The last time the Stanley Cup playoffs gave us a Battle of Alberta, I was in Grade 13. They did away with Grade 13 a long time ago. So, there’s that. 1991 feels like a century ago. Esa Tikkanen was the Game 7 overtime hero for the Oilers in a 5-4 win and what a freaking series it was.
What if we got a seven-game classic 31 years later? Here’s hoping.
For that to happen, the Oilers need to defy the expectations people around the hockey world have for this series. The Pacific Division champion Flames are solid favorites. I canvased rival team executives and coaches from around the NHL about the Battle of Alberta. Here’s what they had to say.
Team exec No. 1
When looking at direct matchups, Calgary is the clear winner. Their goaltending is younger, yet experienced, and superior to Edmonton.
The Flames’ defence will continue to move pucks out of danger effectively too but will be far more physical and aggressive vs Edmonton’s forwards than Los Angeles was. They have the ability to make life far more miserable for McDavid & Draisaitl than LA was able to.
Up front, Calgary’s balanced scoring and depth are better than Edmonton’s. What’s more, their grit factor and size advantage in their bottom six will play an important role over a long, emotional series.
Darryl Sutter has significantly more playoff experience and in tight games, I suspect he’ll have the upper hand, particularly with home-ice advantage.
Edmonton’s fans will be whipped into a frenzy which will help them in the series. However, provided Calgary stays healthy, they have too many advantages for Edmonton to overcome, particularly if Draisaitl isn’t 100 percent.
Team exec No. 2
I’m going to say Calgary is going to win. In fact, I’ve got the Flames going to the finals with Tampa Bay. I just think with Dallas, but for Oettinger, that team would have never survived the past four games. Calgary was really good. Oettinger was just outstanding. Darryl Sutter summed it up perfectly when he said, ‘We were the better team.’ There was no question about it. I think the Flames are well-coached, they’re a little bit more experienced. I think Woody is going to be a very good coach in the National Hockey League, I just don’t think it’s his time yet. Calgary gets the advantage in goal. Up and down their lineup, they’re deeper. Johnny Gaudreau’s on a whole other level right now. Contract year. I know Connor McDavid is a hell of a player, the best in the world arguably, but I just think overall when push comes to shove, the advantage goes to Calgary. I’m going with Calgary.
Team exec No. 3
Calgary was impressive (in Round 1)… They’re heavy and big, and their top line really got going as the series wore on. (Gaudreau) was at a different level. Complimentary players (Mangiapane, Dube) played with pace. Mikael Backlund probably will draw Connor McDavid for matchups. Backlund was greasy all series (vs. Dallas). The special teams were good. Their PK was outstanding and will need to be again. Back end was solid…. (Chris) Tanev injury could be an issue if he is out for extended time. When they went 11F/7D it impacted matchups so it will be interesting to see if they go that route however with Tanev out, it may be tough to go that way. Ultimately, (Markstrom) in net will be key, the Stars didn’t finish, if Edmonton’s big boys score you never know. That being said I think Calgary is going to be a tough out.’
Team exec No. 4
Calgary in 6. Markstrom and details with which CGY plays will be different. Oettinger made DAL a series but it wasn’t that close IMO. McDavid and co. will allow Edmonton to hang around but Smith can’t outperform Markstrom and CGY is playing the right way. Sutter has done an excellent job.”
Team exec No. 5
Flames are, in my opinion, a better team and better built. They played game seven almost perfectly except for Oettinger. But McDavid seems on a mission.
I’ll go with Flames for the overall team construction and much better goalie.”
Team exec No. 6
Both teams are now battle-tested and obviously successful early with Game 7 victories and Calgary with a huge OT win which gives everyone a bit of extra confidence. I give the advantage to Calgary and have really liked their team all season. Experienced players play a heavy playoff style led by one of the best coaches in the league with Darryl! As good as it gets — a proven and experienced winner – he has had them playing hockey playoff since Game 1 of the season. That along with the best goalie in the Western Conference and a great combination on the backend of skill, puck-moving ability and playoff hardness — tough to play against!
Up front — one of the best lines in the league along with the depth and veteran experience with Lucic and Coleman, they just play the right way and are set up for playoff success. All due respect to the Oilers as they have advanced and are a very good team but I just don’t see them beating Calgary. I think Calgary can challenge Colorado and anyone else they may face if fortunate enough to advance, which I think they will.’
Team exec No. 7
Have to go with Calgary. Much deeper team and Markstrom in net. More experience behind the bench as well. 97 is all-world right now but the Draisaitl injury has to be worrisome.”
Coach No. 1
It’s fairly even on special teams for me. Five-on-five goes to Calgary, although Edmonton has the best two players. I believe Calgary’s grind can have a similar effect on Edmonton as it did in wearing down Dallas over a long series, goaltending goes in Calgary’s favor.
Calgary wins in a hard-fought six or seven-game series.
Coach No. 2
I believe Calgary in 5 or 6. I don’t trust Edmonton D or goaltending or coaching. I think Calgary has more depth and they are a lot better than LA
Coach No. 3
The Flames have Markstrom, good depth on D and four good lines…I always go with the team with the best goalie… look at Vasilevskiy vs the Leafs.
Coach No. 4
So, it wasn’t even close as far as the NHL community picking a winner for the Battle of Alberta, which isn’t surprising when you consider the article I wrote last monthbefore the end of the regular season in which I canvassed eight rival team executives and all eight of them picked Calgary as Canada’s best bet to end our country’s Stanley Cup drought ahead of Toronto and Edmonton.
Having said that, regardless of how titled the numbers were in Calgary’s favor against Dallas, they were pushed to the brink by a wild-card team just as the Oilers were pushed by underdog Los Angeles.
Here’s what I would also say. A year ago, the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs played their first playoff series since 1979. Every piece of evidence suggested a series the Leafs should have won handily. But funny things happen sometimes between top rivals. I mean, this year’s Oilers are a lot closer to the Flames than last year’s Habs were to the Leafs at least on paper. The difference being that while the Canadiens had Carey Price to win the goalie battle, the Oilers need Mike Smith (.938 save percentage in first round) to at least even up Jacob Markstrom (.943 save percentage in first round) if not outplay him. Likely? No. But also not impossible.
Yes, I think the Flames are deservedly favored in this series with the Oilers. But it’s the first Battle of Alberta since 1991 and I don’t think you ignore the emotion that will surround this series as an X-factor.
As things being equal, I also predict the Flames win this series. But can all things be equal in such a charged-up Battle of Alberta?
It’s a privilege to be on hand covering it, I will tell you that. Cannot wait.
(Top photo: Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)