Flames, Oilers trying to put animosity aside to focus on big picture

Oilers head coach Dave Tippett has seen the bowl within Rogers Place arena, and says it's look a lot different than an empty stadium, and thinks his players will be able to get past all the distractions, including no real fans in the seats.

In just a couple of breaths, Zack Kassian took all the air out of the pre-game hype generally associated with the Battle of Alberta.

As his Oilers prepare for the sole exhibition game against their hated rivals to the south Tuesday night, Kassian offered up the sobering reality of the situation.

“You’ve got to be smart,” said the wild-card winger, who upped his relevance earlier this year when he became the Oilers’ central figure in the renewal of the provincial punch-up.

“I know our team is thinking that. Their team is probably thinking the same way. The Stanley Cup Playoffs isn’t a time to get redemption, isn’t a time to take stupid penalties, isn’t a time to screw around. It’s business.”

It’s not what fans want to hear, but he’s right.

This is about tuning up, not tuning in the opposition.

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The hatred between the two is real, but this game won’t be, in terms of settling scores.

Heck, the score itself is irrelevant.

What matters is getting back to game speed, getting that competitive edge back, ramping up your game, your systems and your mindset with an eye on trying to use the game for some semblance of momentum for Saturday night’s main event.

The intensity has to be there, even if the fights that littered the season series are not.

“We have got to treat Tuesday like it’s a playoff game,” said Matthew Tkachuk, who single-handedly brought the battle back with a series of runs at Kassian that sparked it all.

“If we just go in with an easy mentality and not a playoff mentality, kind of like we have the past couple times going into the playoffs we let off the gas right before, we’ll probably have a similar result. You look at the teams that win in the past and they’re winning going in.”

The players will tell you they want to win Tuesday, but there’s so much more that’s important here.

Both teams will ice forward lines and defensive pairings that are almost identical to the ones they sported before the COVID-19 pause.

What is up for grabs are starting goalie assignments – for both clubs.

Oilers coach Dave Tippett would prefer to start Mike Smith, who was the lone playoff bright spot for the Flames last year. However, the veteran has been lit up in camp, leading to the possibility he could lose his job to Mikko Koskinen if his Tuesday time isn’t fruitful.

Tippett wouldn’t tip his hand on how he plans to use his netminder(s) Tuesday night.

Flames interim coach Geoff Ward said he’s leaning towards splitting time between Cam Talbot and David Rittich Tuesday, which could ultimately determine his playoff starter.

Rittich was the Flames’ first-half MVP, but Talbot was better down the stretch and gets the slight edge through camp.

Suffice it to say, there’s a better chance Elon Musk will buy oil stocks than there is we’ll see another goalie fight Tuesday.

“We have one game… and a team in Calgary who we know well,” said Tippett.

“I think both teams are going to really try to concentrate on getting their game in order. You want to do things that allow you to get your team up and running, You recognize your opponent, but both teams have bigger fish to fry than that game on Tuesday night.”

For the Oilers, the Chicago Blackhawks await on Saturday afternoon, followed later that night by the Flames and Winnipeg Jets.

Viewership Tuesday will be at an all-time high – by exhibition game standards – as fans are not only dying to see live hockey again, but also hoping the two will do well to amp one another up physically and emotionally.

The ever-combustible Kassian, for one, shrugged off the notion he needs practice to get his edge back.

“No, that comes naturally to me,” said Kassian, who fought Tkachuk one-and-a-half times over their last two meetings.

“It’s like Connor (McDavid) scoring goals. I get that edge naturally from competing in a game. It’s an exhibition game. I’m focused on the Chicago Blackhawks, and what we’ve got to do to beat them. It’s going to be a tune-up game, I’m using it as a tune-up game. But at the same time, you only have one of those games, so you’ve got to be sharp.”

Ward says his checklist for Tuesday is simple.

“We want to see high work level by our guys, we want to see attention to detail, and we want to see execution,” said Ward, who will take full advantage of the league’s allowance to dress an extra forward and defenceman for the game.

“If we get to see all three of those it will be successful.”

Puck drop is 8:30 p.m. MT.


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