Tatar, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Detroit Red Wings, has not played since May 16 and has only suited up in six playoff games this postseason. Based off line rushes, it appeared Tatar would play on the third line and replace the slumping David Perron in the lineup, but Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant refused to admit Perron would be the odd-forward out.
“You can speculate [Perron] is out,” Gallant said, in response to a reporter. “Putting Tatar in is no issue. We haven’t played good hockey and coaches make decisions.”
Perron scored a career-high 66 points (16 goals, 50 assists) for Vegas this season, but he has tallied just one point (an assist) in his past six playoff games. Perron becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Tatar, a 27-year-old Slovak, said he found out on Sunday night that he made the lineup.
“This is the playoffs and all the personal feelings goes aside,” Tatar said Monday morning. “We’re all here for one goal, and that’s to win. And it doesn’t matter who is in and who is out. Everybody is going for one goal and wants to win.”
The Golden Knights have lost two consecutive games for the first time this postseason. Prior to that, they were on a five-game winning streak. First-line winger Jonathan Marchessault called Game 4 a “must-win for us.”
General manager George McPhee paid a big price for Tatar, trading away Vegas’ first-round pick in 2018, a second-round pick in 2019, and a third-round pick in 2021. However Tatar fell out of favor with Gallant. In 20 regular-season games with Vegas, Tatar had just four goals, two assists and a minus-11 rating.
After being scratched in seven of Vegas’ first 11 playoff games, Tatar was reinserted into the lineup for Game 2 of the conference finals. He scored the Golden Knights’ first goal at 13:23 in the first period en route to 3-1 road over the Winnipeg Jets to even the series at 1-1. It was Tatar’s first point of the postseason; Vegas went on to win the next three games to win the series.
“He came, and he had a chance to play right away, and then he didn’t play and he just kept working,” Golden Knights alternate captain Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “Great attitude to help us when we were in tough loss, in the locker room, behind the scene. I always like him in the lineup. It’s always fun. He did it against Winnipeg and he helped us big time, so it’s always fun to see a guy who is patient, keeps working and then suddenly it pays off.”
Asked what Tatar brings to the lineup, Gallant said: “He brings offense, can shoot the puck, is good on the power play. He’ll play his game and our system and work hard. He’s excited to play, that’s for sure.”
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