With the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers both able to pick up Game 7 victories in their opening-round series, the two will now meet up against one another in the Western Conference Semi-Final. This was a series hockey fans all over the world, particularly fans of the two teams, were hoping for, as the Battle of Alberta has not occurred in the playoffs since 1991.
For both teams, seeing their first-round opponents take them all the way to Game 7 came as somewhat of a surprise, as both were considered heavy favorites by the majority of experts. Regardless, they both found a way to push through, and will now face off in one of the most highly anticipated playoff series the league has seen in years. Now that it has arrived, here is a breakdown of how the two teams fared throughout the course of the regular season, and what we can expect to see between them.
How They Stack Up
These two clubs played each other on four occasions this season, with the home team winning each game. The Oilers won the first two contests on the season, the first being a 5-2 win back in October and the second a 5-3 victory in January. The Flames were then able to exact revenge in early February with a 3-1 win, before going on to win what was by far the craziest of the four games between these two by a 9-5 final later that same month. In those four games, Leon Draisaitl stepped up in a massive way, leading the Oilers with five goals and 11 points. As for the Flames, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk led the way eight points apiece.
As far as top performers go in this series, we should expect those three names to be amongst them. Draisaitl’s 55 goals trailed only Auston Matthews for the league lead, while his 110 points ranked fourth. Meanwhile, his teammate in Connor McDavid was able to win his fourth Art Ross Trophy after posting a career-high 123 points.
While those two are without a doubt the biggest offensive threats on the Oilers, this team is getting more scoring from others than we are used to seeing in years past. A big reason for that has been the addition of Evander Kane, who has fit in seamlessly on a line with McDavid, scoring 22 goals and 39 points in just 43 games this season. His seven goals in the playoffs also lead all Oilers skaters, and six of those have come at even strength. Another big addition up front has been Zach Hyman, who signed a massive seven-year deal in Edmonton this offseason and was able to record career highs with 27 goals and 54 points.
As for the Flames, they have plenty of weapons to boast offensively as well. Gaudreau’s 115 points tied Jonathan Huberdeau for second in league scoring, and his righthand man in Tkachuk was one of eight players in the league to record north of 100 points with a career-high 104. Elias Lindholm also had a fantastic 82-point campaign, and was one of four Flames along with Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Andrew Mangiapane, to have 35 or more goals on the season.
As if those four weren’t scary enough, they were also able to add one of the game’s more underrated goalscorers at the deadline in Tyler Toffoli. Though his play to this point as a Flame hasn’t been as great as expected, he has still been solid and is a player who has the ability to pop off at any time.
On the blue line, most would suggest that the Flames have the clear upgrade. Despite the departure of Mark Giordano this past offseason, several have stepped up on this team’s back end in his absence. One in particular is Rasmus Andersson, whose 50 points on the season lead all blueliners involved in this series. Noah Hanifin was also able to increase his offence in a big way, recording a career-high 48 points in 81 games.
For the Oilers, Evan Bouchard’s 43 points led the way, though Tyson Barrie was just two shy of that despite only appearing in 73 games. It was a bit of a down season for Barrie, who proved just how good he can be offensively a season prior in which his 48 points in 56 games led all NHL defencemen.
As for goaltending, the Flames are once again considered to have the upgrade. Jacob Markstrom was nothing short of spectacular this season, posting an incredible 2.22 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .922 save percentage (SV%) and a league-leading nine shutouts. The great season was enough to have him be voted as a Vezina Trophy Finalist for the first time in his career, and rightfully so.
At the other end will be a former Flames goaltender in Mike Smith. After a major blunder in Game 1 of his team’s opening series vs. the Los Angeles Kings, the 40-year-old was able to come up big in the games ahead, and now owns a rock solid 2.29 GAA along with a .938 SV% in this years Stanley Cup Playoffs. While he is prone to allowing weak goals from time to time, he has been much better over the past two seasons than often given credit for.
As most would agree, the one main advantage the Oilers hold over the Flames coming into this series is their power play. After leading the league in terms of power-play percentage after both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 campaigns, they regressed slightly this season, but still finished third with a 26 percent conversion rate. That success increased even more in their opening-round series, as they scored on seven of their 19 opportunities on the man advantage, though that came against a weak Kings’ penalty kill.
As for the Flames, they ranked 10th in the NHL with a power-play percentage of 22.9. However, things have gone cold for them on that front to this point in the playoffs, as they have found the back of the net in just two of their 24 opportunities.
The good news for the Flames in terms of facing this dangerous Oilers’ power play is that their penalty-kill unit was exceptional all season long, finishing sixth in the entire league with a success rate of 83.2 percent. That ranked much higher than the Oilers, who finished 17th at 79.4 percent. Both teams have been very good when down a man in this postseason, but the Flames have killed off 91.7 percent of their penalties, while the Oilers sit at 87.5.
As far as goals scored on the season, these teams were neck and neck as the Flames finished with 291 to the Oilers 285. There was a big gap in goals against, however, as the Oilers gave up 251 while the Flames let in the third fewest of any team in the league at 206. Their great defensive play is in large part thanks to Sutter, who has completely changed the identity of this team from what they were just a year ago.
Both Teams Dealing With Injuries
As is often said, no one is ever 100 percent healthy in the playoffs. After a long and grueling 82-game season, many players are dealing with bumps and bruises, some that are worse than others. With that being said, there are a few injuries that may force some players to miss some time, or at the very least prohibit them from being at their best.
The most significant of the bunch is Leon Draisaitl, who is believed to have suffered a high ankle sprain after being taken to the ice by Kings defenceman Mikey Anderson during a scrum in Game 6. The German center was able to play in Game 7, but was clearly laboring throughout the entire game, failing to have the impact he would have if he was fully healthy.
As for the Flames, they were forced to play Game 7 without arguably their most steady defenceman in Chris Tanev. While it is known that the 32-year-old is dealing with an undisclosed ailment caused in Game 6, it is unknown what his timeline is. If he is able to play, he likely won’t be anywhere near 100 percent given the fact he was forced to sit out for a very crucial Game 7.
Flames Considered Favorites Over Oilers
While this series is much more of a toss up than what most had considered the Flames first-round series against the Dallas Stars, most are still viewing them as favorites over the Oilers. Both teams are exceptional offensively, but the Flames’ goaltending and blue line are seen by most as stronger than the Oilers. With that being said, anything can happen in the playoffs, and this Oilers squad led by a great head coach in his own right in Jay Woodcroft is not one to be taken lightly. Regardless of what the outcome is, this series will be a fantastic one to watch.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.