EDMONTON, AB - Tonight marks the final Battle of Alberta at Rexall Place. The storied provincial rivalry, dating back to the early days of the franchises, has made its mark on the town and this old barn. The Oilers move downtown to the newly built Rogers Place in the fall, opening a new era of Flames vs. Oilers history.
“It’s a pretty special moment and will be a fun game to be part of,” said Oilers defenceman Griffin Reinhart, whose father Paul played for the Flames in the 1980s. “There’s a lot of history. My dad played on the other side of it. I’ll be able to talk to him a little bit this afternoon before the game.”
Paul Reinhart was part of many battles with the Oilers during some of Edmonton’s finest years in the NHL.
“I heard a lot about it growing up,” said Griffin, his eldest son. “I remember my dad saying that coming from their visiting rooms and going outside, walking to the bus there would be fans booing them and stuff. He said it got pretty intense. It’s a little bit different now. The fans are pretty respectful these days. Tonight’s going to be a fun game to be a part of.”
The Flames own the regular season crown against Edmonton thus far in their history (116-89-19-2-2), but have had less success in the Coliseum/Skyreach Centre/Rexall Place against the Oilers (50-51-10-2-1). That’s where the series has been, but where it’s going may be as bright as the golden years of the rivalry.
“I think both organizations hope it has a chance to expand and heat up and grow,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “We’re both somewhat in the infancy stage of developing that as far as players and trying to get to where we want to go. Calgary had a bit of a taste of that last year, we haven’t had that experience. As we continue to stock young players and try and grow our teams, the age of the star players match up very well for a future of real good hockey and a very competitive rivalry. It’s just at its infancy stage.”
Tonight is sure to be an emotional night for fans of both teams in attendance, but the Oilers aren’t putting extra emphasis on what the night represents on a larger scale.
“Our staff won’t go there,” said McLellan. “It’s Calgary, so our team understands those are important games all the time and the rivalry exists. They are well aware of the wrap up of the building. There are a number of functions planned and they’re part of it, so they know what’s coming. I’m not going to stand in front of the group and say ‘hey guys, this is the last time we play against Calgary in this building, let’s play hard.’ One, I expect them to do that without me prompting and two, I think they understand it.”
A lot of the players are more focused on their game and their finish to the season than the moment itself, but one day they may look back and remember they played in Rexall Place’s last Battle of Alberta.
“I think that might be one of the things that you remember years from now and don’t realize how special it is until the years go by,” said Reinhart.
The Oilers are coming off an odd week of scheduling. They haven’t played a game since Monday, a 2-1 loss to Anaheim. They took an off day Tuesday, worked out Wednesday and got in two full practices on Thursday and Friday leading up to tonight.
Having this much down time is an oddity.
“It’s interesting,” said McLellan. “We whined and bitched about not having it and now we’re talking about having it. We had a rhythm going. Every second night for a month and a half we had that rhythm. We were able to rest. We were able to get a couple players healthy or at least healthy enough to play. We had two really good practices. How will we start, will we be rusty? I hope not. I don’t think there’s any reason why we should be. I think this is a good approach for us because if you happen to be lucky enough in the playoffs and win early and wait for another team to play, you’re usually taking four or five days off and you’ve got to be ready to play again. We’re trying to create those moments I guess, without being in the playoffs.”
It will be interesting to see how each team comes out in the first period, the Oilers well rested and the Flames having played on Thursday.
Adam Pardy returns to the lineup tonight for the Oilers, having missed nine games with a hand injury. The time missed has been tough on the defenceman who was trying to show the coaching staff what he can do on the ice as he’s set to become a UFA.
“It’s something I’m not really worried about at this point,” said Pardy, claimed via waivers from Winnipeg on trade deadline day. “That’s a summer thing to be dealt with. My whole mindset was just trying to get back as quick as I could and kind of keep my legs as loose as I could and as ready as I could throughout that whole stretch. I would have really liked to be back quicker but that’s the nature of the way things feel. It just wasn’t ready, but now it is.”
Cam Talbot is expected to start in net tonight for the Oilers, while Pardy is projected as the only new face in the lineup. He is likely to replace Adam Clendening. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could be closing in on his return from a minor concussion, having skated with the Oilers all this week, including this morning’s optional skate.
FLAMES (32-40-6) at OILERS (30-42-7)
TV: 10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, NHL.TV
Season series: The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers have split their four games. Forward Taylor Hall is Edmonton's leading scorer with two goals and six assists. Oilers goalie Cam Talbot is 2-1-0, including a 31-save performance in a 2-1 shootout win on Jan. 16. Johnny Gaudreau and Michael Frolik each have game-winning goals for Calgary.
Flames team scope: This is the final game the Flames and Oilers will play at Rexall Place, where Edmonton has a 54-43-9-6 regular-season record against its provincial rival. Calgary is 1-5-0 in its past six games and is coming off road losses to the Anaheim Ducks (8-3) and Los Angeles Kings during a midweek trip. "Just all around, it's been a tough year for us in our own division," forward Mikael Backlund said after the loss to the Kings on Thursday. Frolik (upper body) is out, but is expected to return when the Flames host the Kings on Tuesday. Gaudreau returned Thursday after missing two games with an upper-body injury. Goalie Joni Ortio, who made 26 saves against Los Angeles, is expected to start. Calgary reassigned defenseman Brett Kulak to Stockton of the American Hockey League on Friday; he played two games in March.
Oilers team scope: Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (concussion), defenseman Eric Gryba (knee) and left wing Benoit Pouliot (shoulder) will not play. Nugent-Hopkins and Gryba are close to returning, and may play in Edmonton's final home game Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks. Center Connor McDavid was named the NHL Rookie of the Month for March with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 15 games. Despite missing 37 games with a broken clavicle, McDavid will be in contention for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. "I really think he has to be nominated," Hall told the Edmonton Sun. "Everyone knows who the best rookie is. There are a couple of others (who started strongly) and maybe haven't kept the pace that they had at the start of the year. I think it's a lot harder to put up points like Connor has at the end of the year." Edmonton went 7-8-0 in March but has lost four of its past five games.