Oilers look to avoid historic sweep by Flames

Thursday, 12.31.2009 / 5:59 PM / NHL Insider
By Todd Kimberley  - Correspondent

"It's a results league, and you've got to win.  The games we've played against Calgary, we've played well for the most part . . . we're doing a lot of good things. It's just a matter of not making those mistakes at key times, and capitalizing on our chances when we get them" -- Sam Gagner

CALGARY -- The Edmonton Oilers have put up a fight in this season's Battle of Alberta. They'll need to do more than that if they want to prevent a battlefield rout by the Calgary Flames.

The Oilers, last in the Western Conference, enter a New Year's Eve visit to the Pengrowth Saddledome with four losses in as many meetings with the Flames this season. If they don't win tonight, they'll have only one more chance (at Calgary on Jan. 30) to avoid becoming the first team in 30 years' worth of Battles of Alberta to suffer a season sweep.

"The statistics don't fib. The bottom line is that we weren't able to complete the loop, for whatever reason," Oilers associate coach Tom Renney told on Thursday morning. "If it's an untimely error that cost you a game, so be it.

"We've done just enough to hurt ourselves. I would have to suggest that Calgary's full marks for having the victories against us, no question. We can maybe take some moral solace from the fact we've competed with them, and maybe beating ourselves in a couple of games, for sure.

"But I'll tell you right now," he said, "the Calgary Flames don't give a crap about that. They want another win tonight."

The Flames have chalked up four straight victories against the Oilers this winter with some puck luck and a couple of timely goals.

On Oct. 3 at Edmonton, Nikolai Khabibulin mishandled a clearing pass with 49 seconds left -- handing the puck to David Moss, who put the winning goal into an empty net for a 4-3 Calgary win.

Five days after that, Rene Bourque scored the tying goal with 1.5 seconds left, and Nigel Dawes and Olli Jokinen scored in the ensuing shootout as the Flames escaped with another 4-3 victory.

The Flames skated to an easy 5-2 win at the Saddledome on Oct. 24. And on Monday at Rexall Place, the Oil piled up shots advantages of 16-5 after one period and 31-14 after two, but were foiled by Miikka Kiprusoff's magnificent 34-save outing and Bourque's second career hat trick in a 4-1 Calgary win.

"It's a results league, and you've got to win," Oilers center Sam Gagner said. "The games we've played against Calgary, we've played well for the most part . . . we're doing a lot of good things. It's just a matter of not making those mistakes at key times, and capitalizing on our chances when we get them."

Since the Flames moved to Calgary from Atlanta in the fall of 1980, neither club has authored a complete sweep in 29 seasons' worth of Battle of Alberta skirmishes. The Oilers came close, with seven wins and a tie in 1983-84, their first Stanley Cup-winning season, and four wins and a draw in 2000-01. The Flames went 4-0-1-1 (one tie, one OT loss) against the Oil in 2003-04.

"The difference between our two teams right now," Edmonton captain Ethan Moreau told, "is that they're in a playoff position and we're not. They find ways to win the close games.

"It usually comes down to special teams, and they've won that battle against us in every game this year," added Moreau. "We've also lost a lot of games strictly through our inability to get that next goal, or by making the mistake that led to an opponent's goal."

As far as the Battle of Alberta, "it's a rivalry," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's points for us. If we don't make the playoffs, it doesn't really matter if we win the season series."




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