Tanev tonight bug

DALLAS -- Chris Tanev walked down the tunnel one shift into Game 5 of the Western Conference Second Round. The Dallas Stars defenseman had collided with Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon in front of the net.

The initial word was that he’d had a tooth pushed in, and the medical staff had to pull it so he could return in only about eight minutes. Dallas coach Pete DeBoer and multiple teammates made a variation of the same joke: Did Tanev have any teeth left to lose?

Tanev set the facts straight later.

“No, my tooth didn’t come out,” he told TNT. “My teeth went, like, into my lip, so they had to pull my lip back over my teeth and stitch it up.”


Look, there are many stories of crazy, casual toughness in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But we should never become numb to what players do at this time of year, nor should we overlook what Tanev has brought to Dallas.

This is a 34-year-old who was playing for the Calgary Flames before he went to the Stars in a trade Feb. 28, and he’s on an expiring contract. He had no chemistry with the Stars and no commitment to Dallas beyond this season. Yet he has fit in perfectly and fought hard with his new teammates.

He has 56 blocked shots, most in the NHL in playoffs. He’s plus-8, tied for second in the League in the playoffs, even though he has only one assist in 13 games. He has been on the ice for four 5-on-5 goals, fewest among Dallas’ top five defensemen, while killing penalties and protecting late leads.

He was a big reason the Stars advanced to the Western Conference Final and will be a key factor against the Edmonton Oilers or Vancouver Canucks. Game 1 is at American Airlines Center on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET; TNT, truTV, MAX, SN, CBC, TVAS).

“He’s probably the best defensive defenseman I’ve ever played with in my life,” Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger said. “He’s just so solid. He’s not the fastest, not the strongest. He’s just so smart, I think. I mean, his willingness to sacrifice his body and block shots is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

“I think he fit into our system really well, and I think that’s because of hockey IQ. He knows what the coaches want and does it really well and communicates well with the goalies and kind of knows what we like and don’t like and vice versa. So, he’s been a great fit. Hell of a player.”

The Flames were more passive against the rush and layered in the defensive zone. The Stars are more aggressive and have contained two excellent rush teams, defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in seven games in the first round and the Avalanche in six in the second.

“We want to close and squash and kill plays, but he’s built for that -- his feet, his mobility, his mindset, his aggressive mindset,” DeBoer said. “So, I think he’s been a great fit from a system point of view, and he’s a great fit in the dressing room.

“You can see why this guy was so popular in Calgary and in their dressing room and stuff. He’s a real great teammate.”

Tanev said he’s just doing his job.

“I think I played well in both places,” he said. “It’s definitely a different system, but you have to be able to adapt and change and do what the team wants, right?”

He was quick to credit his teammates.

“A lot of it’s the help from the forwards, right?” he said. “I mean, you have back pressure. You have guys tracking. It allows us to [keep tight gaps] and try to kill plays and disrupt plays. …

“You know, [the opponents] have to come to us, right? If there’s a huge gap between our forwards and their guys with the puck, they’re allowed to cut laterally, they’re allowed to hesitate, do things that are going to disrupt our gaps, and that’s why they’re so successful off the rush.”

Dallas forward Matt Duchene said Tanev is a prime example of a player whose “little things are huge things.”

“He’s able to defend, shut down plays, but his passing is, I think, probably his most underrated skill,” Duchene said. “His first pass out of the zone, his headiness, he’s just an incredibly, incredibly smart player both with the puck and without it. He was a huge addition.”

Tanev doesn’t bite his lip when asked about his experience in Dallas.

“It’s been awesome,” he said. “I’ve said it multiple times: The guys here have been great to my wife and I and allowed us to sort of adapt and adjust and fit in.

“Obviously, you’re always worried when you get traded. ‘Hey, am I going to be able to fit in? Is it going to work on and off the ice?’ I mean, from the ownership down to management, coaches, the guys obviously, trainers, everyone sort of has one goal in mind here, and that sort of makes it a lot easier.”