NHL’s Battle of Alberta back on as Oilers, Flames battle for playoff position

Oilers, Flames neck and neck in playoff race

CALGARY — It’s been over a decade since Alberta’s NHL teams made the playoffs together.

The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames both in post-season position has made the Battle of Alberta meaningful again.

Saturday’s clash at Scotiabank Saddledome is not only Calgary’s last chance this regular season to get a win off their northern rival, but a potential four-point swing in their pursuit of Edmonton down the stretch.

At home to the Nashville Predators on Friday night, the Oilers were third in the Pacific Division and six points up on the Flames holding a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

Winners of their three previous meetings, including a 2-1 shootout win at home last Saturday, the Oilers would happily keep their boot on Calgary’s throat with a sweep.

“We make a big deal about the rivalry and playing Calgary in a situation where we are both in a position to make the playoffs, but at the end of the day they are a division team and it is a four-point game,” Oilers forward Jordan Eberle said.

“Any time you have a chance to sweep a series against a team like that, it’s a big deal. It is going to be a big game. We’ll be playing back-to-back nights and going into their rink. It is going to test us, for sure.”

Calgary and Edmonton were both playoff teams in 2006, when the Oilers lost in six games to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup final and the Flames were ousted in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks.

The Oilers have been playoff-free since then, while the Flames missed the post-season six out of 10 seasons.

A few first-round draft picks later, including current NHL star Connor McDavid, plus a shiny new downtown arena, and the Oilers are creating buzz again.

The Flames, with young headliners in Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, can claim more recent playoff success having made the second-round in 2015.

Calgary and Edmonton were playoff teams almost every year Kris Versteeg was growing up in Lethbridge.

The Calgary forward, who skated in Edmonton’s training camp last fall before the Flames signed him, says it’s fun for Alberta to have that interprovincial hockey intrigue back again.

“Both teams have youth that’s emerged as superstars,” Versteeg said.

“They both have two good teams to cheer for and two teams that are kind of in the hunt for playoffs. It always amplifies the game and makes it more exciting.”

“I know growing up as a fan of, you know, Edmonton, I loved when they played the Flames. Both teams were very good in those days too.”

Calgary goaltender Chad Johnson will get his first start of the season against Edmonton after Brian Elliott in net for the previous three games.

The Oilers won 7-4 and 5-3 in a back-to-back the second week of the regular season.

Sam Bennett is expected to return to Calgary’s lineup Saturday. The 20-year-old, who is minus-nine with nine goals and nine assists in 47 games, was a healthy scratch in Thursday’s 4-3 loss to Nashville.

“It was really tough. Obviously I want to be out there,” Bennett said after Friday’s optional skate. “I want to do everything I can to help my team win and it’s hard to do from the stands.”

“Watching it wasn’t fun. Everything about yesterday wasn’t fun. I don’t want to be in that position again. I’m going to do everything I can to stay in the lineup.”

— Shane Jones contributed to this story

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Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press