If you take a drink every time you hear the term Battle of Alberta between now and Saturday night, you’ll surely be in the bag by the time the puck drops between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames. The difference is, for the first time in a long time, this is a game that has a chance to live up to the hype.
Too often a BOA in name only, the second meeting of the teams this season is shaping up with a chance to live up to what once was one of the best rivalries in hockey. With 46 games in the books, the Oilers and Flames meet Saturday with identical 24-17-5 records for 53 points. Both teams have something to play for.
Both teams are on a roll. The Oilers made it three straight wins – the first time they’ve managed that since opening the season with five straight – Thursday with a come-from-behind 4-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. They’re 4-0-1 since the Flames spanked them 5-1 Dec. 27. Calgary made it four straight last night in a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.
While it won’t be Mark Messier punching Jamie Macoun in the mouth or Dave Semenko filling in Tim Hunter like when the teams went at each other like there was no tomorrow in the 1980s when the BOA was legendary, Saturday’s showdown at least has a chance to be a pretty good game. Unlike so many past meetings, the makings of a decent tilt are there. We’ll see.
The Oilers seem to have put a December that was pretty much a tire fire in the rear-view mirror since they last saw the Flames, a defeat that capped a 1-4-0 stretch. The Oilers have turned a five-game road swing that looked like a killer into a 3-0-1 trip heading into Cowtown. Down 2-0 to the Canadiens early in the second period, the Oilers roared back on goals by Riley Sheahan, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Alex Chiasson and Josh Archibald.
All that in front of yet another solid performance by Mike Smith, who stopped 35 of the 37 shots he faced after looking like he couldn’t stop a beach ball in December. A perfect game it wasn’t against the sad-sack Habs on a rare night when Connor McDavid played second billing to Edmonton’s depth players, but a win it was. Two points. On to Calgary.
“I’m really happy for him because he did have a tough December and he’s come back,” coach Dave Tippett said of Smith. “I’ve known Mike for a long time, he’s a good pro. He prepares, he’s an unbelievable athlete, and I’ve seen him get on rolls before, and he’s a really good player when he’s on a roll. We’ve kind of ridden him on this trip out here and he’s played very well, so it’s good to see.”
“The one thing we’re trying to key on here as players is to try to keep building our game,” said Chiasson, who got the game-winner on a deflection 9:40 into the third period. “You’ve got to figure out a way to get points. That’s what good teams do.”
TEE IT UP
The Flames, meanwhile, copped two points against Minnesota thanks to a 42-save performance by former Oiler Cam Talbot. While I still cringe when I see Smith flopping around the goal crease like Kris Russell in goal pads, he’s getting results right now and a showdown between him and Talbot would add yet another component to Saturday – I’m not sure we’ll see it.
That aside, with both teams rolling and deadlocked in the standings – not to mention the Oilers have something to prove after a feeble no-show in the last meeting of the teams – we’ve got a chance to see a pretty good game on Saturday night. A reasonable facsimile of the Battle of Alberta. Have at it, men. It’s been awhile.