Wild Wild West! Flames Dolly Parton the Oilers 9-5
Creative minds can picture the next edition of the Heritage Classic outdoor featuring the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers out at Lake Louise.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has already speculated Edmonton as a potential host two seasons from now. The 2023-24 season marks the 20th anniversary of the first outdoor NHL game hosted by the Oilers.
But this year’s version of the Flames and Oilers decided to play some pond hockey a little early in the final regular-season Battle of Alberta.
Five goals in the first period. Another six in the second. Punctuating the 9-5 victory at the Saddledome, the Calgary Flames scored three unanswered in the third period.
To be fair, both teams are pretty tough to defend.
The Calgary Flames have four 30-goal scorers this season. Matthew Tkachuk added two more to his total on Saturday to give the Flames a 6-4 lead before the halfway point.
The Edmonton Oilers have two, but they’re a pretty special pair. Connor McDavid is the league’s powerplay king, and Leon Draisaitl’s hat-trick against the Flames on Saturday has him just three shy of 50.
McDavid had a pair of assists on the man-advantage, adding to his NHL-leading powerplay point total. But it was the Calgary Flames stars who stole the show on Hockey Night in Canada.
Johnny Gaudreau had five assists. Linemate Matthew Tkachuk had a pair of goals and two assists. Their centre Elias Lindholm scored his 33rd and 34th goals of the season and the trio was a combined plus-12 on the night. That came after they took over Friday’s game after being reunited.
Big night for Flames top line
“They had a big night,” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter summed up afterward. “And they’ve been good five-on-five all year. There’s something to be said for the difference between goals for and goals against when you’re on the ice.”
That top line is a big reason the Flames have a plus-71 goal differential on the season – second only to the Florida Panthers this season.
“Yeah, those were huge goals by the top line,” Calgary Flames centre Mikael Backlund said on Sportsnet 960 post-game. The pair of Tkachuk goals in the second period included the game-winner. Lindholm’s goal in the third period was a backbreaker.
“For them to step up and score right away (in the third period) was huge for us,” Backlund continued. “We just kept the momentum.”
The Flames were a force over the final 20 minutes and seemed intent on cracking double digits. They outshot the Oilers 16-4 and had the Saddledome crowd chanting for 10.
“It was awesome,” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said of the atmosphere. “Only thing I didn’t like was all them black hats that were thrown on the ice.
“Must have been a giveaway in Leduc or something.”
Draisaitl hat-trick overshadowed by letdown in goal
As usual, there were plenty of Oilers fans in attendance for the Battle of Alberta. But the Draisaitl hatty couldn’t make up for the nine even-strength goals scored by the Flames.
The goaltending difference was exposed with Mikko Koskinen chased from the net in favour of Mike Smith, who still ended up taking the loss.
Meanwhile, Flames starter Jacob Markstrom played the full 60 despite suiting up for Friday’s game less than 24 hours earlier. He ended up making a massive save on Evander Kane to keep the game at 6-5 early in the third period.
“I told Marky after the game, that’s the difference,” Sutter said. “The difference on a lot of teams is big saves or bad goals.”
There were plenty of both on the night, which was reminiscent of a game between these two clubs in the 1980s.
“Nah,” said Sutter. “There would have been fights and a lot more hits, for sure.”
Let’s hope the rubber match from the 2-2 season series is a playoff round between these two.