Out of all of the hockey that the Edmonton Oilers have played in the 2021-22 season, by far the most emotionally charged game was the Oilers/Calgary Flames match-up on the final Saturday in March. The teams battled neck-and-neck in the March 26 game until early in the third period when Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom robbed Evander Kane and the Flames eventually pulled away for a 9-5 victory.
Whether you’re an Oilers or Flames Fan, or just a hockey fan in general, wouldn’t you love to see more of these two teams going head-to-head in the postseason? If everything goes according to plan, they could meet in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, roughly in the third week of May. But there’s a lot of hockey to be played between now and then.
Oilers Still Fighting For Their Playoff Lives
In order for the Oilers to meet the Flames, they have to make the playoffs first, and there’s no guarantee of that at the moment. They currently sit in third place in the Pacific Division, closely behind the LA Kings. However, the Oilers have a suddenly resurgent Vegas Golden Knights team breathing down their neck as well. The pressure is really on them to keep winning as the Golden Knights appear to have an easier schedule down the stretch.
There’s always the wild card for the Oilers, but the standings in the Western Conference wild card race are also tight with the Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars and Golden Knights each separated by one or two points for the final two playoff spots.
Oilers Have to Hope Their Goaltending Holds Up
If you’ve watched any Oilers’ games in the last two weeks, they seem to be using a lot of smoke and mirrors to win games. With defensive lapses against the Flames, Kings and St. Louis Blues, their ship seems to be taking on water but they’re still bravely sailing ahead. Goaltenders Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith are not inspiring confidence, and you have to wonder if general manager Ken Holland will be pressured to bring Stuart Skinner up from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League (AHL). Koskinen is letting in soft goals again, but he is still battling and somehow finding ways to win.
Smith, well, he looks old and tired right now, maybe even a bit injured. He seems a step behind the play, and in his most recent start against the Blues, the Oilers were lucky to walk away with a 6-5 overtime victory after blowing a 4-1 first period lead. The defensive lapses can’t be squarely blamed on the goaltenders, though. Their defensive corps looks a bit shaky, and the forward group could be better at battling in their own zone. Overall, the Oilers need to tighten things up defensively or they’ll find themselves on the outside looking in when the playoffs start.
Flames May Have Peaked Against the Oilers
In the Flames’ two games following the final instalment of the Battle of Alberta, they’ve looked like they’ve lost their offensive mojo. In their most recent losses to the Colorado Avalanche and LA Kings, they seem to be lacking the emotion that they had in their victory over the Oilers. Could it be that they have peaked? That’s a possibility. Based on sports history, the Flames and their Canadian Football League (CFL) counterpart, the Calgary Stampeders, get extra hyped to play games against teams from Edmonton.
The view from Northern Alberta is that Calgary gets into such a frenzy to beat Edmonton, that it seems like that’s the most important thing and league championships are almost secondary. Is this why the Flames’ great veteran coach, Darryl Sutter is downplaying the hype about his first-place team in recent press conferences?
The Flames have been the better of the two Alberta NHL teams all season long, so it’s a foregone conclusion that they will make the playoffs, and may even finish first in the Pacific Division. But could they be ripe for a playoff upset, and one at the hands of the Oilers? That’s not a far-fetched fantasy. It could happen, especially if one of their goaltenders turns into Grant Fuhr, Andy Moog, Bill Ranford or Dwayne Roloson. If the often injured, battle-hardened Oilers get into the playoffs, they might just be able to pull off a playoff miracle against a Flames team that has been relatively healthy all season, and has a starting goaltender with a career 8-6 playoff record. If Markstrom does turn into Miikka Kiprusoff once the playoffs start, the Oilers might need to be polishing up their golf clubs.
A Battle of Alberta Playoff Edition Would Be Must Watch Hockey
Having the Oilers and Flames meet in the 2022 NHL Playoffs would be great for hockey fans in Alberta and around the league. There’s no doubt the hype would be turned up to maximum volume as a new generation of fans get to experience what used to be routine business in Alberta over three decades ago. Whoever comes out of a possible Battle of Alberta playoff showdown in 2022 will likely carry that momentum all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, and after that, all bets are off.
D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.