EDMONTON – The Battle of Alberta has seen a little bit of everything over the years.
What it hasn’t included for almost four decades is a marquee matchup pitting two of the league’s elite scorers.
Thirty-eight years to be exact.
March 15, 1981 was the last time the Oilers and Flames played a game in the second half of the season where both teams featured a player in the top five in points.
A legitimate Hart to Hart showdown.
It was then that Wayne Gretzky led the loop at 131 points. Kent Nilsson was his closest trailer at 116.
Fast forward to Saturday night on the biggest stage of the season when the matchup at Rogers Place could truly be dubbed a showdown between Johnny Gaudreau and Connor McDavid.
Sitting second and fourth respectively in the NHL points race, the game finally had its two pillars.
In the end, Gaudreau had a goal and an assist in a 5-2 win to extend his point streak to a career-high 11 games, giving him 23 points in the process.
During the spree, he’s elevated himself to the type of superstar status that has his name in the Hart Trophy conversation with McDavid.
By night’s end he had made a significant case as the man to beat in the individual Battle of Alberta.
"He’s elite right?" said Bill Peters of Gaudreau, who now has 74 points with 32 games remaining.
"We’re blessed in the province of Alberta with the stars we have on each respective team – it’s worth the price of admission. It was a fun game to be a part of."
Team-wise, there’s obviously quite a gap.
Twenty points, to be exact, separates the West’s best from an Oilers team on the fringe of a wild card berth.
All McDavid had to show for his evening was a split lip and a cut above his eye, courtesy of a Mark Giordano high stick and a Garnet Hathaway cross-check.
The captain’s six-game point streak ended with a thud, spotting Gaudreau four points in the scoring race.
Clearly the supporting cast that has helped Gaudreau’s gang to a 10-1-2 record of late is far deeper and superior to McDavid’s crumbling crew.
Fact is, the Flames are deeper than any team in the NHL, outside of Tampa Bay.
Giordano officially joined the Fab Five with a power play goal that gave the Norris frontrunner 50 points on the season – the fifth Flame to do so, which leads the league by two.
"We know we can score – we’ve been scoring all year," said Giordano in a room buzzing over its second emotional win in as many nights.
"When you have a team that can score goals it’s pretty intimidating for other teams. They don’t want to give up much. But I really liked our defensive play tonight. That’s probably the best player in the world right there and he generates a lot of scoring chances by himself and we did a decent job five on five."
A man always central to the team’s defensive conscience, Mikael Backlund, also had a significant night, brilliantly setting up Oliver Kylington’s game winner late in the second period before salting it away with an insurance goal late in the game.
It was his 300th point in the NHL, which is remarkable given his role as the team’s defensive centre.
"Backs getting 300 points, the guys are genuinely happy for him," said Peters, whose club is off until Tuesday’s home date against Carolina.
"He does a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of stuff under the radar. Those are the types of guys you win with.
"We’ve got a lot of guys finding a way to make positive contributions in team wins. That’s what we’re all about."
That includes the goaltender, David Rittich, who upped his record to 18-4-4 with a 22-save night.
As happy as he was with the even-strength play there wasn’t a whole lot of it as the officials did their best to keep a potentially combustible provincial rivalry locked down.
Sean Monahan and Giordano accounted for the Flames’ two power play goals in seven chances, while the penalty killers limited the Oilers to a Milan Lucic tip-in on six tries.
Lucic’s goal cut the Flames lead down to 3-2 early in the third period, and he punctuated it with words for the Flames bench as he skated by.
Capable of mixing it up with anyone, the Flames’ focus was intense.
"If we play five-on-five like that it’s going to be tough to beat us," said Gaudreau, jacked to see Giordano join the 50-point parade.
"It’s nice – you’re not just relying on one or two guys. We’ve got three, four solid lines contributing night in and night out. That’s how you win games in this league."
Few wins were more satisfying for the team than this one given its history.
"Back-to-back, Saturday night and I guess we haven’t won here in a while – those are always fun," beamed Travis Hamonic, whose club entered the game 0-3-2 at Rogers Place since it opened three years ago.
"Both those guys (McDavid and Gaudreau) would say it’s not (a showdown between them). Johnny is our superstar and one of the best in the league. He never stops amazing us."