CALGARY – Count Darryl Sutter as one of the few folks in southern Alberta who wasn’t buzzing with excitement following his club’s tribute to the ’80s.
Yet, he still found a way to play along.
“Missed the convert,” was the Jolly Rancher’s opening take on Wednesday’s reinstallment of the Battle of Alberta.
“We were told it was a boring series last time, so I told the players yesterday, ‘we’ve got to score 7-10 goals today because they’d probably score 5-8 to win,’ so that’s what we did.”
Coming off a series against Dallas that took five games for the Flames to score nine goals, the Flames opened the first provincial punch-up in 31 years with a memorable 9-6 win over an Oilers squad that heard chants of “We want 10” a mere seven minutes in.
A classic in the eyes of almost everyone who wasn’t skating in the game, the Flames scored twice in the opening minute, gave up two four-goal leads and broke a 6-6 tie early in the third with three finishing touches.
Earlier in the day the players took turns shrugging when asked what they knew about the hockey played in this north-south classic dating back to before they were born.
Well, they did a fine job emulating their forefathers with the NHL’s first 15-goal playoff game in 29 years.
The 31st meeting between the Alberta neighbours opened the second-round series with the highest scoring in Battle lore, leaving neither team happy with the opening of a series many thought would be a tight, low-scoring affair.
“Not good, not good at all,” said Matthew Tkachuk, whose empty netter gave him his first playoff hat trick in a game too wide open for the dominating Flames’ liking.
“Probably our worst game of the playoffs so far. We got super lucky. That’s just not the recipe for success. Maybe we win this one, but we’re not going to win many more if we’re going to play like that. I thought we had a great start. Second period really got away from us. I think once we got a lead in the third we played a little bit better. We’ve got to be better with the lead. We had a four-goal lead twice. That should be enough in the playoffs. We’ll be better next game.”
No one had any clue how close they’d come, although the 34-11 shot advantage the Flames had when Tkachuk made it 6-2 midway through gave hope there’d either be double digits, or plenty of bloodshed.
Neither came to fruition, despite a physical, emotional game in which the Flames exercised their will over an Oilers club that still found a way to hop on Connor McDavid’s back to tie it 6-6 a mere 1:28 into the third.
That’s when playing catch-up all night finally caught up to the Oilers.
The Flames’ veteran savvy took over from there, as a group that prides itself on remaining even-keel responded a minute-and-a-half later with a Rasmus Andersson goal, followed by two more from Tkachuk.
“I think our team showed a lot of composure,” said Blake Coleman, who had two goals and finished plus-4.
“We gave up that goal to even the score in the third period and a lot of inexperienced teams would crumble right then and there. I thought our guys didn’t back down. I thought we got right back to our game, got a response. Amongst the chaos, I thought we really had some composure in the third and found a way to get it done. Like I said, it was ugly, but when your team can rely on each other and trust each other that you’re going to settle it down and get back to work and do it the right way, that’s a good sign moving forward.”
Jacob Markstrom told the fellas between periods he would shut the door in the third, salvaging an otherwise forgettable evening for the Vezina finalist who allowed six goals on 28 shots.
The Flames countered with 48 in a track meet they insist they want no part of against the world’s best player.
Faster than you can say Smythe Division, McDavid played a big part in leading Edmonton back with their four-goal binge that tied it 6-6 early in the third.
Suddenly, “first team to 10” seemed like it would determine the winner in a turn-back-the-clock salute no one in attendance will soon forget.
As ’80s anthem ‘Shout at the devil’ blared, there was Lanny McDonald in the alumni box, revving up an already-raucous crowd with a rally towel saluting the throwback thrills.
The Red Lot crowd outside had to disperse to the Red Mile as high winds caused organizers to close it 90 minutes before puck drop “out of an abundance of caution.”
Too bad, as they would have added to the surreal scene.
The only things missing were helmetless combatants, ad-free rink boards, wooden sticks, bad broadcast fonts, powder blue blazers and Don Wittman.
Oh, and blood.
There were plenty of words, shoving and a few gloves shed in vain, and you certainly get the vibe this will get nastier.
But instead of lumber littering the ice as it did when Tim Hunter and Dave Semenko repped north and south, hats littered the ice after Tkachuk’s third goal.
“Strange game,” said Sutter, unimpressed with the madness of a game in which his top defenceman, Chris Tanev, didn’t suit up.
“We scored on our first two shots and there were probably six different games out there.”
All were a thrill to watch as Alberta’s best took hockey’s centre stage.
“It was 9-6, so, I mean, it’s not an ordinary game,” smiled Coleman, whose club prefers to play tight-checking hockey, but can clearly play it any way you want.
“Maybe it’s the buildup of 30 years or whatever it’s been for this rivalry. A lot of excitement. A lot of jump, but if our team’s going to be successful we’ve got a lot of work to do.”