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In order to celebrate the Edmonton Oilers’ 40-year anniversary AND distract ourselves during this hockey-less nightmare, we’ll be re-living 40 amazing moments from Oilers history. 

Since we probably should be watching that Calgary and Edmonton playoff series we’ve been craving for so long, I’m going to pivot this series over the next few days to look back at some incredible moments from the Battle of Alberta. Today, we have Wayne Gretzky’s iconic clapper in overtime against the Flames in 1988. 

The Battle of Alberta was one of the best parts of the 80s.

I would know because I wasn’t there. Being born in 1993, my generation of Oilers fan has a complicated relationship with the dynasty days. You certainly feel pride in them, seeing all of the banners hanging in the stadium and hearing all of the stories, but there’s certainly a sense of envy that you yourself didn’t get to experience them.

Of all the things from the 80s I wish I could experience, I think an intense Battle of Alberta is at the top of my list. Nothing is better than a good rivalry. Not just ones where the fans hate the other side, but one where the players share the same sentiment. Winning the Stanley Cup is one thing, but beating the Flames on the way to doing so is a whole other animal.

Thanks largely to the efforts of Zack Kassian and Matthew Tkachuk, we’re finally starting to see the Battle of Alberta get brought back to life. But during those days when Alberta was known as Death Valley and the Oilers and Flames reached the Stanley Cup Final seven seasons in a row, the battle was really something else.

Up until the mid-80s, the Flames were really just a footnote in the Oilers’ success. Edmonton dispatched Calgary in 1983 on their way to their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final and they did so again the following year in 1984 before winning their first Stanley Cup. But the tide finally shifted in 1986 due to Steve Smith’s unfortunate gaffe in Game 7 of the Smythe Division Final.

Though it required an incredibly fortuitous bounce, the Flames proved that they could actually dethrone the champions, injecting even more life into the Battle of Alberta.

It didn’t take Edmonton long to rebound from Smith’s gaffe. This wasn’t like Bill Bucker’s error at first base (which ironically happened just a few months later) that robbed the Boston Red Sox of their first World Series in half a century. The Oilers bounced back the following season to capture their third Stanley Cup, with Smith playing a key role on the team.

But it wouldn’t be until the following spring that the Oilers got their chance to redeem themselves in the Battle of Alberta. The worst part about Smith’s own goal was how it allowed Calgary a path to their first-ever Stanley Cup appearance. It allowed the Flames to be relevant, something other than a footnote, for the first time in team history.

By 1987-88, the Flames were more than just an underdog that scraped past the Oilers thanks to Steve Smith scoring on his own net. They were the Presidents’ Trophy winners. For the first time since their first two seasons in the NHL, the Oilers, on paper, were the underdogs.

Edmonton and Calgary both quickly plowed through the first-round opponents, Winnipeg and Los Angeles respectively, in five games, setting up a Battle of Alberta in the Smythe Division Final.

The Flames were the real test for the Oilers, who dispatched the Jets in the first round without much trouble. Adding fuel to Edmonton’s fire was, of course, the memory of watching Calgary win that series at Northlands Coliseum just two years earlier.

The series was viewed as a coin flip between two very good teams, with everyone from pundits to players claiming that this would be a bitter battle to the finish that could go either way. The Flames had won the season series four games to three (with one tie), so they might have even been viewed as the favourite.

The Oilers took Game 1 at the Saddledome by a score of 3-1 despite being outshot 27-19. The big win stole home-ice advantage in the series and shifted it in Edmonton’s favour. In Game 2, the Flames carried a 2-0 lead in the first, a 3-1 lead in the second, and a 4-3 lead late in the third, but the Oilers rallied back, setting up a sudden death overtime.

With Mark Messier in the penalty box for tripping, the Flames were gifted a golden opportunity to win the game and tie up the series. Instead, it was the Oilers who would take command. The Flames dumped the puck in deep into Edmonton’s zone and Steve Smith re-directed it off the boards into the middle of the zone to Jari Kurri. Kurri then quickly headmanned the puck up to Wayne Gretzky.

Flames defenceman Al MacInnis completely lost sight of Gretzky, who was already in full stride at centre ice when he received the perfect tape-to-tape pass from Kurri. Gary Suter, MacInnis’ defensive partner, was busted back up the ice to catch Gretzky, but it was too late. He had already wound up and picked his spot.

PING. What an iconic shot. Gretzky hit the face-off circle, wound up, picked his corner, and made Mike Vernon look like a scarecrow. Game over.

The Oilers would go on to sweep the series in four games, giving them a measure of revenge for what had happened two years earlier. They would plow through the rest of the playoffs, taking down the Red Wings in Campbell Conference Final before sweeping the Boston Bruins in four games to win the Stanley Cup.

Amazingly, this is the only overtime goal Gretzky scored in the playoffs as a member of the Oilers. It’s perfect that it came in the Battle of Alberta.