There is nothing that unites this province more than a Battle of Alberta.
So, imagine Saturday’s regular-season series finale, in a sold-out Scotiabank Saddledome, with both teams playing the best hockey they’ve played in years and chasing a post-season berth.
No word on what the final total of beverage sales were at press time, but you can bet that after an 1980s-style 9-5 Flames victory in front of the building’s first capacity crowd in two years would have made the home side’s supporters thirsty.
Calgary’s top line amassed 11 (!) points with Johnny Gaudreau adding five assists (one shy of his career high six), Matthew Tkachuk contributing two goals and two assists, while Elias Lindholm potted a pair of goals.
It was a wild back and forth game with plenty of scoring — Flames head coach Darryl Sutter’s nightmare, likely — but the Flames managed to outscore the Oilers 9-2 at even-strength.
Saturday might have been the last time these teams will face each other in the regular season, but there’s a chance they could clash in the playoffs — when it really matters, for what really matters.
If we’re lucky …
“Obviously it would be great,” Milan Lucic said after Saturday’s morning skate of the possibility of a post-season Battle of Alberta. “It would be great as a competitor and an athlete to be part of a rivalry like this. I just think about my time in Boston — we played the Canadiens four times in the playoffs in the first seven years that I was there. It’s just one of those things where it just adds to it because there’s the history.”
And, boy, the history between these teams is fun, having faced each other five times in the post-season from 1982-91 and a grand total of 290 games.
That included Saturday’s regular season series finale between these clubs, a high-flying affair that was played before a raucous sold-out crowd of 19,289 — the building’s first in more than two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early March 2020.
The topic of conversation was brought up prior to the game with both teams charging towards the playoffs, both in charge of their respective destinies.
Heading into Saturday’s action, the Flames were first in the Pacific Division, second in the Western Conference with a 39-17-8 record.
The Oilers, meanwhile, were seventh in the Western Conference and third in the Pacific with a 36-24-5 record.
And truth be told, no would complain if these teams were on a collision course to meet in the post-season.
“Obviously, there are a lot of games left to be played,” Lucic noted. “If it happens, it’ll be something great to be a part of. It would be great for us as players too, with the travel. We wouldn’t have to travel too far, so it wouldn’t be too hard on the body that way.
“So it would be great.”
A SLOW(ISH) START …
When Derick Brassard opened the scoring just 32 seconds for the Oilers in with a spectacular tip past Jacob Markstrom, there was an element of surprise — shock, even — from the home crowd (in red jerseys, at least). Was it really going to be one of ‘those’ nights where the Flames get outduelled by the Oilers?
Elias Lindholm ended that notion five minutes later, depositing an unbelievably timed pass from Matthew Tkachuk after he skated in all alone on Mikko Koskinen.
And after Darnell Nurse hung his head in shame after depositing an own-goal from Chris Tanev’s rebound.
And, 16 seconds later, when Mikael Backlund made it 3-1.
But when Draisaitl scored his first of the night in the final minute of the opening frame, that provided a preview into what was to come…
After Dillon Dube potted Calgary’s ninth of the night, the Saddledome crowd started chanting ‘WE WANT 10,’ to try to entice the Flames to get into double digits.
Kudos to the in-house entertainment crew to also start playing Dolly Parton’s hit song 9 to 5 at that point, too.
Also scoring in the third was Lindholm and Backlund, who’d potted his second of the night.
PENALTIES/POWER PLAY PLAYED A ROLE
Including Backlund’s interference penalty at the end of the first period — after elbowing Connor McDavid in the shoulder — the Flames opened the middle frame on the penalty kill.
It took Draisaitl just 44 seconds to solve it, the first of three power-play markers for the Oilers in the second period.
Another one, Draisaitl’s hat-trick marker, came on a five-on-three advantage that was nearly two full minutes long. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also found the back of the net.
But the Flames outscored their special teams as Oliver Kylington and Matthew Tkachuk (twice) lit the lamp in the second period.
One of Tkachuk’s markers chased the Oilers starting netminder Koskinen as he allowed his fifth goal on 12 shots.
Then, when former Flame and Tkachuk’s former teammate Mike Smith came in for mop-up duty, the Flames forward added another (and had some colourful language directed at the 40-year-old while skating by).
With 8:58 left in the second period, the Flames received their first power play when Duncan Keith was whistled for cross-checking.
CARPENTER MAKES HIS FLAMES DEBUT
Ryan Carpenter has known his role and place in any given lineup for a long time.
And there’s something to be said about honing your craft, particularly when it comes to carving out a role at the bottom of the lineup and being a reliable penalty killer.
“Probably early in the league I knew I’d be more of a depth forward,” said the 31-year-old, who arrived in the city earlier in the week following Monday’s NHL trade deadline acquisition that saw him acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks. “I think my first and third year I played more centre in Chicago and, this year I’ve been working at faceoffs and been thrown out there for ‘D’ zone draws and maybe when you start a shift in the ‘D’ zone, try to finish in the ‘O’ zone and get a top line out there to get some offence. I know my skill set — and I know my role in this league and know what I did to, to have to stay and also contribute to a team.”
It’s what the Flames are hoping he’ll bring down the stretch and heading into the post-season, adding a unique element to their lineup and competition among their depth forwards.
The Flames have four players who have at least 30 goals this season — Lindholm (34), Gaudreau (30), Matthew Tkachuk (30) and Mangiapane (30) … Calgary scratched C Sean Monahan, RW Brett Ritchie and D Michael Stone … D Noah Hanifin logged his 500th NHL game, becoming the fifth-youngest defencemen in NHL history to hit that mark … Sutter was in a mood on Saturday morning, particularly when an Edmonton-based reporter asked him if there were any qualities that his team possessed, reminding him of championship-level teams he’s coached in the past. “None,” Sutter snarled.