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Oilers, Flames heat up Battle of Alberta

With each team in thick of playoff race, intensity, attention to detail heightened

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- The Battle of Alberta once sustained hockey fans in this province, winter after winter.

After some disappointing years, it's back and has room to get even better.

The Edmonton Oilers defeated the Calgary Flames 2-1 at Rogers Place on Saturday thanks to shootout goals from Leon Draisaitl and Mark Letestu.

The win moved the Oilers (23-15-7) four points ahead of the Flames (23-20-3) in the Pacific Division. The Oilers are 3-0-0 against their rivals and will try to complete the season sweep in Calgary on Jan. 21 (10 p.m. ET, CBC, SN, NHL.TV).

And there was a sense Saturday the rivalry is real again. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time since Feb. 21, 2009 that the teams played each other while in a Stanley Cup Playoff position. Then, the Flames were fourth and the Oilers were tied for eighth in the Western Conference. 

With the win, the Oilers are second in the division. The Flames, after a 5-10-1 start, are in fourth place and hold the first wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings.

Video: CGY@EDM: Monahan follows his shot and nets rebound

"The fans were louder tonight than they've been in a long time, so that always helps," Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. "And there was little bit of nastiness but at the end of the day, there wasn't a whole lot of that going on either way."

That's because players from each team had a heightened sense of detail and care in their play. And that comes from games having a greater meaning than in recent times.

"A little (different feel) being as who the opponent was, the stakes in the standings," Letestu said. "I think you could tell, they were the same way. It was a really tightly checked game. Chances and shots were at a premium tonight. There wasn't a lot getting through on either side. Guys were really sacrificing to block shots."

Flames captain Mark Giordano said he noticed the enhanced focus against the Oilers.

"I thought it was amped up for sure tonight," Giordano said. "We've got to find a way to bring that intensity, because that's the only way we're going to get in, if we play like that night in and night out.

"I think it was a lot like a playoff atmosphere out there. I thought they had their chances, we had our chances. And, at the end, because of the way we are in the standings, it's frustrating to give them the extra point."

Video: CGY@EDM: Draisaitl rips wrister for eventual SO win

The focus and attention to detail stifled some of the offense in the first two periods Saturday. To that point, the Oilers held a 13-12 edge in shots on goal.

But the third period brought better scoring chances for the Flames, including a shot off the post by defenseman Deryk Engelland. 

"I think this one had a playoff-like atmosphere," Oilers goalie Cam Talbot (22-12-6) said. "It was tight-checking hockey for the first couple of periods. In the third, it opened up a little … but you could tell neither team wanted to give an inch early and it got exciting near the end."

Though Calgary was more dangerous in the third, Edmonton dominated with the best chances of overtime, outshooting the Flames 6-0. Calgary's lone good opportunity was a Johnny Gaudreau shot off the left post.

Talbot then stopped Calgary's Sean Monahan and Gaudreau in the shootout.

"I thought today was one of the best games we've managed the puck in the season," said coach Glen Gulutzan, whose Flames were defeated 2-1 by the New Jersey Devils on Friday. "That's how we're going to have to play if we want to get points in back-to-backs.

"I thought we played a good road game. I wasn't worried about our scoring. We'd like it to be nice and tight. Too bad we got a couple off the post that didn't go for us, and that's fine. I thought we had some odd-man rushes, we couldn't get things to go."

The new blueprint for the Battle of Alberta appears to be set.

Video: CGY@EDM: Talbot stops Gaudreau, sealing SO win

Though each team has dangerous offensive elements, the will to do things properly, to hold to a higher checking standard is once again prevailing.

"You really had to work hard to make the other team err, on both sides, and then the goaltenders played real well," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "I thought it was real competitive … for body position. The two- or three-stride races. Getting inside. The play around the net and loose pucks, there was a lot of physicality that way.

"It wasn't your traditional rock 'em sock 'em that way, but it was a competitive, hard night. I think both teams will be tired after that one."

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