Memorable Moments From The Battle of Alberta

The day has finally arrived. After a 31-year hiatus, the Battle of Alberta is back as the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are set to square off in the playoffs for the first time since 1991.

Let’s travel through time and take a look back at some of the most memorable moments from one of hockey’s best rivalries…

The first-ever Battle of Alberta was played on October 22, 1980, at the Northlands Coliseum, with the Oilers skating to a 5-3 win thanks to a two-goal effort from Dave Semenko. In the second period, Mark Messier and Jim Peplinski dropped the gloves in what would be the first of many, many fights between players on these two teams.

Things really started to get going in the second meeting between the teams on December 30, 1980, in Calgary. There were three fights in that game, 211 total penalty minutes between the two teams, four players got penalized for leaving the bench, and 14 misconduct penalties handed out.

The Oilers beat the Flames in their first-ever meeting in the playoffs in 1984 in five games and then edged them out the following year in seven games. The Flames lost to the Winnipeg Jets in the first round in 1985 while the Oilers marched to their second of back-to-back Stanley Cups.

By 1986, dozens of head-to-head matchups and multiple playoff series had the heat on the Battle of Alberta rivalry turned up all the way. The teams were having bench brawls in January and it was no surprise that when they again met in the second round of the playoffs in April there were more brawls.

The Flames finally earned their first playoff series win in the Battle of Alberta that year when Steve Smith scored arguably the biggest goal in franchise history.

The Flames would wind up losing in the Stanley Cup Final that year to the Montreal Canadiens. They then got dropped in the first round by the Jets in 1987 while the Oilers rolled to their third Stanley Cup.

In 1988, the Flames came into yet another second-round Battle of Alberta series as the favourite. They finished first in the Smythe Division, six points ahead of the Oilers, and they won the last three meetings between the two teams during the regular season, capped off by a 7-4 win on March 5 that featured yet another brawl.

Flames fans in Calgary chanted “Goodbye” as the Oilers left the ice in that game but, one month later, Edmonton got the last laugh, sweeping the Flames in four games. The series was highlighted by this iconic Wayne Gretzky goal in Game 2.

The Oilers traded Gretzky to Los Angeles in the off-season and wound up losing to the Kings in the first round of the 1989 playoffs. Gretzky’s Kings then got swept in the second round by the Flames and they went on to win their first-ever Stanley Cup. That win also meant that five of the 10 Stanley Cups in the 1980s were won by Alberta teams.

The Battle of Alberta resumed in 1991 as the Oilers and Flames met in the first round of the playoffs. The series in most remembered for Theo Fleury’s overtime goal and his subsequent celebration, but the Oilers were actually the team that won this series, as Esa Tikkanen scored in overtime in Game 7 to sink the Flames.

That series in 1991 was the last time until now that the Oilers and Flames played in the playoffs. The two teams moved into a phase of mediocrity after that, as they didn’t even both appear in the playoffs at the same time until 2006 and then again until 2017, but there was still a handful of memorable moments from what was left of the rivalry.

Things heated up in 2003 between the Oilers and Flames in 2003. In January, head coach Craig MacTavish got fed up with Flames mascot Harvey the Hound and ripped his tongue out from the bench. That October, the Oilers and Flames met in a game that featured a whopping six fights (Krzysztof Oliwa vs. Georges Laraque, Jarome Iginla vs. Cory Cross, Dave Lowry vs. Jason Chimera, Chris Clark vs. Ethan Moreau, Shean Donovan vs. Scott Ferguson, and Chris Clark vs. Scott Ferguson).

Even when the rivalry cooled off, the Battle of Alberta featured its fair share of quality fights, such as this spirited tilt between Jarome Iginla and Sheldon Souray and the one-punch knockout of Raitis Ivanans by Steve MacIntyre.

In the 2010s, the focus shifted from toughness to skill as the Oilers moved into a rebuilding period. The 2010-11 season was full of optimism in Edmonton, as the team was welcoming recent No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall and World Junior hero Jordan Eberle to the roster. The first game of the H.O.P.E era got the hype train rolling as the Oilers pounded the Flames 4-0, highlighted by Eberle scoring arguably the nicest first career goal in NHL history.

