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s13 - Rivalry Renewed [WB7]


EDMONTON, AB -- The Battle of Alberta once sustained hockey fans in the province, winter after winter.

After some disappointing years under Calgary’s old regime, it's back and has room to get even better.

The Edmonton Oilers defeated the Calgary Flames 3-1 at Northlands Coliseum on Monday night thanks to goals from Peter Bondra (25) and defenders Joe Corvo (7) and Kevin Hatcher (12).

The win moved the Oilers (41-14-2) 18 points ahead of the Flames (31-22-4) in the Pacific Division. The Oilers are 2-1-0 against their provincial rivals and won’t meet again until gameday 157 and then for one last time on gameday 169.

With the win, the Oilers are now the league’s top team with 84 points, four clear of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the chase for the President’s Trophy.  The Flames, after an impressive early season 13-0-1 run from GDs 16-37 that catapulted them into first in the division, are now in third place after having gone 18-19-3 since.

For one Edmonton Oiler playing in only his second game in the pro ranks in Antoine Vermette, the experience was “surreal”.

“You grow up hearing about the Battle of Alberta, but until you experience it, it’s unbelievable to play in,” he said.  “The boys in the room were jacked for this game,” he added. “The feeling was electric”.

From the drop of the puck it appeared as though players from each team had a heightened sense of detail and care in their play. And that comes from games having a greater meaning than in recent times.

“No way of putting it kindly, they were complete dog s*** under their old management,” said Oilers captain Jeremy Roenick who is in his 13th season in Edmonton and has played in many Battles of Alberta.  “Thankfully for them, they have a very smart GM running the show now and are making hay in the division this season”.

 "A little (different feel) being as who the opponent was, the stakes in the standings," Roenick said. "I think you could tell; they were the same way. It was a really tightly checked game. Chances and shots were at a premium tonight. There wasn't a lot getting through on either side”.

The focus and attention to detail stifled some of the offense in the first period Monday. To that point, the Oilers held a 10-7 edge in shots on goal. With goals from Flames defender Andrew Ference early in the period and the equalizer by Bondra at the 15:55 mark, both teams went into the intermission with the fate of a 1-1 game hanging in the balance.

"I think this one had a playoff-like atmosphere," Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (30-11-1) said. "It was tight-checking hockey for the first period, and really all the way through. In the second, it opened up a little with us getting a couple passed [Ryan] Miller… but you could tell neither team wanted to give an inch early and they really took it to us in the third trying to get back into it, outshooting us pretty good."

Luckily for Edmonton they had the 3-1 lead and could afford to play a more defensive, protect-the-lead style of play because the Flames threw everything they had at “Bulin” and the Oilers, outshooting them 15-8 in the third period.

“I thought today was a great showing for us,” said coach Jacques Martin whose Oilers are on a 10-game unbeaten streak (9-0-1) with their last loss coming in a 6-3 beat-down to the Flames on GD 103.  “We handled an impressive Vancouver Canucks team last game who are out for blood against us, and now to secure this W, it’s a great run we’re on”.

The new blueprint for the Battle of Alberta appears to be set.

Though each team has dangerous offensive elements, the will to do things properly, to hold to a higher checking standard is once again prevailing, something that wasn’t lost on the likes of rugged defender Bryan Marchment.  Having played in only his 10th game of the season, many thought his insertion into the lineup was “message sending” by the Oilers.

"It wasn't your traditional rock 'em sock 'em that way, but it was a competitive, hard night. I think both teams will be tired after that one,” said Marchment.  “I know I am”, he added with a smile.

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