For hockey fans under the age of 30, the Battle of Alberta between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames is little more than folklore and ancient history. A bunch of grainy YouTube clips, notations in dusty record books and good-old-days nostalgia passed on by those who actually witnessed it.
That, or it’s a distant and faded memory because if you are, say, 29 years old right now, you weren’t even in kindergarten the last time the Oilers and Flames got after it in the Stanley Cup playoffs in April of 1991 – a first-round series the Oilers won in seven games on an overtime goal by Esa Tikkanen (you were mastering finger painting back then and Tikky is 52 now).
Truth is, the Oilers and Flames of today can’t even go at each other now like they did back in the 1980s when both teams were terrific, the road to the Stanley Cup led through Alberta and the provincial rivals hated each other. With the way the game is played today, the players would end up suspended or in jail. Especially that #%@^# Jim Peplinski and that #$&@ Tim Hunter and $&#%! Paul Baxter. My fellow silverbacks will agree it was wonderful, no?
As we’re painfully aware of around here, the Battle of Alberta has been a battle in name only since 1991. Trash talk instead of a punch in the mouth. Lame chirping about old victories instead of getting after it with the glass rattling, fans on their feet in games that matter. Hell, almost half the players on the rosters of the teams today weren’t even born back in 1991. It’s been a long time since the Oilers and Flames were good at the same time, let alone since they faced each other in a playoff series.
Yet, here we are. At long last, is this the year?
DOWN THE STRETCH
With the Oilers out of the playoff picture for a decade since they made it to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final against Carolina, they’ve been grabbing most of the headlines as they’ve surged up the standings with Connor McDavid leading the way. The Oilers are 35-23-9 for 79 points as they host the Montreal Canadiens at Rogers Place tonight. Having been lousy for so long, that’s worthy of headlines. They’re going to make the playoffs.
If the Oilers can beat the Habs in the game in hand they hold over Calgary tonight, they’ll vault back over the Flames, who’ve been playing like a house on fire, in the Pacific Division and Western Conference playoff race. Yes, back over the Flames after watching them in the rear-view mirror most of this season. The Flames have a record of 38-26-4 for 80 points. The Flames jumped over the Oilers in the standings with a 3-0 win over Winnipeg, their ninth straight victory. Here come the bad guys.
So, what we’ve got right here and right now after too many years of a whole bunch of nothing and pissing matches about stuff that happened almost 30 years ago, is a real playoff race between two really good teams in the Oilers and Flames and fans in both cities contemplating the possibility they will meet in the first round of the playoffs. The Red Mile vs. Whyte Ave. McDavid vs Johnny Hockey. Pick your match-up.
With one or both teams incapable of holding up their end of the Battle Bargain for years, the only weak link right now is the NHL schedule-maker. The Oilers and Flames wrapped up their season series Jan. 21 in Edmonton’s 49th game of the schedule. The Oilers put the finishing touches on a four-game sweep with 7-3 waxing — they outscored the Flames 21-11 in 7-4, 5-3, 2-1 and 7-3 wins. The Oilers won’t get a chance to rub it in during the stretch drive, but all is forgiven if that first round lines up.
Early in the season it looked like the Oilers would leave the Flames in the dust. Now, with the Oilers playing their 68th game of the season when they take on the Canadiens, it’s pretty much a coin flip what happens the rest of the way. The Oilers, 5-4-1 in the last 10 games, have a more favourable home schedule. The Flames are playing better. Aside from that, it’s eyeball-to-eyeball.
35-23-9 79 Pts. (5-4-1 last 10)
GF: 190 GA: 177 plus-13
PP: 21.4 (seventh)
PK 79.5 (23rd)
Connor McDavid 23-52-75
Leon Draisaitl 23-33-56
Jordan Eberle 14-25-39
Milan Lucic 14-23-37
Patrick Maroon 21-11-32
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 13-19-32
Cam Talbot 33-19-8 .919 and 2.39
38-26-4 80 Pts. (9-0-1 last 10)
GF: 187 GA: 182 plus-5
PP: 20.0 (14th)
PK: 80.8 (15th)
Mikael Backlund 21-27-48
Johnny Gaudreau 14-34-48
Sean Monahan 22-24-46
Matt Tkachuk 12-32-44
Dougie Hamilton 10-34-44
Michael Frolik 15-26-41
Brian Elliott 20-13-3 .910 2.51
Chad Johnson 18-13-1 .913 2.54
So, after tonight, the Oilers and Flames will have played 68 games with 14 games remaining. They’ll either be within a point of each other or tied. All fans at this end of The Battle have asked for is to see the Oilers in meaningful games in March and April after years and years of meaningless games where the only thing at stake after welcoming in the New Year has been the draft lottery.
This is about as meaningful as it gets, and it’s about damn time. So, the Oilers and the Flames are really good at the same time again. Down the stretch we go with a first-round playoff match-up a possibility. I’d love to see it again. I’m guessing many of you would love to see it for the first time. Fingers crossed.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.