Speaking of debuts, Connor McDavid’s first-ever Battle of Alberta really set the tempo for how he’d perform in this head-to-head. The Oilers lost the first four games of the McDavid era in 2015-16 but the team earned their first win that season in a 5-2 win over the Flames in which McDavid scored two goals and one assist.

McDavid has faced the Flames 34 times in his career and he has 26 goals against them, the most of any opponent.

The Battle of Alberta has really come to life again over the past few years. Part of that can be chalked up to both teams being competitive at the same time, but a lot of it is also owed to Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary’s super pest who’s injected a ton of life into the rivalry.

Tkachuk has been getting under the skin of the Oilers since his rookie season in 2016-17. In 2020, a few years worth of tensions finally boiled over when Zack Kassian went ballistic on Tkachuk. After fighting majors, misconducts, and suspensions were handed out, the two teams met again shortly after and everything exploded. Jujhar Khaira fought Buddy Robinson, Tkachuk fought Ethan Bear, and Mike Smith came down the ice and scrapped with Cam Talbot.

It was like the 1980s had been brought back to life. That’s the kind of energy we’re looking for as the first playoff Battle of Albera gets underway on Wednesday night.


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Examining the Key Battlegrounds for Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs

In Round 1, Daily Faceoff resident coach Jon Goyens identified eight key battlegrounds that had significant impacts on the outcome of each series.

He was the first to use the word ‘boring’ to describe the start of that Calgary-Dallas series, which ended up being a wise premonition.

Goyens is back with four more key areas where Round 2 can be won or lost:

Key Battlegrounds

Eastern Conference

Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Key Battleground: Counter attacks and Physicality

Welcome back to the Thunder Dome. Fans have been salivating for this Sunshine Skate rematch since last year’s first-round clash. Part of the reason for that was the physical element last year left us wanting more. The Panthers tried to run the Lightning through the boards. This time around, physical play must remain with a purpose – and extracurricular activities after the whistle could lead to a slippery slope. The Panthers come into Round 2 with the worst combined special teams numbers after their power play didn’t score against Washington (0%) and their penalty kill (70%) was subpar. You would think that they would manage to collect a power-play goal this time around, but they don’t want to get locked into a special teams battle with the Bolts. Counter attacks will happen quickly in this series. We will see defensemen moving it north and looking to attack on entries. Both teams have scored a large part of their goals at 5-on-5 using the counter attack, both ranking in the top five. Big question: Can Carter Verhaeghe, who had 12 points in Round 1, remain this hot against the team he helped win a Cup in 2020?

Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers

Key Battleground: Playing Deep

This battleground aligns more with Carolina and its consistent play. It just doesn’t fool around too much in the neutral zone with the puck. The Canes have continued to embrace the style of ‘place and chase,’ creating most of their offense through puck retrievals. Carolina wants to play in your zone and clearly knows how to get after those pucks, get them to their skill guys, and allow them to make some magic. However, if the Rangers better recognize that at times, playing below the hashmarks in the playoffs can bring them success – look no further than Mika Zibanejad’s game-tying Game 7 goal – they will be better off. They have the size and skill to grind it out and be efficient in this facet of the game, but they just aren’t always as consistent and they’re going up against one of the most consistent in that regard.

Western Conference

Colorado Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues

Key Battleground: Rush Chances and Puck Races

Watching the Avs dismantle the Preds, we all know what to expect from Colorado. The Avs have an excellent power play – their 43.8 percent success rate led Round 1 – and they have the speed and puck skills to pull fans out of their seats. Scoring off the rush and creating odd-man rushes is their bread and butter. Colorado’s quickness allows them to pounce on rebounds and loose pucks in the offensive zone at a very high rate, which means more offensive zone time and more Cale Makar Magic. They are rarely one-and-done in the offensive zone. The Blues must remain above pucks and limit odd-man rushes against. The consistency of their decisions away from the puck will help on counter attacks as Colorado likes to push the envelope and use four men on the rush. There is opportunity there. The Blues’ ability to create more 50-50 situations can cut down their time defending. Don’t get me wrong: St. Louis can score. It just can’t get into a track meet where it trades 5-on-5 chances at will. Advantage: Colorado if that is the case. Another big question: Can the Blues’ penalty kill (83.3%) stifle the hottest power play?

Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers

Key Battleground: Emotions and Special Teams

If this first Battle of Alberta in 31 years is anything like what we remember, emotions will be running high – especially now that it’s the playoffs. Avoidable penalties will be closely linked to emotions and which team manages them best. Because on special teams, it’s also a Battle of Top Units. Edmonton’s power play was on fire (36.8%) in the first round and Calgary’s penalty kill (91.7%) tied for second in Round 1. In a previous story, I mentioned the idea of special teams momentum in the playoffs and how teams can ride the wave of a big ‘kill.’ The possibility of frustrating Edmonton’s star players can have a ripple effect, further highlighting the importance of emotional control. The Flames stayed true to their game throughout Round 1. They defended well, which led to them holding a major shot advantage over Dallas; their commitment to defend was second to none. Now, can the Oilers look to balance their own high-octane offense with team defense? They showed a much better attention to detail in their own zone in the latter portion of their series against Los Angeles.

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Former QMJHL head coach Jon Goyens has 28 years of coaching experience, from the lowest levels of minor hockey all the way to serving as a special consultant for an NHL team during the Stanley Cup playoffs. He is the winningest coach in the history of the Quebec Midget ‘AAA’ league with the Lac St. Louis Lions and has helped develop 25-plus players to be selected in the NHL Draft. He has also worked as an individual skills and development coach with future Hockey Hall of Famer Hilary Knight, as well as NHL players such as Jonathan Drouin and Mike Matheson.

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Lack of Killer Instinct and affirming the belief in the Leafs were the management talking points

In many ways, the availability of Keefe, Shanahan, and Dubas sounded really good as it happened. Considering that the Leafs lost in the first round for the fourth straight time on Kyle Dubas’ watch, 3rd on Sheldon Keefe’s, and for the 6th straight time in the Shanahan era, the group was very quick to dodge any discussion of history. Considering how much the core of this team has been around too, the avoidance of any discussion of failure did leave a sour taste in my mouth, but with the acknowledgment that they are largely correct when they say they’ve got a strong group.

That’s my takeaway, here are some thoughts on some of the other key issues they touched on…

When you look at a season that had the Leafs finish fourth in the league in standings, it’s very easy to see where the belief is coming from. This is a strong group, this is a group that just needs some adjustments to find a way to win, but at the same time, there is something going fundamentally wrong that needs to be addressed. When you consider this season’s loss to Tampa, no one would have batted an eye if they had made it in previous years. This year was entirely about the cumulative pain of the past six years. If you consider the fact that the Leafs were underdogs the first three of those series losses as well, really this all comes down to the residual pain from the Blue Jackets and Canadiens playoff losses.

What I like about this is conveys a certain thoughtfulness, but don’t mistake it for change not coming. The bosses weren’t as committed to saying “run it back” as a section of the fanbase is, and there were at least a couple of Brandon Pridham name drops in the presser that reminds us that the Leafs need to figure out how they ice the most competitive team within the constraints of the salary cap. There is already a plan to lean on the Marlies, and getting players like Robertson, Holmberg, and Steeves into the mix is great. Building a cheap energy line out of McMann, Douglas, and Anderson would probably warm a lot of hearts too, but there is going to still be something that denotes an attempt to move the team forward in a meaningful way.

Dubas was very careful to say that he views the core of the team beyond the four highest paid forwards on the team and there seemed to be some distancing of himself from saying anyone was coming back and was going to find themselves in a similar situation aside from the universal support for Auston Matthews. That doesn’t mean anything big is coming, it just means Dubas isn’t slamming the door shut like he did last year by confirming the core four would return, or his “we can and we will” attitude towards Marner’s contract.

The idea of killer instinct is something that I would love to hear more from Shanahan on. He’s raised it a few times, and unquestionably he had it in his playing career, but I’m interested in knowing if he sees it as something that needs to be developed throughout the roster, or if it is about going and finding Brendan Shanahan style players, who leave it all on the ice and clearly go through walls for their team. When it comes to killer instinct there is some feeling that could be a shot at players like Tavares or Nylander, who while insanely talented, and care just as much if not more than others on the ice, play too calm and cool and don’t convey that sense of urgency that is often demanded from hockey players. Or it could just be finding someone who can score 30 and hit like a Mack Truck. Whatever is meant by it, I don’t think Shanahan is wrong to be looking for it, but as always it can come at the cost of downgrading the roster for it.

