Oilers, Flames still separated by thinnest margins after latest battle

Sean Monahan scored on Mike Smith in the shootout and the Calgary Flames defeated the Edmonton Oilers.

EDMONTON — A Sean Monahan ace beat a pair of posts by the Edmonton Oilers in the shootout, on a rare night when a marquee game lived up to the hype that preceded it.

And now that Matthew Tkachuk and Zack Kassian are all buddy buddy, a Mark Giordano knee won’t replace the vitriol either.

"I don’t want to start a big media circus at all," said Connor McDavid, who was incensed on the bench when Giordano, whose hit caused him to injure his knee last year, clipped that same left knee with his own as McDavid whizzed past. "He’s obviously a guy that plays hard and that’s that."

Absent any defined feuds to take us into a Saturday night rematch in Calgary, this 4-3 Flames shootout win was exactly what we remember of the old Battle of Alberta, a rivalry contested back in the 80s between the two best teams in the National Hockey League.

It started with Tkachuk finally throwing down with Kassian, and ended with Monahan scoring the only goal in a shootout that saw both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid ring their attempts off of David Rittich’s goal posts.

"Chucky is a warrior," Monahan said. "He answered the bell and it was the right thing to do."

In between was the best Edmonton-Calgary action since, well, Jan. 11 when Calgary beat the Oilers 4-3 at the Saddledome.

"Ever since I got drafted to Calgary I never really knew about the battle of Alberta, to be honest," began Tkachuk after the game. "But the day I was drafted I was told, ‘You don’t like them.’ So it’s kind of been engrained in me."

He said he fought Kassian out of self respect.

"I just didn’t like getting pummeled at home like I did," Tkachuk said. "I guess it was a must-see hockey game for fans – two teams close to each other city-wise. Fans get into it. Guess it has been a rivalry for years."

How will these teams top this game on Saturday?

"Honestly," Tkachuk sighed, "right now I just want to go home and go to bed."

The Rogers Place crowd was dotted with folks wearing turtle suits in honour of Tkachuk’s nickname in these parts, and chants of "Tuuurtle! Tuuurtle!" rained down for much of the night.

"It reminded me of the playoffs, in my first year (2017)," said Oilers defenceman Matt Benning. "The fans were into it, and that’s the part that makes it fun. When it’s quiet, you have to create your own energy from the bench. When the fans are loud like that, it definitely gets us going. It was a playoff game out there. Awesome."

And just like in the old days of The Battle, once Tkachuk simply stood up for himself, he earned the respect of Kassian and the fans, to a lesser extent. After the fights, the game settled down into fast-paced, entertaining hockey.

"That’s hockey. Fun game to watch," said Monahan. "The emotion was there and for our team, that was a real important game. We were sticking with it all night and they were, too. We’re in the same spot and every point means something. It was a hard-fought game and we were happy to get the extra point."

Adam Larsson kicked one into his one net to open the game, and then Calgary took two more leads of 2-1 and 3-2 — both Andrew Mangiapane goals — before Benning, of all people, made a lovely solo rush to tie the game with 8:11 to play in the third.

In his first game back from a concussion, Benning walked Flames defenceman Noah Hanifin and beat the stellar Rittich five-hole. It was his first of the season, but looked like the work of a 25-goal man.

"We’re down a goal, and Connor’s screaming at me, ‘Go! Go! Go!’" Benning said. "When he’s yelling that it’s probably a good idea to listen to him. Nine out of 10 you probably dump that puck in."

The last time these teams played, a late Leon Draisaitl crossbar preserved a one-goal win for Calgary. This time, two OT posts behind were the difference.

Clearly, there isn’t much to choose between the two teams, though in a tight Pacific Division race, Calgary has now taken six points to Edmonton’s one in their first three meetings this season.

"Hey, we got a point," said Kassian. "There are going to be some highs and lows here. We’ve got to stay even keeled."

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