By Neil Becker
This latest installment of the Battle of Alberta is quickly heating up.
For the first time since 1991, Alberta hockey fans have gotten their wish of watching a playoff series featuring the Edmonton Oilers going up against the Calgary Flames in what is famously referred to as ‘The Battle of Alberta.’
The Flames, who finished finished first in the Pacific Division with 111 points needed a full seven games in defeating the Dallas Stars in first round playoff action while the Oilers who placed second with 104 points also needed seven games to beat the Los Angeles Kings.
As a result, hockey fans from coast -to- coast have gotten the anticipated dream matchup in what is the sixth installment of The ‘Battle of Alberta’.
Back in the 1980’s which was the height of their great playoff rivalry, fans watched some fast paced firewagon hockey involving great talents such as Oilers Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and goalie Grant Fuhr to name a few. Meanwhile the Flames had some big guns such as defenceman Al MacInnis, forwards Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, Doug Gilmour and goalie Mike Vernon to made their mark.
These two teams had the entire hockey world in awe when they played some historic playoff rounds in 1983 (Oilers won Smythe Division Finals 4-1), 1984 (Oilers won Smythe Division Finals 4-3), 1986 (Flames win Smythe Division Finals 4-3), 1988 (Oilers won Smythe Division Finals 4-0) and 1991 (Oilers won Smythe Division Finals 4-3).
Naturally through the course of time, the names of players who participated have changed.
Since their last playoff series was in 1991, an entire new generation of hockey fans who have never seen such talents as Messier, Gretzky or Robers and Nieuwendyk, have been getting their first taste of what this rivalry is all about.
So far, in a Western Conference best of seven second round series which has the Oilers winning 2-1, the hype has definitely met expectations.
On Sunday night at a sold out Rogers Place, Oilers forward Evander Kane had quite the night as he continued his strong playoff run with a Western Conference second round Game 3 natural hattrick in a 4-1 win against the Flames. Kane, who joined the Oilers in January, scored his three goals in a six minute span during the second period.
Also having solid games were the Oilers two big guns in forwards Leon Draisaitl who had four assist and was a +4 along with captain and league leading scorer Connor McDavid who totaled three assist and was also a +4. Draisaitl, who is more of a shooter set a playoff record with four assist in a period.
After a shaky start to the series, Oilers netminder Mike Smith has continued to be clutch with his latest accomplishment being Sunday’s 32 save performance.
This year’s Battle of Alberta Game 1 opener resembled the high scoring fire wagon hockey played in the 1980’s.
In what was an absolute wild playoff opener, the Flames marched out to a 3-0 lead and at one point had a four goal cushion and though it wasn’t pretty held poon at he end for a 9-6 Game 1 win.
Making his mark in the series opener was Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk who electrified the Scotiabank Saddledome fanbase by scoring a hattrick.
Other Game 1 Calgary stars included defenceman Rasmus Andersson, forwards Andrew Mangiapane and Johnny Gaudreau who all had three point performances.
To no surprise McDavid led the Oilers offence with four points followed by Draisaitl who notched three along with Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto who had two point games.
To say it wasn’t a great performance from the goaltenders would be an understatement. Smith allowed 3 goals on 10 shots before being chased out of the Oilers net for backup Mikko Koskinen.
Meanwhile Calgary goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who is an elite player allowed 6 goals on 28 shots.
Edmonton quickly seized momentum when two nights later in Game 2, they shocked the Scotiabank Saddledome by capitalizing on a couple of third period breakaways as they evened their best of seven series with a 5-3 win.
Game 2 didn’t start off well for the Oilers as Calgary once again took a 2-0 first period lead. However this time, Edmonton was able to rebound and got those two third period breakaway goals from Zach Hyman and Draisaitl to clinch the win.
The Game 2 Oilers scoring leaders were both Draisaitl and defenceman Ducan Keith who had a goal and three points followed by McDavid who scored a goal in a two point game. Leading the Flames offensive chart was Gaudreau who had a two point performance.
Leaf fans had to be flinching in Game 2 when forward and former Leaf Hyman scored what was a highlight reel shorthanded third period goal which stood up as the winner.
This series which has a good chance of going the distance has been full of intensity, some solid saves and highlight reel goals.
These two teams will drop the puck for Game 4 once again at Rogers Place on Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m.