I was genuinely happy that someone asked this question (instead of asking about the Marner carjacking for the 100th time.) The colder reality of it is that as Leafs fans we want to see a prospect help the team win, but far more important than that, we want to see Rodion Amirov get a chance to live his life the way he was before his diagnosis. It sounds like it’s still not an easy road ahead and I wish him all the best.

I really appreciated this response from Kyle Dubas even if I don’t 100% agree with it. Keefe is a fine coach, but I’m hesitant to put him in the upper echelon of coaches, nor do I have a belief he’ll get there over time. The thing is, neither is Pete DeBoer. Barry Trotz is on the other hand a great coach and has frequently done something with nothing, but I can’t imagine a coach that would be less of a fit for what the Leafs have presently built, and doubt he’d work well with Kyle Dubas. For many of you, that’s the appeal of Barry Trotz, but I still think Dubas as the GM doing things his way is the right course for this team.

It’s also important on that note to recognize that Brendan Shanahan provided a vote of confidence to Dubas and Keefe and implied they will be back next year. So this is obviously based on Brendan Shanahan being back next year and/or not getting a very different message from his bosses in the coming days. At this point, the safest thing to assume is that the band isn’t breaking up and that’s probably a good thing (for now.)

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The unsung Calgary Flames heroes of round one

Johnny Gaudreau was superb and delivered the knockout blow. Elias Lindholm was his steady and effective self. Jacob Markstrom was the less busy of the two goaltenders but was still spectacular. But as the Flames are punched their ticket to a round two Battle of Alberta, here are four other names that helped seal the deal.

All metrics below are five-on-five and are courtesy Natural Stat Trick.

Michael Stone

CF% G/60 A/60 P/60 S/60 CF/60
73.7 1.41 2.83 4.24 17.0 32.5

Just because it’s glaringly obvious doesn’t mean it’s unworthy of mentioning. Stone entered the series in game four and did nothing but give Calgary good minutes. For three games it was as the seventh defenceman in an 11/7 setup. In the seventh and deciding game, minus Chris Tanev, Stone played more than 21 minutes and picked up another point.

Aside from leading the team in every single one of the above categories, Stone finished with a goal and three points in four games. Not bad for a guy who played 11 games during the regular season and entered the series midway through.

Mikael Backlund

CF% HDCF% G/60 P/60
63.3 60.9 1.24 1.86

It felt like if the Flames were going to swing their first round series with Dallas, Backlund was going to be a big part of it. And he was. Noticeably quiet for the first three games, Backlund was a beast from that point on and was a huge reason for wins in games four, five, and seven.

Overall, Backlund finished with three goals and four points in seven games and was the driver on a reunited line with Blake Coleman and Andrew Mangiapane. When Backlund is hard to play against at both ends of the ice, like he was in the back half of the series, Calgary is a significantly harder team to beat. They’ll need him at his two-way best vs. Edmonton.

Dillon Dube

HDCF% HDCF/60 S/60 CF/60
64.5 6.95 9.27 17.8

Dube went without a point in seven games vs. the Stars, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t an impact maker. In fact, the eye test suggested that Dube was one of the team’s most consistent middle six forwards. Most impressively, Dube led all players with 6.95 high danger chances per 60 minutes and, much like the entire team, was in need of a little more puck luck to hit the scoresheet.

Prior to the playoffs, head coach Darryl Sutter talked about Dube’s history of raising his game when the spotlight is brightest. Whether it be with the Kelowna Rockets, at the World Juniors, or in the 2020 bubble, Dube has always performed on big stages. Add round one of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs to the resume.

Trevor Lewis

CF% xGF% HDCF%
64.6 65.6 70.8

The Flames started using Lewis as their fourth centre with about a month left in the season and that trend continued into the playoffs. Playing primarily with Milan Lucic and Brett Ritchie when he dressed, Lewis was effective in his role and contributed as much as a player in his position could have been asked.

Lewis finished the series with three points, including a huge empty netter to seal Calgary’s game five comeback victory. Brought up a lot when the subject of “playoff experience” is discussed, Lewis showed he can still fill a valuable depth role at this time of year.

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