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Flames, Oilers have made Battle of Alberta can't-miss viewing

Passion of players, success of teams has reenergized provincial rivalry

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- If this is a new beginning for a bona fide Battle of Alberta, it's going to be a blast for the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and fans in all corners of the western province.

The Flames and Oilers went back and forth with high emotion and combativeness at Rogers Place on Wednesday, and it was Calgary that prevailed 4-3 after Sean Monahan scored the only goal of the shootout.

"That's hockey, fun game to watch," Monahan said. "The emotion was there and for our team. That was a real important game. We were sticking with it all night and they were too. We're in the same spot and every point means something. It was a hard-fought game and we were happy to get the extra point."

Video: CGY@EDM: Monahan converts on shootout try

That's the attractiveness of this provincial rivalry at the moment.

Yes, the Flames have won the first three games between the teams this season, 5-1 in Edmonton on Dec. 27 and 4-3 in Calgary on Jan. 11 before the win Wednesday, but they are neck and neck in the Pacific Division.

Calgary (27-19-6) has 60 points, two behind the first-place Vancouver Canucks. Edmonton (26-18-6) is third in the division with 58 points. The opportunity for each team to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs is going to make for a fascinating finish to the regular season.

What used to be a staple of life in Alberta, when the Oilers won the Stanley Cup five times (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990) and the Flames won it once (1989), and when the teams played five playoff series (1983, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1991) has been a rarity in recent seasons.

Edmonton has qualified for the playoffs once (2017) in the past 13 seasons. The Flames have been up and down during that time frame, qualifying in six of those 13 seasons but winning a postseason series once (2015). The recent Battle of Alberta mostly has been a wishful cross of nostalgia and hope.

But it is real, relevant and it is promising this season. And as fortune will have it, it continues at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; ESPN+, CBC, SN, SN360, SN1, CITY, NHL.TV).

"It's lots of fun," said Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who shares the NHL scoring lead with teammate Leon Draisaitl, each with 77 points. "It's fun when you're playing games that matter and tonight was one that mattered for sure. The crowd felt that and both teams felt that and it was fun to be a part of."

Video: CGY@EDM: Chiasson buries Draisaitl's rebound for PPG

The Flames took three different one-goal leads Wednesday, and it was Oilers defenseman Matt Benning who tied it with a solo rush at 11:49 of the third period and sent the game to overtime.

"It reminded me of the playoffs in my first year (2017)," Benning said. "The fans were into it and that's the part that makes it fun. When it's quiet you have to create your own energy from the bench. When the fans are loud like that it definitely gets us going. It was a playoff game out there. Awesome."

The hype that preceded the game largely was sparked by the game in Calgary Jan. 11.

That's when Edmonton's Zack Kassian received a double-minor for roughing Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk, who was criticized for not fighting back. Kassian was suspended two games by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Jan. 13.

The matter between the players appeared to be resolved early in the game Wednesday when Tkachuk and Kassian scrapped at 16:35 of the first period. After that, the rivalry was ever-present but earning points for the victory trumped all other priorities.

Tkachuk, spent after he had one assist and played 19:37, said he's eager for the rivalry to resume Saturday.

"Honestly, right now I just want to go home and go to bed," he said. "Tomorrow I'm going to be gearing up for it and I'm going to be pumped."

Video: CGY@EDM: Rittich seals shootout win with poke check

He said he understands the rivalry fires up fans on each side, but said for the players results have to matter more than anything else to make it real.

"A lot of people in Calgary were talking before, that it's must-see TV," Tkachuk said. "I don't know, I guess it was a must-see hockey game for fans. It's two teams close to each other city-wise and fans get into it. I guess it's been a rivalry for years.

"Ever since I got drafted to Calgary ... I never knew about the Battle of Alberta to be honest. The day I was drafted I was told, 'You don't like them.' So it's been kind of been ingrained in me. I guess it makes for good TV, but we don't care about that, we just care about winning."

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