Pressing pause on Battle of Alberta results in profitable All-Star Game victory for Flames, Oilers
ST. LOUIS — The primary contestants in the Battle of Alberta promised to play nice during All-Star weekend, and play nice they did. Well, they were cordial, at least. Professional, certainly. Tolerant might be the best word, though.
Five of the 11 All-Stars from the Pacific Division play for either the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames — including winger Flames Matthew Tkachuk, whose hits on Oilers forward Zack Kassian ignited a flareup — and those five helped the Pacific squad win the showcase 3-on-3 tournament Saturday night, knocking off the Central Division 10-5 in the opening round and then beating the Atlantic troupe 5-4 in a rather intense final contest.
And it was a wonderful, juicy coincidence lost on exactly nobody at the Enterprise Center that the second of the 15 tallies on the night for the Pacific team was an assist-goal combo of Tkachuk to Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers forward who, in a moment of postgame anger after the original incidents, had threatened to skate off the ice if he found himself on a line with Tkachuk in St. Louis . The two have a history , and that history isn’t exactly of buddy-buddy road trips across Alberta.
They weren’t set up on the same line — Draisaitl and Oilers teammate Connor McDavid were paired with Tkachuk’s veteran teammate Mark Giordano, while Tkachuk was with Vancouver teammates Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson — but less than three minutes into the game, Draisaitl, Tkachuk and Hughes were together.
Hughes fed Draisaitl, who slid the puck to Tkachuk in front of the net, and as Tkachuk skated past Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, he dropped the puck back to Draisaitl, who buried it into the back of the net.
It was a well-executed moment that, if you didn’t know better, looked to be the product of a couple of teammates used to playing together.
“It was a nice play by him,” Draisaitl said with a laugh.
He smiled, and then kept going. “Like we said all along, we’re all here to have fun. We’re all here to have a good time and things like that, they happen in the game, but this is not the time to be grumpy about anything, or whatever it is. We’re a team, and everyone here, I think, had a great time. It was a lot of fun.”
The goal put the Pacific group up 2-0, but it wasn’t cause for celebration. Tkachuk skated directly to the bench. No “We scored!” rah-rah moments.
“Oh, I don’t know that anyone else was celebrating goals tonight,” Tkachuk said when asked about the moment after the game. “You guys read too much into that.”
Yep, maybe. But it certainly wasn’t buddy-buddy. Nice. Cordial. Professional. Tolerant.
And that approach added up to one thing: Champions.
Tkachuk wound up with two goals and four assists in the two games. Draisaitl had four goals and two assists. Giordano, a defenseman, had a pair of his assists. McDavid had four assists. The fifth member of the Oilers-Flames contingent, goalie David Rittich, stopped 12 of the 14 shots he faced on the night, which was by far the best showing by any goalie Saturday.
So, the pause button was pushed, successfully. Profitably, even; the winning team split the $1 million prize, which is nice.
But what happens when it is time to return to the rivalry, to return to the anger that sparked the Battle of Alberta skirmish — and make no mistake, the anger was real. Even though the players wouldn’t admit as much, it has to be an odd feeling to return to such strong feelings and emotions after suppressing them for a couple of happy feel-good days.
“No, I don’t think it’s weird, leaving the regular season, coming here and enjoying it for a couple of days,” Tkachuk said. “You’ll get right back into it.”
We won’t have to wait long to see what happens.
The Flames host the Blues on Tuesday, then travel to — you guessed it — Edmonton for a game Wednesday. For the Oilers, that’s their first post-break contest. Oh, and remember that Calgary and Edmonton are in the middle of an intense Pacific Division title race; five teams in that division have either 57 or 58 points. Yeah. The eyes of hockey — not just the eyes of Alberta — will be watching eagerly to see what happens.
“It’ll be fun,” Draisaitl said with a grin. “It’s always fun games against them, for sure. Obviously, whatever is going on there, it’s going to be a pretty fun game to be part of.”
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