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BATTLE LINES

Talbot to start against old team as Flames host Oilers

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

It looked, and felt, like the work of a Hollywood screenwriter.

But not even they could author a drama like that.

In a game rife with intrigue thanks to the teams' 24-17-5 identical records, a painfully tight playoff race, and old friends-turned-foes ratcheting up the intensity, the Battle of Alberta has returned in a big way.

Sadly, though, the dream goalie matchup will have to wait.

In the blue ice at one end, the red-hot, ex-Oiler Cam Talbot will start for the homeside. It seemed likely that former Flame Mike Smith would follow suit and tend twine for the visiting Oil, here, in his old haunts, but not so.

Mikko Koskinen - who the Flames shelled for four goals on 19 shots back on Dec. 27 - will get the call for Edmonton.

Still, the opportunity to go up against his old team is, in itself, a story drenched in emotion for Calgary's newest puck-stopper.

"I've had a pretty good run here and I want to go in and give the guys a good chance again tonight," Talbot said. "I'm trying to make it like any other game, but this game means more - not just because of the rivalry, but with where we are in the standings.

"To me, the two points are the biggest thing tonight."

 

Video: "It's going to be a game of patience on my part"

 

Talbot, who is 5-2-0 with a .944 save percentage and a 1.93 goals-against average in his last eight games, spent parts of four seasons in Edmonton, leading the Oilers to within a game of the Western Conference Final in 2016-17.

That year, he played a mind-boggling 73 games, compiling a career-best, 42-22-8 record, along with a .919 save percentage and a 2.39 goals against average.

He feels he's back to that level as a Flame now, with chart-topping numbers across the board since Dec. 1.

Impressively, Talbot has an incredible .961 save percentage at even-strength, besting Toronto Maple Leafs backup, Michael Hutchinson, who's next in line at .957, in that span, and is coming off a season-high, 42-save effort on Thursday in a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.

So, yeah.

He's hot.

"It's not [like any other game] but that's the way you have to approach it," he said. "Anytime you try to over-think things or put too much pressure on yourself, that's when things can go wrong. I'm just going to go out there, play the same game, and let the guys do the same in front of me.

"There's a fine line between getting too amped up and not maybe focusing on the little things as much. Against a team like this, the little details are what is going to be a factor tonight. We can't go running out of position to make a big hit or something like that, when maybe your job is to hold back and prevent an odd-man rush. Those little details are going to be huge tonight against a team that can put the puck in the net."

Understandably familiar with the tendencies of the sharp-shooting Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Talbot laughed when asked who had the advantage after so many years together.

"That's tough to say," he laughed. "There are a lot of good shooters over there and that's what makes them so great, is they never do the same thing twice.

"It's going to be a game of patience on my part and try to make them make the first move."

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