EDMONTON — Hey, did you hear about how important the two points are?
It seems that even the hype around a Battle of Alberta can’t survive 19 days of dormancy, as there was as much venom at Wednesday’s morning skate as you’d find at a puppy party.
“It’s more about the playoffs than anything,” said Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “I know the fans and everyone want to make it about something else, but in this room, we’re focused on the two points.”
Calgary Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk wasn’t biting when asked what it felt like to have a target on his back.
“I don’t know what a target on your back means,” Tkachuk said.
“But I know from my perspective, I’m going in to do everything I can to help make sure my team wins. We’re just trying to make sure that happens because we need the points now more than ever.”
The only lineup change that would point to either team adding any genuine toughness to their lineup would be the Flames dressing tough forward Zac Rinaldo. Edmonton is countering with burly winger Jujhar Khaira, but the Surrey, B.C., native does not possess a Rinaldo-like reputation when it comes to dropping the mitts.
“A lot has been talked about, and you (media) guys have had your word for a long time now,” said Oilers starting goalie Mike Smith, who will oppose Calgary’s David Rittich. “As players, we’re in the thick of things here. All the extracurricular things can take care of themselves.”
George Parros, the head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, will be joined in the press box for Wednesday’s and Saturday’s Battle of Alberta games by director of officiating Stephen Walkom. The referees for both games have also been handpicked, with veteran zebras getting the assignments.
Tonight it is Chris Lee and Kyle Rehman.
“I don’t know who’s watching, how many people are watching. I’m sure it’s the same as any other game against Edmonton,” Tkachuk said. “The two cities, this is the game they wait for. These are big games. Just being around Calgary, there’s a lot of buzz about the Battle of Alberta. There always has been. I expect nothing different than probably the 12 times I’ve played against them in my career. Both cities get up. There will be a lot of Flames fans here, too. They travel well. There will be a lot of energy in the building I’m sure.”
Whether or not Tkachuk and Zack Kassian will renew pleasantries, or if Milan Lucic gets involved as a policeman against his old club, everyone involved appreciates the added juice these two games will have compared to most others in an 82-game schedule.
“I’ve been around a long time, and see a lot of things happen throughout the course of different years and different games,” said the veteran Smith. “It’s fun when you’re playing for something, and we’re playing for keeps right now. Every point matters right now, and that’s what we’re concerned about here.”
Calgary is one point ahead of the Oilers in the Pacific Division standings, but the Oilers have two games in hand. It’s going to be a dog fight to the end of the season now that the All-Star break has passed.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an important game,” Smith said. “We want to continue what we ended with after the break — playing real consistent hockey. We want to come out of this break better than the Christmas break. Coming out of that break we were sloppy in our game, and there wasn’t much emotion at all. You’ll see a different team point of us tonight.”
Calgary won that game 5-1 in Edmonton. You can bet the Oilers will not want to be embarrassed like that again.