'It's crazy': Ex-Wing Tatar relishes ride with Vegas
Hockey weather, maybe it’s not.
It’s mentioned to Tomas Tatar, as he’s headed home after a Vegas Golden Knights practice, about how it’s supposed to reach 104 degrees outside in Las Vegas on this day. It's not exactly the sort of weather that screams “hockey."
“Kind of nice,” said Tatar, who was dealt by the Red Wings at the trade deadline to the Golden Knights for three draft picks. “It really is.”
What else is nice, for Tatar, is getting ready for Saturday’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Winnipeg Jets.
The expansion Golden Knights have been a miraculous story all season, shattering all sorts of expansion records, and now are shocking fans and analysts in the playoffs.
Along with the success on the ice, the Golden Knights have become a revelation off it. Their T-Mobile Arena is sold out every game, Vegas fans are selling out Golden Knights gear, and some are beginning to label the area Hockeytown West.
“It’s a little bit crazy,” said Tatar, who has experienced the hoopla for almost three months. “The whole city is behind us. Everybody is talking about it on the radio.
“Everyone is excited. It’s like being part of a hockey boom around here.
“This is a lot of fun. To be in the playoffs, with a great group of guys here, it’s amazing.”
Now, things aren’t entirely perfect these days for the popular former Red Wing.
While the playoffs have been thrilling, for Tatar, it would be that much better had he consistently been playing in them.
Tatar has only played in four of the Golden Knights' 10 playoff games, being a healthy scratch in the other six. He has no points in the four games, with a zero plus-minus rating, and four shots on net.
For a player who the Golden Knights sent the Wings a first-round draft pick this year, a second-rounder next year, and a third-round selection in 2020, it is a bit eye-opening to not see Tatar in the lineup.
“It upsets you a little bit sometimes,” Tatar said of the benching. “But right now, it’s all about winning and doing whatever it takes to help the team win. I want to win. It upsets you sometimes, but it’s all about being supportive, creating a good environment and it’s all about winning.”
Tatar said he understands Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant leaning toward players, and a lineup, that Gallant has been familiar with from the start of the season.
“I’m just working hard off the ice to be ready,” Tatar said.
Tatar played in 20 games with the Golden Knights after being traded, posting six points (four goals, two assists) with a minus-11 plus-minus rating.
Tatar admits the adjustment was gradual, with the shock of being traded for the first time in his career. But the tight-knit, and inviting, Golden Knights roster has helped getting comfortable in Vegas.
“The guys have been great,” Tatar said. “It’s not easy being traded for the first time but the room here, there’s a lot of great guys. I knew a lot of guys from playing in the World Cup, and being around the league.
“And Nosey (former Red Wing Tomas Nosek), being a former teammate, and being a guy who speaks Czech, they’ve all made it real good.”
Sure the Las Vegas Strip is spectacular, non-stop entertainment, but Tatar has settled in — like most of the team — in the suburb of Summerlin, away from the glitz.
“Twenty minutes from The Strip, real quiet, real nice, quiet neighborhoods,” Tatar said. “We’re about 20 minutes from The Strip, close to the practice rink. I didn’t know much about the area, the first time the Red Wings played here (in October) was the first time I’ve been to Vegas.
“It’s beautiful here.”
Tatar isn’t surprised his new team has reached the Final Four and is one round away from playing for the Stanley Cup.
Although, everyone else in the hockey world is amazed.
“I don’t think any of the analysts, or a lot of people, expected us to be here,” Tatar said. “(But) when I watched them, even when I was back in Detroit, I knew they were a real good team.
“Play real fast, roll four lines, great goaltending, it’s a not a surprise to me.”
Facing Winnipeg in the Western Conference Finals should make for an entertaining series in a variety of ways.
Both teams are fast, prolific offensively but sound defensively, and have great goaltending — Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck (Commerce Township) have been extremely good.
But both teams are driven by rabid fan bases who have become enthralled by their teams’ success.
“Every team that is left (at this point) is a good team,” Tatar said. “Whoever you play, it’s a good team.
“Winnipeg’s got a good offense. They’re fast, and the support there, from the fans, like here, is tremendous.”
The Golden Knights, though, will stick to the formula that has worked for them since the start.
Tatar feels it will be effective, albeit, cliché’ and unexciting.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, playing one game at a time, one series at a time,” Tatar said.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Winnipeg vs. Vegas
When: Game 1 at 7 p.m. Saturday
Note: Three of the four teams left weren’t in the playoffs last season — expansion Vegas, Winnipeg, and Tampa (in the East). Washington was eliminated in the second round last year.
Prediction: Winnipeg in 7, Tampa in 6