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Oilers, Flames focused on winning, not animosity

Only concerned with getting two points in latest chapter in Battle of Alberta

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers each said defeating their Battle of Alberta rival is far more important than any personal animosity.

The Pacific Division rivals play for the third time this season at Rogers Place on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; TVAS, SN360, SNE, SNO, SNW, NHL.TV). Calgary won the first two games, 5-1 at Edmonton on Dec. 27, and 4-3 at Calgary on Jan. 11.

In that Jan. 11 game, Oilers forward Zack Kassian received a double-minor for roughing Matthew Tkachuk. With Kassian in the penalty box, Elias Lindholm of the Flames scored the game-winning goal. Kassian was later suspended two games by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Jan. 13.

Video: Kassian suspended two games for serving as aggressor

Tkachuk brushed away questions about being the focus of the Oilers' ire. 

"I don't know what a target on your back means but I know from my perspective I'm going in to do everything I can to help make sure my team wins," Tkachuk said. "We're just trying to make sure that happens because we need the points now more than ever."

The Flames (26-19-6) are in second place in the Pacific, two points behind the first-place Vancouver Canucks; Edmonton (26-18-5) is in third, one point behind the Flames.

Oilers captain Connor McDavid said Kassian will be focused on getting the two points. 

"[Kassian] is a pro," McDavid said. "He's been around a long time. He picks his spots. He knows that winning the game is way more important."

Video: EDM@BOS: McDavid nets Kassian's crafty pass

Since the Jan. 11 game, Edmonton coach Dave Tippett has been preaching results and a team-first mentality. He was particularly focused Wednesday on how the Oilers will play coming out of the NHL All-Star Break and the League-mandated five-day break. The Oilers, who haven't played since Jan. 18, are 6-1-1 since losing to the Flames on Dec. 27, with the only regulation loss in that span at Calgary on Jan. 11.

"I understand the hype and everything but for us, it's an important game that we need to come out of the break and play well," Tippett said. "We've talked about coming out of our break and this is our playoff stretch. We're a month ahead of what normally people would talk about a playoff stretch, but you just look at the standings, every point is so important. 

"Our players understand the urgency of continuing to get points."

Calgary is coming off a 5-4 shootout loss at home to the St. Louis Blues on Monday, and coach Geoff Ward spoke of a similar focus. 

"We've all been through these situations before," Ward said. "The danger is that you get tied up in the hype so much that you don't play. And the bottom line for both teams is that right now we're in a playoff race.

"[So] don't get focused on all the stuff on the outside. The most important thing is the two points. And to be honest with you, I can't even remember all the stuff that's been said in the last three weeks."

Flames forward Milan Lucic, who played for the Oilers for three seasons before being traded to Calgary for forward James Neal and a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft on July 19, said wins are the only thing that matters but that there's nothing wrong with emotion in the rivalry.

"The emotion is going to be there naturally," Lucic said. "Fans are going to be into it. Both teams are going to be into it. All the players are definitely going to be extra revved up for this one. So it's about managing your emotion and worrying about the game plan. 

Video: CGY@MIN: Lucic deflects home PPG with his skate

"When you play these rivalry games, it just seems organic. You just have to come with the mindset to be prepared to play and do whatever you've got to do to win."

Ultimately, Lucic said, a Battle of Alberta rivalry with each team in a battle for playoff spots is good for the NHL.

"I think it's awesome for fans of the Oilers and Flames and I think it's great for the game of hockey and I think Albertans are excited that it is what it is as far as a rivalry right now," he said. "As an athlete and a competitor, these are the games you want to be part of."

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