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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

GDB -1.0: First ever pre-playoff game (8:30pm MT, SNW)

Let’s hope we never have to watch another pre-playoff game in our lifetime. A global pandemic put the NHL in this unique situation, and while it will be something we all remember in the future, I hope we don’t have to experience it again.

That being said, the intrigue for tonight’s Battle of Alberta is monumental. This game is the only opportunity the 40 skaters and goalies have to knock off four months of rust, earn game experience and get ready for the playoffs this weekend.

This game is the most important pre-season/pre-playoff game I’ve ever covered and likely the most important one you’ve watched. The rarity of this game combined with the opportunity for hockey fans to escape from the endless chatter about COVID makes this game much more meaningful.

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The hockey world can collectively exhale, sit on the couch, or at a table at a pub, and just get lost in the enjoyment of hockey — cheering a goal, a big save, a big hit, critiquing a bad play or yelling at the ref for a missed call. We enjoy sports because of the passion it awakens inside of us, at least it does for me, and the past few months I’ve realized how much I enjoy sports. The unpredictability, the athleticism, the raw emotion and the skill is endless and I love all of it.

I’m excited to see the NHL return along with the NBA and other sports, and I feel blessed I will be in the arena tonight. It will be different without fans. Much less exciting, I suspect, without the roar of the crowd. The game will still be exciting, but sitting in the press box above the crowd is a great vantage point to watch the game. Not only do I watch the game, but I get to witness 18,000 people smiling, cheering, laughing, interacting, sometimes frustrated but mainly having fun.

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Looking at the big picture

The crowd adds so much to the atmosphere in the building. It will be extremely strange watching the game in an empty arena, but this odd situation allows for a storyline we’ve never seen.

How will the teams react?

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Will momentum swings be more difficult without a rambunctious crowd?

Will teams will able to build off a shift where they dominate on the cycle, or after some great scoring chances, without the crowd going crazy?

Emotion is such a massive part of sports and the challenge all teams will face is: can they maintain the heightened emotion without 18,000 fans cheering them on?

I think they will adapt, but no question it will be different. And teams who have the ability to sustain momentum longer will have more success.

While you wait for tonight, here is something you will enjoy from Best of Hockey.

And here is another.

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LINEUP…

Oilers

RNH-McDavid-Kassian
Ennis-Draisaitl-Yamamoto
Athanasiou-Haas-Archibald
Neal-Khaira-Chiasson
P.Russell

Nurse-Bear
Klefbom-Larsson
Russell-Benning
Broberg

Smith
Koskinen

The last time the Oilers played their forward lines were exactly the same as tonight, except Riley Sheahan was playing and not Gaetan Haas. The Oilers didn’t have a media avail this morning and no one can watch practice, but based on yesterday and some texts I exchanged, I sense Sheahan will not play tonight, but the Oilers are expecting him to be ready for Saturday.

The NHL is allowing teams to dress 13 forwards and seven D-men, and the Oilers will tonight. No word on who starts in goal, and I’m curious if Dave Tippett will give both goalies half a game. I would.

Flames

Gaudeau-Monahan-Lindholm
Mangiapane-Backlund-Tkachuk
Lucic-Ryan-Dube
Bennett-Jankowski-Rieder
Rinaldo
Giordano-Brodie
Hanifin-Andersson
Forbort-Gustafsson
Stone

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The Nation Bubble Roundup

Rittich
Talbot

Head coach Geoff Ward hinted both goalies could play for the Flames, but didn’t want to name who would start. The guys at Flamesnation think it will be Talbot.

Tonight…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: It will look like a preseason game early with some missed passes and a slower pace, but the pace will pick up as the players regain their form. Oilers win with a late goal by score of 4-3.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid scores. He has 15 goals in 20 career games against the Flames.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The new camera angles will stand out. There are clear boards in the corners which likely means we could see an ice level shot from the corner. Fans at home will get a more intimate viewing of the game, but keep in mind they will only use a some of the things that you will see on Saturday and they will be experimenting with different angles and possibilities for the in-game presentation and ensure they are set for the actual playoffs. Also, James Neal scores his first goal in 2020.

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