The Battle of Alberta has all the makings of a classic

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This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily e-newsletter. Stay on top of what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

This is what Gary Bettman wanted. The divisional format of the NHL playoffs is often criticized, but its ultimate goal is to produce rivalry series. And by that standard, in 2022, the format was successful.

In the East, the Lightning and Panthers will drop the puck in an intrastate playoff matchup for the second straight season.

But our focus is on the West, where the Flames and Oilers will meet in the postseason for the first time since 1991. The winner earns a spot in the conference finals (against the Avalanche or Blues) and moves one step closer to becoming the first Canadian team to lift the Stanley Cup since 1993.

The Battle of Alberta begins with Game 1 tomorrow at 9:30 pm ET. Each game will be available on CBC TV, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. This is the story of the tape:

head to head

Each team had a pair of regulation wins, with the Flames scoring 17-16. Calgary won the most recent meeting 9-5 in a game in which Oilers goalie Mike Smith even took a hard penalty against, you guessed it, Matthew Tkachuk. We’ll take seven more like this, please.

SEE | Memorable moments from the Battle of Alberta:

9 moments from the Battle of Alberta… in 90 seconds


Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will feature one of the oldest and most heated rivalries in hockey.

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Offense

On paper, it’s hard to beat the collection of offensive firepower in this series, which features four 100-point scorers: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and Tkachuk. Individually, those players delivered in the first round, especially McDavid, whose 14 points lead the playoffs. Evander Kane, who joined Edmonton midway through the season, leads the remaining players with seven goals.

In reality, the score may not come en masse. Draisaitl reportedly played with a high ankle sprain in Game 7 against Los Angeles, but while he didn’t skate today, Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said he is “available” for Game 1. Meanwhile, the Flames managed just 15 goals in their first-round series against Dallas. That’s due in part to Stars goalie Jake Oettinger’s stellar play, but the low total may also reflect Calgary head coach Darryl Sutter, whose trademark low-key, tight-control playoff style has helped him win. more 7 games than any manager in history.

Defending

The Flames may not possess the typical No. 1 defenseman seen in many Stanley Cup champions, but the entire team’s commitment to structure helped them allow the third-fewest goals during the regular season. Much of their defensive help comes up front and consequently center Elias Lindholm was named one of three finalists for the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the league today. Reliable D-man Chris Tanev missed Game 7 with injury, but has been on the ice before the second round.

On the other hand, no remaining playoff team allowed more goals in the regular season than the Oilers. Edmonton limited the Kings to two or fewer goals in each of their four wins, including a pair of shutouts. But he also allowed a pedestrian Los Angeles offense to count 13 times as many of his three losses. The Oilers’ defensive play could be the biggest deciding factor in the series.

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goalkeepers

Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom is a Vezina candidate who posted an impressive .922 save percentage in the regular season, then increased it to .943 in seven games against the Stars. It’s as solid a bet as there is in the crease.

Edmonton’s Mike Smith is a bigger question mark. His .938 save percentage in the playoffs ranks fourth in the league, but he was closer to the average in just 27 starts during an injury-plagued season. At 40 years old, it’s fair to wonder how Smith will hold up during a playoff run.

pest control

It wouldn’t be the Battle of Alberta if things didn’t get fierce. And you know that Tkachuk will find himself in the center of Some Controversy: Possibly opposing Edmonton’s Zack Kassian, with whom there is an ongoing feud dating back to 2019, when Tkachuk collapsed after Kassian took off his gloves to fight.

And Tkachuk and Kassian are just the main characters. Kane already made waves for exhibitionism at the end of the Kings series, and former Oiler badass Milan Lucic remains on the Flames bench.

Expert Picks

The Flames are listed by multiple sportsbooks as -190 favorites to win the series, implying about a 65 percent chance Calgary will advance. But that also seems a bit high for an NHL playoff series between relatively even teams and hated rivals.

Let’s double check with Wayne Gretzky then. He may be a bit biased, but his hockey experience is certainly undeniable. The Great One, in his first season as a studio television analyst with TNT, even correctly picked the eight first-round winners. So who does he have surviving the Battle of Alberta? yes that would be the flames.

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