If the Calgary Flames game against the Colorado Avalanche was a Western Conference final preview, can we please have a Battle of Alberta in the first or second round?
The intensity of most games between these two teams is automatic. The Flames host the Edmonton Oilers on Monday. It’s the first BOA at full capacity since BC (Before COVID) and the feeling fans get outside the locker-room isn’t dissimilar from what’s happening inside of it.
“You feel the emotions in the room. They’re pretty contagious,” said Calgary Flames newcomer Blake Coleman, set to play his first Battle of Alberta on home ice. “You can feel the history between them. And, obviously, the hype’s there just outside the arena.”
Saying all the right things externally, the players chalk it up to ultimately just another win they need and another team they need to push down the standings. But memories are made through rivalry games.
Matthew Tkachuk – no stranger to creating those moments against the Oilers – remembers the last time a full house at the Saddledome roared during a Battle of Alberta in February of 2020. It was the night goaltenders Mike Smith (Oilers) and Cam Talbot (Flames) squared off for a scrap at centre ice. They were both on the other side of the storied rivalry the previous season.
“We’ve missed them. That’s probably the best part of the rivalry,” Tkachuk said of the fans. “One of my last memories here with full fans was probably the goalie fight. That was probably the loudest I’ve ever heard the rink.”
Tkachuk played a role in that, dropping the gloves with Ethan Bear in the latter’s first NHL fight. Bear is gone. But plenty of Oilers would likely jump at the opportunity to engage Tkachuk.
Asked if he prefers games with shenanigans, Tkachuk was coy.
“You’re asking the wrong guy for that stuff,” he said. “See what the game brings and hopefully come up with a win.”
Flames play tough opponents with tight turnaround
The win is ultimately most important. In two games in Edmonton this year, the Oilers have come away with the two points. In a quest to cement their status as a playoff team well before we get to the season’s final stretch, Coleman enjoys the fact the Calgary Flames are facing top teams in tight turnarounds this week.
They beat the Avalanche in overtime, face their heated provincial rival, then host the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning before a back-to-back against the Detroit Red Wings and the Avs again on the weekend.
“It’s getting to be that time of year where the teams really start to separate themselves. I think you’d almost rather have a challenging schedule down the stretch and play teams that you’re going to see in the postseason and teams that have had success in the postseason because it’s a good measuring stick,” Coleman said.
“It gives you things to focus on and work on. And it keeps you with that edge that you need to play with to be successful in the playoffs.
“This is a great test for our group. That’s how playoffs work, you play a lot of hockey in a short amount of time and you’re playing the best of the best.”
In Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter’s mind, the Oilers certainly fit that description coming into the season.
“I think that going into the season, Vegas and Edmonton were the two teams that clearly were ahead of the pack in this division. On paper, and things they’ve done and the players they have,” Sutter said.
“We look at it as, to get in (the playoffs), they’re a team we’re going to have to finish ahead of.”