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With a critical two points up for grabs, the Flames are focusing on a win - not the noise - in tonight's Battle of Alberta

by TY PILSON @typilson /

EDMONTON - There's plenty of hoopla around tonight's game with the Oilers.

More storylines that an episode of Game of Thrones.

Some folks seem to be treating it like the circus has come to town.

The Battle of Alberta is certainly back. 

There's no doubt about that.

And with it, all the great things - and great emotions - that make it one of the best rivalries in sports.

These are two teams that don't like each other from two cities that don't like each other, with two very passionate fan bases - that also don't like each other.

That's never changed.

What has changed, at times over the years, is the different fortunes of the clubs that often sapped some of the importance out of their meetings.

Right now, that's not an issue.

Both clubs are locked in a heated battle for playoff position in the ultra-tight Pacific Division, a battle that will likely continue right till the end of the season.

There's simply no way to overemphasis how much is on the line everytime they meet now.

"Yeah, because we're both fighting for huge playoff spots," said Flames captain Mark Giordano. "It feels like it's been a long time since we've been in this situation, this late in the season. Both teams. It's a good thing for hockey and I think it's a great thing for our sport. These are easy games to get up for, and tonight will be no different. I'm sure there will be a good buzz in the building and I'm sure it will be a great atmosphere.

"These are the games you have to look forward to when you're playing, because they don't come around too often and when they do, you have to take advantage of it."


Video: "We can really make it count tonight"


Of course, the elephant in the room - a part of that aforementioned circus - is the fallout from the last time the clubs met on Jan. 11, when Matthew Tkachuk and Zack Kassian engaged in an ongoing old-school BOA brouhaha.

In the tilt, Tkachuk laid some big hits on the Oilers forward, who later dropped the gloves and threw a flurry of punches at the Calgary star. Kassian ended up with a two-game suspension from the league for his actions.

But while many want to focus on that situation heading into tonight's tilt as the single biggest storyline, the Flames certainly don't.

They have won two games against the Oilers this season (essentially stealing eight points) and look to make it a hat-trick tonight.

That story has the nicest ring to it for them.


Video: Coach Ward on lineup, facing the Oilers and more


"We've all been through these situations before," said Flames interim coach Geoff Ward. "The danger is that you get tied up in the hype so much that you don't play. The bottom line for both teams is that right now, we're in a playoff race, and if you look at our division lately, there are a lot of teams real, real close. At the end of the day, the outcome is the most important thing. 

"You can talk all you want, but the message in both dressing rooms is the same, I guarantee it. That is, go out and play our game. Don't get focused on all the stuff on the outside, the most important thing is the two points. We want to go out and play our game, and I'm sure they want to play their game. That will make for a good game in itself. I can't even remember all the stuff that's been said the last three weeks. Stuff goes back and forth, and that's the way it is."

Tkachuk spoke to the media Wednesday morning and echoed those sentiments.

"I go in every game trying to do - honestly - whatever I can to make sure my team wins," he said. "The rest is up for you guys to talk about."

Did he expect the game to be more heated that normal?

"I don't think so. Two teams need this win. That's the focus for both teams."


Video: Matthew Tkachuk on Flames-Oilers hype


That focus, for Calgary, includes limiting the damage done by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

"This is a building we had success in early, I think, last month," said Tkachuk of a 5-1 victory on Dec. 27. "If we play the same way we did then, I like our chances. 

"When we came in here last time, we played a really smart game. We took away their two top guys, as well as we maybe could have. Those guys are really hard to contain over there - especially those top two. They've got two of the best players in the world, so we've got to make sure we take away them - the engine of their team. Just play smart, play above them, make them come through a bunch of guys, and we'll see - hopefully - we can pull through again."

Like we said, the Battle is certainly back.

Buckle up.

"It's fun," said Travis Hamonic. "When you're playing your rivals at this point in the season - or at anytime when you're this close in the standings - it's always going to be eventful hockey. I think it's like that all throughout the NHL with all teams and their rivals. 

"Given the fact that we're so close in the standings, we've played them a couple times recently and again on the weekend, we're seeing them a lot right now and I think that makes for good hockey for Alberta, good hockey for the league, and some intense games - and, at the end of the day, some really important points. We're at this point in January and we're already talking about the end of the year, and the points that you really need. ... Every night, things are changing and you want to be on the positive side of those changes every night."

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