After 31 years, the Battle of Alberta returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday (May 18) with an absolutely wild game at the Scotiabank Saddledome between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames that packed three decades worth of craziness into 60 minutes.
In the teams’ first postseason meeting since April 16, 1991, Calgary jumped in front 3-0 just 6:05 into the first period, then opened a four-goal lead in the second only to watch Edmonton storm back to tie the game at 6-6 early in the third, before regrouping to score the final three goals of the game.
When the dust settled, Calgary had defeated the Oilers 9-6, and plenty of history was made: Calgary scored twice in the first 51 seconds to establish an NHL record for the fastest two goals from the start of a playoff contest; Edmonton’s six even-strength goals tied the NHL mark for most in a playoff loss; the Flames tied their franchise record for most goals in a playoff game; and the combined 15 goals tied for fifth-most all time in an NHL postseason contest, and the most since 1993.
While Wednesday’s tilt was among the league’s wildest of recent times, it doesn’t quite make the list of most memorable playoff games between the Oilers and Flames. The competition is just that stiff.
Calgary and Edmonton met five times in the playoffs between 1983 and 1991, a period in which both clubs were perennial championship contenders and the hatred between sides was real. Potent elements that combined to produce all-time classics that will stand the test of time. Here are the top three.
3) 1991 Smythe Division Semi-Final Game 6
Trailing in the series 3-2, the Flames skated out onto enemy ice at Northlands Coliseum needing a win to stave off elimination and get the series back to Calgary for Game 7. 60 minutes solved nothing, as Craig Simpson gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead in the first period, Paul Ranheim tied things up for Calgary midway through the second, and no one scored in the third.
Overtime wasn’t yet five minutes old when Calgary forward Theo Fleury intercepted a Mark Messier pass at center ice and took off towards the Oilers net, where he slipped the puck between Grant Fuhr’s pads to give his team a 2-1 win (the three goals are the fewest scored in the 31 all-time playoff games between the Alberta foes).
In what has become a classic NHL highlight, Fleury celebrated by sliding across the Northlands ice on his knees, pumping his fists wildly, until he ran into the boards at the other end and ended up on his back as his teammates mobbed him, all while the Edmonton crowd watched in stunned silence.
While that moment still makes some Oilers fans see red, it was a necessary evil to set up the next game on the list, which Edmonton supporters feel much differently about.
2) 1991 Smythe Division Semi-Final Game 7
Carrying the momentum from their Game 6 win, Calgary surged to a 3-0 first period lead at the Saddledome. Then Edmonton’s Esa Tikkanen took over, delivering the signature performance of his career.
The veteran Finn scored to make it 3-1 heading to the first intermission. Early in the second, he fired a blast that Glenn Anderson redirected past Flames goalie Mike Vernon at 4:57 to cut Calgary’s lead to one. Five minutes later, Tikkanen scored again, and it was a brand new game, 3-3.
Edmonton took the lead, on Anatoli Semenov’s goal 4:38 into the third period, and was just 2:10 from victory when Calgary’s Ron Stern scored, sending the crowd into a frenzy and the game into a fourth period, deadlocked at 4-4.
Just short of seven minutes into sudden death, Tikkanen picked up the puck in the Flames’ zone, circled back at center ice, and accelerated forward, skating past and around defenders before scoring on Vernon for his hat-trick tally and the series-clincher.
1) 1986 Smythe Division Final Game 7
The Oilers entered the 1986 postseason looking to win their third consecutive Stanley Cup, but found themselves in an absolute war in the second round against a Flames team that had finished 34 points behind them in the regular season.
The teams had swapped wins through the first six games, with Calgary leading the series 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2, and the Oilers pulling even each time. That theme continued in Game 7 at Northlands Coliseum, where the Flames took a 2-0 lead before Edmonton responded with goals from Anderson and Messier to tie things up at 2-2 heading into the second intermission.
What followed in the third period is still – and will likely forever be – the most infamous moment in Oilers history. Just past the five-minute mark, Oilers defenceman Steve Smith attempted a pass that hit the leg of an unsuspecting Fuhr and went right into his own net.
Flames forward Perry Berezan was credited with the goal, which ultimately proved to be the series’ winner – the shellshocked Oilers couldn’t find the equalizing goal as the clock ticked down to straight zeros. The Flames captured their first Smythe Division banner, handing the Oilers what proved to be their only series loss over a five-year span between 1984 and 1988.
With the Flames leading the Oilers 1-0 in their current series, there could be as many as six more games, and at minimum three this spring, giving plenty of opportunity to deliver a contest that will crack the top three. But it will take something truly special to bump one of these all-timers off the list. The next chance comes when the Flames host the Oilers for Game 2 on Friday (May 20).
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.