Edmonton, AB - "This is the biggest game of the season," said Theo Peckham, who'd love nothing more than to help dash their rival's post-season hopes with a win tonight in the season's sixth installment of the Battle of Alberta.
Having come away with a 4-1 win last night over the Phoenix Coyotes at Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary comes in to Friday's tilt with swagger and a red-hot streak, but they're still in the West's 10th spot, trailing the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks by the slimmest of margins.
Win a win, they'd vault to seventh -- and with a loss, they'd stay put in the same position with 80 points, wasting a game at hand. It's the ultimate opportunity to spoil a bitter rival's chance, at home, with a boisterous sell-out crowd behind them.
Coming off a 30-save outing in which he blanked the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0 on Wednesday night, Devan Dubnyk will return to the pipes as he looks to improve on a personal 9-7-0 home record.
His opposite, to the surprise of some, will be Leland Irving. The rookie netminder has a 1-2-3 record, along with a 3.22 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.
"It's a big game," he said, noting the opportunity that lies ahead. "We had a chance last year at the same time of the season to play spoiler, but they came back and won in a shootout. For us right now, wins are so important. It's easy for us to take every game and treat it the same way. Every time we play Calgary, whatever time of the year it is, it's always exciting and we've got a chance to make it a little tougher on them.
"We need as many wins as we can in the last 12."
Dubnyk, 25, is well aware of what the Flames are putting together. Having collected wins against Montreal, Winnipeg, Minnesota, San Jose and Phoenix, Calgary has surged back into contention and is on the cusp of making it. They're going to be hungry to keep their impressive win streak alive.
"You watch. You watch throughout the whole year, and that race is so tight," Dubnyk said. "We've got them and we've got Phoenix on Sunday, so it's 'pick your spot' right now. The most important thing for us is getting the win, but there's always that extra bit when you're playing Calgary. We haven't had too much success this year against them at home, so we're looking to change that.
"We played exactly how we want to play," he added, looking back at the Oilers' 6-1 throttling over the Flames back on Feb. 21 in which he stopped 21 shots in the victory. "We used our speed and played well. It's certainly something to build on, but we're back home now and it's a new game. They're probably going to come out with a better game than they did that night in Calgary."
Head Coach Tom Renney, who didn't coach that night due to a concussion (Associate Coach Ralph Krueger did), agreed with his goalie's assessment. While it was a proud moment and something to build on, the Oilers are expecting a more heated battle this time around.
"I thought we played to our strengths," he explained. "We moved the puck well, we had good crispness, we had good puck speed, good foot speed and I thought our gap game was good. Calgary might have been a little bit off, and I'm sure they would have liked to have played us better.
"I know they will. They're going to come hard (tonight)."
"We want to do everything we can to put a speed bump in the road," Peckham added. "For us, it's playing for the crest on the front right now. Personally, it's showing management how bad I want to play on this team and be an Oiler. As a team, we want to show the rest of the league that we're still here. Just because we're out of it mathematically, it doesn't mean we're not still here.
"When you talk to people around town, they always say, 'Can you please beat the Flames the next time you play them?'"
Jarome Iginla has scored 34 goals and 81 points and 87 career games vs. Edmonton. The captain's remarkable roll of late has helped propel Calgary back into the race, too, as he's put up 14 points in his team's last eight games; that includes a seven-game goal-scoring streak.
"He's good," Dubnyk chuckled. "He's got a couple on me -- or, probably a lot on me since I've been around. [His shot is] heavy, it's real heavy. He puts himself in such a good position to get it off and get it off hard. There's so secret as to why he's had those 11 consecutive 30-plus goal seasons. He's a dangerous guy to watch. You have no choice but to key on him, so we've got to do our best to shut him down."
"This is a guy using his experience like he should," Renney added, regarding Iginla's leadership. "It shows his level of professionalism, where you can navigate a hockey career, never mind a season. I don't think his career is over anytime soon."
While the Oilers most certainly respect the 34-year-old, they'd still like to halt his team's run with a win tonight. Silencing Calgary's No. 12 is a good start, one the orange and blue would like to keep rolling until the horn sounds; ideally, in delivering a crushing blow.
Everyone in Oil Country wants it. And the Battle of Alberta needs it.
"There's such a great rivalry between the two teams," Renney said. "You want and you need that in every division in the league. This is certainly one of the good ones. First of all, we want to live up to that and contribute to our end of the deal. It is about two points. I don't want to downplay the fact that it's Calgary, because it's important and we all love that and that's great -- there's a certainly passion involved with that, but really it's about us continuing to play better to close this thing out properly."
Season Series: Entering the last of six meetings this season, he Battle of Alberta has been one-sided; the Oilers won 6-1 in Calgary on Feb. 21 for the first win after four losses. In all, the Flames had won nine in a row against their provincial rivals.
Big Story: With nothing but pride to play for, the Oilers would like nothing better than to knock off the Flames in front of what's sure to be a full house at Rexall Place. The Flames have plenty to play for -- a win would jump them from 10th to seventh place in the West.
Flames: The Flames are on their best roll of the season. Thursday's 4-1 home win against Phoenix was their fifth in a row. Four players, including captain Jarome Iginla, scored goals and Miikka Kiprusoff made 27 saves. The win moved the Flames within a point of the last two playoff spots in the Western Conference.
"It's fun to be back in this playoff race," Iginla said. "It's going to be interesting with so many teams here."
Oilers: Edmonton will be heading home in three weeks after its sixth straight non-playoff season. That doesn't mean the Oilers won't be revved up to play their biggest rival -- especially with the chance to put a crimp in the Flames' playoff hopes as an added bonus.
"It actually is [an important game]," coach Tom Renney said Thursday. "It's good. This is good for us. If we can tap into what we did last time in Calgary, we're in good shape."
Who's Hot: Iginla has scored in six straight games and has eight goals in his last eight. Rookie Sven Baertschi has scored in three straight games, and Mat Stajan has three goals and three assists during a five-game points streak. … Taylor Hall, the first player taken in the 2010 NHL Draft, has goals in four straight games for the Oilers and has 27 for the season.
Injury Report: The Flames has been without defensemen T.J. Brodie (upper body) and Chris Butler (leg), as well as forwards Tim Jackman (upper body), Michael Cammalleri (upper body) and Mikael Backlund (arm). Lee Stempniak (ankle) and Lance Bouma (upper body) both participated in Thursday's morning skate at the Saddledome, and Stempniak could be close to returning. … Edmonton will be without forward Ben Eager due to back spasms.
Stat Pack: Calgary defenseman Jay Bouwmeester played in his 577th consecutive game on Thursday, moving him into seventh on the all-time list. … The Flames have won 16 of the last 18 meetings with the Oilers, including the last four in Edmonton.
Puck Drop: It's been a whirlwind ride for Baertschi, who was recalled from juniors on an emergency basis due to injuries and has to be sent back when one of the Flames' injured forwards gets healthy -- Stempniak could be only a day or so from returning.
For now, he's giving the Flames and their fans a taste of what he can do.
"I have no idea," he said when asked if he would be in the lineup against the Oilers. "Maybe I'll play tomorrow, maybe not. It's their decision. As soon as guys come back (from injury) I have to leave."