Beating the President trophy winners twice in four days was great, but tonight is the game the Oilers and their fans should really want to win. Tonight the Oilers have a chance to officially eliminate the Flames from playoff contention. There hasn’t been a meaningful game played between these two teams since April 16th, 1991 when Esa Tikkanen scored at the 6:58 mark of overtime in game seven of the Smythe division semi-final.
Since then, the Oilers and Flames have only made the playoffs in the same year once; in 2006. Only one freaking time in 19 NHL seasons have Alberta fans even had a chance at a true Battle of Alberta, so that is why tonight you should take it all in; because it might be another 10 years before these two franchises make the playoffs simultaneously.
Who cares about the standings, the line combinations, line match ups or who is reffing, because tonight is all about effort. The Flames will be desperate for a victory, and the Oilers actually have some confidence after back-to-back wins over the Canucks.
Last night Tom Renney hinted that Nikolai Khabibulin would start, but didn’t rule out the slim possibility that Devan Dubnyk would get his 3rd consecutive start. I’d go with Dubnyk, but if there was ever a game that the aging Russian could win over Oiler fans it would be tonight, if he puts on a stellar performance.
Tom Gilbert didn’t make the trip to Calgary, so it looks like Taylor Chorney will draw in and Jason Strudwick will play a bit of forward and defence.
GET FIRED UP
Oiler fans get your head in the game. When you watch the game sit in your lucky spot like you did during the 2006 Cup run. Don’t lie, you know you had a lucky spot. Put on your jersey, get emotionally invested in the game, because it is fun, and you haven’t done it in five years.
You have nothing to be worried about because tonight is a WIN-WIN for you. Don’t go into the game thinking this AHL-like squad can’t win. This is not the time for self-doubting. Believe in the hair of Jones, the slick hands of Eberle, the ability to stay healthy of Cogliano, the speed of Paajarvi, the toughness of Peckham or anything else that makes you think the Oilers will win.
You can’t lose tonight. An Oiler victory knocks the Flames out, and if the Flames win you are guaranteed 30th place and a shot at the first or second pick in June. Plus a Flames win would put them closer to the worst place to be, 9th and a the 14th pick in the draft. Or even better, the Flames could win and still be knocked out due to the Hawks and Ducks winning tonight. So for once you have no reason to worry, just believe that this rag-tag group of kids can go into the Saddledome and send home 20,000 red-jersey-wearing, middle-of-the-road-cheering and bleak-future-looking fans with tears in their eyes.
- I’m guessing other teams would also do it, but I think it is pretty weak that Corey Schneider can play the final 29 seconds last night and that is considered an "appearance", and if he gets into one more game he will qualify to have his name on the Jennings trophy with Roberto Luongo. I would rather see a minimum minutes played as the criteria. If you make it 1320 minutes, that would be equal to 22 games. Then if a team really wanted both goalies on the trophy they’d have to play a guy more than 29 seconds in the final few games to get him to the required 25 appearances. Just a thought.
- I thought Jeff Petry was outstanding last night. The two assists were just icing on the cake on a very solid effort. Petry has been above average since being recalled for a 2nd time, and last night he made excellent decisions with the puck, was physical when he needed to be, had exceptional gap control and he looks like he could be a top-four D-man next year.
- The only thing that might get your blood boiling more than tonight’s tilt is the debate regarding Raffi Torres’ hit on Jordan Eberle last night. I watched it live, and right away I didn’t think it would be a suspendable play. According to a few people the NHL will have a discipline hearing for Torres tomorrow. After the game I asked Eberle his thoughts of the play. "You get reaching like that and I kind of put myself in a vulnerable position, but at the same time I think he just left the puck and tried to take my head off," he said.
That is almost a trademark Torres play. He did it to Ryan O’Marra in the first period. When a guy comes to hit Torres, he will lean into him before the opposing player makes contact. His hit on Eberle was a bit different because Eberle was leaned forward and he put himself in a vulnerable position. Torres’ hit wasn’t blindsided because Eberle admitted he saw him coming, so it wouldn’t fall under rule 48.
However, there was contact to the head/shoulder and that is a hit the league wants to get rid of. Asking for the rest of the year, plus the first round of the playoffs is way too much, but I can understand if fans would like to see at least a two game suspension, so they feel there was some sort of discipline. I’d be fine if Torres gets two, one or no games. In my opiniontwo games doesn’t do much, and until the NHL puts in an actual headshot rule/suspension I don’t think we will see much discipline come down.
Rule 48 did cut down on blindsided shots to the head, so I would hope the NHL comes up with a new rule this summer that will hopefully reduce headshots. It will much harder to come up with the correct wording and interpretation of a headshot compared to the blindsided shot. Almost every hockey person was in favour of rule 48, but right now many are cautious to invoke an across-the-board head shot rule.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: I thought there was no chance the Oilers could sweep the Canucks, so how can you go against the red-hot Oil train. Oilers will send the Flames to the golf course with a 3-2 win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Steve MacIntyre won’t spend the entire game on the bench. I truly feel for a guy when he dresses and doesn’t even touch the ice. He will get at least three shift tonight, and he should try to intimidate the Flames every shift.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: After the game, Jarome Iginla will state it might be time for a change. He won’t say he wants a trade, but will admit the organization needs to go in a different direction. Immediately Flames fans will be split on how to react to Iginla’s comments. Some will rip him for not saying this in January when they could have traded him, while others will claim get rid of everyone but Iggy and we will win. Oiler fans will sit back and take it all in, knowing that they’ve been down the "trade-our-best-player-and-get-unfair-market-value" road many times. The Flamesnation post-game reaction will be almost as entertaining and satisfying as the game was for Oiler fans.