Despite only having three full months of hockey to draw from over the last 365 days, coming up with a top five list from the last calendar year was surprisingly easy. The resurgence of the Battle of Alberta features heavily in our top five moments of 2020, but which game ends up number one? Let’s ring in the New Year with our annual countdown.
5. The Honda Center exorcism
After all those years and years and years of futility at the Honda Center in Anaheim, the NHL record losing streak was finally snapped at 25 in October 2017. But for the Flames to go into their former house of horrors and absolutely throttle the Ducks had to feel pretty sweet for long suffering fans. That’s exactly what happened on Feb. 13.
Calgary had sustained a disappointing 5-3 loss to a bad Kings team one night prior in the midst of a heated playoff chase. As such, optimism wasn’t at its highest heading into the second half of this back-to-back. But the Flames opened up a 4-0 first period lead and never looked back en route to a 6-0 win. That just happened to be the most lopsided win ever for Calgary on the road in Anaheim.
4. The Rematch
The first of our 2020 Battle of Alberta moments comes on Jan. 29, just over two weeks after the fireworks exploded for the first time. This game went down at Rogers Place in Edmonton and featured a little bit of everything. Sean Monahan dropped the gloves with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins late in the first period. 25 seconds later, Matthew Tkachuk “answered the bell” with Zack Kassian after their personal rivalry erupted on Jan. 11. It was pretty damn entertaining.
Oh, and the game was fun, too. The teams went back and forth all night and Matt Benning’s goal midway through the third sent the game to extra time tied 3-3. After Sean Monahan scored the only shootout goal, Leon Draisaitl’s unsuccessful attempt with the game on the line prompted another great BOA visual. David Rittich, in net for the Flames, launched his stick into the air in celebration after sealing a 4-3 win. These two would meet again three days later.
3. A series win
Almost five full months after their last regular season game, the Flames hit the ice in Edmonton with a chance to close out the Winnipeg Jets on Aug. 6. Up 2-1, it was game four of Calgary’s best-of-three preliminary round series with the Jets, and they were in the driver’s seat. The Flames had been the better team for most of the first three games, thanks in part to a rapidly growing Winnipeg injured list.
Calgary really drove it home in their first chance to close things out, though. Sam Bennett led the way with two points and Cam Talbot made 31 saves for the shutout as Calgary won their first series since 2015. Does it count as a playoff series win? That’s really up to you, because the entire messed up 2019-20 season is up for interpretation. It was, however, a fun moment and a reason for the team, and their fans, to feel good.
2. All hell breaks loose
A few days after our number four moment, the Flames and Oilers hooked back up, this time on Feb. 1 at the Scotiabank Saddledome. What had been a pretty tame affair for almost 40 minutes blew up at 19:36 of the second period. With Edmonton leading 6-3, Sam Gagner poked at a puck Cam Talbot seemed to have covered. No one in red took kindly to that, with Talbot leading the way.
As Talbot went after Gagner and got into it with several Oilers, Mike Smith crept towards centre in a menacing fashion. While Tkachuk and Ethan Bear were in the midst of their own fight, Talbot answered Smith’s challenge and the two gave us everyone’s favourite spectacle: a goalie fight. It was a one-sided win for Smith, but the ‘Dome was electric and I almost fell out of the press box. Edmonton went on to an 8-3 win in a game that cemented one thing above all else: this rivalry truly was a Battle again.
1. Stay off the tracks
Jan. 11, 2020: the night that re-ignited everything. What didn’t we get on this Saturday night early in the New Year? The game was tight, competitive, and tense between two teams fighting for playoff spots already. And then Kassian finally lost it on Tkachuk and this rivalry turned on a dime.
Tkachuk had targeted Kassian all night and levelled him behind Calgary’s net late in the second period. Kassian went ballistic in response, racking up 14 penalty minutes in the process. It setup a four minute power play for the Flames, which they’d capitalize on for the game winner early in the third. Following Calgary’s 4-3 win, Tkachuk delivered his infamous “stay off the tracks” line, while Kassian, Rasmus Andersson, and others chimed in with their own inflammatory comments.
Flames fans were fuming. Oilers fans were fuming. And the rest of the NHL sat back and soaked it all in.