SUN Hockey Pool

Streak vs. streak

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

It's almost always steak vs. steak. But this time it's streak vs. streak.

The Calgary Flames have won six straight. The Edmonton Oilers have won three in a row. Tonight they go again with the two teams back in contention within spitting distance of the division lead.

Tale of Two Cities. Vol. 27. No. 3.

Everytime it seems there's a new storyline to the same old story which never gets old.

"I don't really care how well they've played before coming into this building," says Oilers' coach Craig MacTavish of what we're dealing with for the 203rd renewal, including playoffs, of the Alberta beef.

"It's always a very tough game and we always seemingly draw their best game.

"We're going to need our best game to win and it's going to be a great game. This early in the season it's going to be a good test for both teams trying to get to the top of the division. It's a very important game for both teams."

PROGNOSTICATION

Six games ago, you had to wonder if the Flames were going to get to this game in position to hold up their end of the predominant pre-season predictions suggesting the two teams would likely go toe-to-toe for the division title all year.

Calgary Sun colleague Eric Francis, back on Nov. 1 in a column titled 'Bye, Bye Playoffs', wrote:

"Let it be said here first - the Flames will miss the playoffs.

"Fact is in a league where divisional play makes or breaks every team, the Flames failed to keep up with the Joneses.

"Last year the Flames won the Northwest crown thanks to a 20-8-4 record in the division. This year they'll be lucky to be .500 and it will cost them a top eight finish."

So far the Flames are 2-1 in the division and the Oilers 4-2. This game plays into that as well.

But sorry Eric, the Flames are obviously back on track. And the Oilers are back at home where they're going into the game at 8-2. And they're serving steak again tonight.

Game 21 of the regular season (or Game 19 in Calgary's case) is no Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, which is where these two teams took turns ending up the first two seasons of the new NHL.

But what we're dealing with here are two teams that now both believe if they win the season series everything else will look after itself. That's the No. 1 thing Darryl Sutter sold to his team when he took over as coach. Now MacTavish feels he has the team to sell the same frame of mind.

As is now the norm again, like it used to be back in the '80s when both were reach-for-the-top teams, there's plenty of swing to virtually every Flame-Oiler game.

A Calgary win and the Flames are one point back of the Heartland of Hockey club with two games in hand. An Edmonton win and the Oilers go five points up and have the separation to be able to keep the Flames in the rear-view mirror until they meet again.

CAN'T COMPLAIN

Splitting their first two games in the back-to-back home-and-home season lid-lifters, it's been an interesting trip for both teams to get to this game. Both thought they'd be four or five points better at this stage of the season.

But with the Flames' streak of six and the Oilers' run of three, neither can currently complain considering where both have recently been and where they both still think they're going.

"I expected us, and them, to be a few points better and I suspect we both will be," said Oilers GM Kevin Lowe.

"I suspect both of us will get a chance to challenge for the division lead in very short order.

"We've both already had our lesson on how tight the league is this year. You can go on a roll if you get everybody going. Or you can go on a skid if the cylinders aren't firing."

Sometimes we take this rivalry for granted. But it keeps renewing itself and giving seasons real meat where a lot of other cities in the league have Hamburger Helper.


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