A Postseason Battle of Alberta?

It’s been 26 years since the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames faced each other in the playoffs. The Battle of Alberta is still fierce in the eyes of the fans, but it’s cooled substantially in terms of relevance on the ice.

This year, with both teams in a playoff spot, we are staring down the possibility of a first round match-up between these cross-provincial rivals. There is some jockeying still to go, because the Flames would have to overtake the Anaheim Ducks in the standings, and stay there. But there’s a chance. And it would be glorious.

The Playoff Picture

(Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

At this point, making the playoffs is the goal, and the opponent doesn’t matter. The players especially would tell us that. But it’s hard to ignore the possibilities. The Oilers are in second place in the Pacific Division with 78 points. The Flames are fourth with 76 points. They’re tied with the Ducks, but have one more game played. They’ve also been red-hot as of late, winning their last seven in a row.

The crazy thing is that there are no guarantees either team makes the playoffs. The Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets all have their sights set on making the postseason, meaning both the Oilers and Flames have to keep pace to hold their spots. And although it’s looking good, it’s far too soon to celebrate.

The Flames remaining schedule includes three games against the Kings, and two against the Ducks. Those will be huge in terms of positioning. They also appear to be trending upwards, while the Ducks have been faltering, going 5-5 in their last 10 contests. The Oilers and Flames don’t face each other again in the regular season.

For the Oilers, just being in the playoffs would mean everything. The last time they played postseason hockey was in 2006. Many of the core guys on the roster have never played in a playoff game. It’s huge for the franchise, fans and the players alike. Obviously you don’t want to count your chickens before they hatch, but with the season starting to wind down, looking at possible playoff match-ups is finally realistic.

A Historic Rivalry

The Flames and Oilers have faced each other five times in the playoffs, with the Oilers winning four of those series. The lone Flames win came on the heels of Steve Smith’s infamous “own goal” in 1986, so you could argue that Edmonton has had the upper hand over their bitter rivals. The regular season edge, however, would go to Calgary. They have a 107-90-18 record over the Oilers.

Many young fans of the current Flames and Oilers would have little recollection of the last time these teams faced each other in a playoff series. But there is clearly no love lost between them, despite neither team having a lot of overall success as of late. Calgary has made the playoffs five times since the lock-out season of 2005, and the Oilers have qualified just once in that same time frame.

Despite the venom from the fans, the intensity of the rivalry on the ice hasn’t been the same. A playoff series can change that very quickly, and there’s nothing like a postseason bout to re-ignite one of the best rivalries in sports. Fans of both teams will tell you that they don’t care who the opponent is, as long as their team is in the playoffs. But you can bet that they’ll be fired up if this series does happen.

“A feud has always simmered between the province’s two biggest cities. They are separated by 300 kilometres, but beyond that, there is a great cultural and political divide. They squabble constantly. Hockey has always played a role in the disharmony. The rivalry has lost its edge, as both teams have struggled. But there is a hope that the good bad old days will soon return.” [Marty Klinkenberg, Globe and Mail]

A lot has to go right for this match-up to happen, and it appears as though the hockey world is chomping at the bit to see it come to fruition. The next month will start to bring the playoff picture in a clearer view. Until then, we can only hope.