to win.”

Tanev has taught this young bunch plenty as they continue to hang around the fringes of the wild card race.

And while the future of unrestricted free agents Tanev and Noah Hanifin hangs over a team clearly in flux, the kids have managed to piece together a three-game winning streak.

Encouraging for a team that may soon have even more youngsters in the lineup.

For the second game in a row, the Flames got key goals from Zary and Andrei Kuzmenko in a 5-3 win at Prudential Center, where Mikael Backlund, Andrew Mangiapane and Kevin Rooney also scored.

Kuzmenko’s solid start with Calgary, since being acquired in last week’s Elias Lindholm swap, has been a positive storyline for a team full of them, including Rooney.

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Returning from the same shoulder surgery Jakob Pelletier had four months ago, Rooney’s first goal since Dec. 2021 capped a night in which he continued to prove he’s worthy of trying to fill Lindholm’s shoes as a chief penalty killer.

But nothing made the group happier than when Zary’s 12th of the season broke a 1-1 tie early in the second.

Arms extended skyward in celebration, he appeared to be soaking in the moment.

Or so it seemed.

Turned out he just couldn’t believe his good fortune, as a Nazem Kadri shot squeezed through the pads of Vitek Vanecek, prompting Zary to take a few late strides into the crease where he backhanded in a freebie.

“I think I was just laughing a little bit to myself,” beamed the 22-year-old rookie sensation.

“Honestly, I was just gliding towards the net and the crowd kind of scored that one for me, going ‘ohhh,’ and then I was like, ‘oh, I should probably take a couple strides, and check it out.

“I was kind of just looking up, laughing to myself.

“That was a nice one from the crowd. It’s always nice to kind of get on the scoreboard and help out, and they all count the same way.”

Jonathan Huberdeau, who was playing in his 800th career game, said the club is feeding off the energy of guys like Zary.

“It’s important nowadays to have young guys in the room and we’ve made them feel they’re a big part of our team,” said Huberdeau, who took the pack of youngsters out to dinner Wednesday.

“They’re not just there to play, they’re there to play well.”

As far as Tanev goes, coach Ryan Huska said he rarely worries much when the veteran shot blocker disappears for a few repairs.

“You always are stressed when someone goes down the tunnel because you don’t know what’s going on at the time, but with Chris, as we know in Calgary, he plays through everything and anything, so you expect him to be back,” he said.

“He’s one of the most important players on our team,” added Zary, who is one of the many youngsters benefitting from having Tanev help them win games, while also teaching them what it takes.

“He does whatever it takes to win a game.

Sometimes you see him go to the tunnel and you’re like, ‘oh crap.’But then you think, ‘Oh, it’s Tanny – he’ll be back in 30 seconds. He’s such a warrior.”

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