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Hockey Duhatschek: Matt Stajan plays vital role as Flames’ ‘glue guy’

Matt Stajan's NHL career is now divided almost equally into two separate chapters: the early, giddy, Toronto Maple Leaf years and the later, harder, Calgary Flames years.

Long before Tyler Bozak arrived on the scene in Toronto, Stajan played most of one season as Phil Kessel's centre; had 41 points in 55 games; looked as though he would emerge as front-line offensive player – and then came the Dion Phaneuf trade.

Stajan was really the key piece going the other way, to Calgary, and it is one of the many delicious ironies of the Flames' current run to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs that Stajan's old boss is his new boss again.

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That would be Brian Burke, who traded him away and then got him back when he took over as hockey operations boss in Calgary 19 months ago.

Stajan is now 31 and, most recently, was the offensive hero when Calgary eliminated the Vancouver Canucks in six games this past Saturday.

Stajan made two notable plays that led the highlight reels as well as many small, detailed plays that make him a player that coach Bob Hartley implicitly trusts.

Stajan's thread-the-needle backhand pass to linemate Micheal Ferland put Calgary on the board in a game it trailed by three goals early – and then he scored the winner with under five minutes to go in regulation to put the Flames into the second round.

It was Calgary's first playoff win since Stajan arrived on the scene; only the second since 1989, and it has the town abuzz with the possibilities.

Stajan and his wife Katie dealt with a tragedy last season when their infant Emerson died soon after birth.

It created the sort of heartsickness that only a parent can truly appreciate and so this year, with Katie pregnant again, Stajan stayed behind from the Brier road trip to see the birth through.

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Baby Elliot is healthy and happy, and the two, mother and son, were home on Saturday watching the TV when Stajan had one of the most satisfying nights of his NHL career.

Life appears to be dealing Stajan a better hand these days, after facing a series of challenges both personal and professional. He is now a fixture in Calgary, in the city and on the team.

"If you ask every single guy in this room right now, we have known his value since Day 1," said Joe Colborne, another former Leaf now thriving with the Flames.

"The stuff he does off the ice for the rest of the team, you can't put a value on it.

"He's a glue guy. He keeps everyone together. He's so good at bringing young guys into the group and connecting with everybody, whether it's the trainers or the new guys. In my opinion, he's been playing the best hockey I've seen him play in the past couple of months and it's nice to see him finally getting some credit for it, outside of this room, because we all know how much he deserves it and how much he works behind the scenes and under the radar."

Stajan missed 16 games in the early part of the season while recovering from a knee injury and was playing a lesser fourth-line role upon his return.

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But in the aftermath of a late-season injury to forward Lance Bouma, Hartley shuffled his lines, in part – he said – to increase Stajan's workload.

Currently, Stajan is centring the team's shutdown defensive line with Ferland and David Jones, though they were an offensive threat in the opening round too, producing 13 points.

Chances are they'll get to see a fair bit of the Ducks' stars, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, when the Pacific Division final opens Thursday in Anaheim – a challenge Stajan embraces.

"The last year and a half, pretty much every game, Bob gave my line the assignment of playing against the other team's top line or second line," Stajan said. "You get to know players and how you play against them. Obviously, Getzlaf and Perry would be the biggest test because they're two of the world's best, but they've got four good lines, so no matter who you play against, you gotta be ready."

Until this spring, Stajan's last taste of playoff hockey came when he played three games for the 2003-04 Leafs as an NHL rookie more than a decade ago. As a result, he's been telling all of Calgary's youngsters to relish the playoff experience, because it is impossible to predict when it might come around again. Those Leaf years, Stajan acknowledged, seem like a long time ago.

"I try living in the moment," Stajan said. "When everything is said and done, you can look back at the good times and the roller coaster that a career is, but I'm just trying to enjoy this and make the most of it. We're down to eight teams. We've come together as a group here and will continue to do what we're trying to do."

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Follow me on Twitter: @eduhatschek

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