Flames’ Hanifin stars in Battle of Alberta while waiting for trade

Noah Hanifin scored twice and Dan Vladar made 32 saves as the Calgary Flames walked to a 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers in the Battle of Alberta.

EDMONTON — The price tag on Noah Hanifin just went up.

Okay, maybe not, as the ask for the soon-to-be-departed Flames defenceman was already high.

A national audience saw why on Saturday night when the 27-year-old took centre stage in the Battle of Alberta with a two-goal, three-point performance that also saw him help contain the world’s best player.

He did it knowing it would be his last provincial rivalry, as his decision not to re-sign in Calgary means he’ll be traded by the March 8 deadline.

It can’t be easy, knowing every game could be his last for an organization he’s played 444 games with over the last six years.

“I just focus in on each day, and whatever happens, happens,” said Hanifin, making his first public comments following his decision to spurn an eight-year contract offer.

“It’s just taking it one day at a time and doing everything I can just to help the team win.

“We’re in a playoff hunt right now and that’s the focus in the locker room. I’m a part of this team and that’s where my mindset is at right now, just each game helping us move forward to a playoff spot and playing the best hockey I can each night for the team.”

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Mission accomplished in a 6-3 win in hostile territory, where his tenth of the season gave the Flames a 3-0 lead late in a first period in which the visitors continued the roll they’ve been on all week.

After Zach Hyman’s two goals got the Oilers within one early in the second, Hanifin capped a two-goal stint over three minutes that saw the Flames pull away from one of the NHL’s best clubs.

Snapping a beautiful cross-ice pass from Connor Zary into an empty cage, Hanifin’s 11th set a career high for goals in a season, capping an emotional night in which he finished with seven shots, was plus-3 and added an assist.

“At the end of the day, that’s his job. He’s gotta come and play,” said coach Ryan Huska of Hanifin’s situation.

“He’s a defenceman that we rely on heavily and we’re going to continue to do that.”

Until they can’t.

Sure to net the Flames at least a first-round pick, a top prospect and a roster player, the young veteran of almost 700 games is entering the prime of his career.

The Flames made every effort to keep him, but he made the tough decision to seek greener grass, likely closer to his Boston roots.

A huge loss for the club when it’s made official. 

While he and his defensive partner Chris Tanev wait for a trade, they both continue to be pros, sacrificing in every way to help prolong a string in which the retooling Flames have now won three in a row against juggernauts.

“It was a great team effort tonight, we needed to get a win against those guys,” said Hanifin, whose club had lost four in a row and eight of their last nine to the Oilers.

“We’ve had a tough time playing them lately, and I thought we had a real good start to the game. We played with a lot of emotion and passion. That’s something you have to do when you play a team with that much skill. I thought it was a really complete game from us.”

Perhaps the team’s best all season, putting them just three back of the West’s final wild-card berth with an effort that included key goals from Nazem Kadri, Martin Pospisil, Dryden Hunt and an empty netter (and fight) from Blake Coleman. 

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Hunt’s game-winner was a goal-scorer’s snipe while toiling on the top line in place of Andrei Kuzmenko, who was sent back to Calgary due to illness.  

No one was better than Hanifin, who helped prevent Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl from scoring. 

“He’s incredible,” said Zary, of the popular defender.

“You see him every night, his smooth skating, and hair flowing through the wind.

“He plays against the top line with Tanny almost every night and they do an incredible job.

“They’re really a backbone back there, shutting things down, and then creating offence. They play such a hard two-way game.

“Especially Hani, you see the type of game he plays tonight, on the biggest stage, when we need wins.”

These Flames continue to show character beyond their years, beating juggernauts Winnipeg and Boston during the week before backup Dan Vladar was tasked with making 32 saves against an Edmonton team that was on an 8-1-1 run at home.        

“That’s a pack mentality right there that we’ve been preaching about,” said Kadri, particularly proud of his team’s ability to weather a pushback that had the Oilers climb within one goal midway through.  

“Rowdy building, we knew the hype around the game. Saturday, against the Oilers. I think we’ve got some nerves of steel in here and we’ve got to continue to stay on that.”

No matter who’s on board, or for how long.

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