EDMONTON – If the Edmonton Oilers can’t make the playoffs themselves, they’ll be content with making sure the rival Calgary Flames don’t either.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored a pair of goals as the Oilers did their best to slow down Calgary’s playoff push with a 3-1 victory over their provincial rivals on Friday.
“It was huge for us to win this game,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “It’s as close to a playoff game as we are going to have this year. It was a lot of fun playing in a game like that. There was so much intensity and emotion out there.”
Jordan Eberle had a goal and two assists for the Oilers (28-36-7), who won their second in a row.
Edmonton head coach Tom Renney was very pleased with how his team played, particularly defensively.
“They had two shots and zero chances in the third period,” he said of the Flames. “That’s what we have to be all about if we want to be a winning team. If we want to be a playoff team, those are the situations we have to get through successfully. It’s a good omen, I hope.”
Mark Giordano responded for the Flames (34-26-12) who had their five-game winning streak ended and their climb in the Western Conference playoff race slowed. Calgary remained in a tie for ninth with San Jose, a single point back of eight-place Colorado.
“We got on the wrong side of penalty trouble,” said Calgary captain Jarome Ignila. “Our guys played hard. The Oilers had a good first period but I thought we got back into it. We hit a couple of posts and it didn’t go our way tonight.
“We’ve been playing well. This is a little hiccup but we’ll get right back at it.”
The game got off to a scary start as Oilers star Taylor Hall lost his balance and took a hard shot to the head from Flames defenceman Cory Sarich along the boards. Hall looked woozy as he was helped off the ice to the dressing room and did not return to the game.
He has been diagnosed with a concussion and will be further evaluated on Saturday.
“I was coming in to lay a clean body check and I don’t know if he bailed out at the last minute of just lost his footing,” said Sarich. “He was going down before I got to him. It’s part of my job to be physical. I try to throw body checks and I try to keep them clean.”
Renney did not believe the hit was dirty in nature.
“He was coming down to make contact, he wasn’t coming to pat him on the back,” he said. “He was coming down to cream him. He did, but Taylor also slipped. That made it much worse than it could have been.
“It was a clean hit.”
The Flames came very close to getting on the board five minutes into the game as Alex Tanguay slid a puck underneath Oilers starter Devan Dubnyk. The puck travelled along the goal-line before hitting the post and being fished to safety.
The Oilers took a 1-0 lead midway through the first period as Eberle made a backhand pass to Nugent-Hopkins, who sent a wristshot past Calgary goalie Leland Irving for his 17th goal of the season.
Edmonton took a two-goal lead with five minutes to play in the opening period as Eberle came out from the boards and put a laser beam of a shot into the top corner for his 31st of the year.
Calgary had another good chance to cut into the lead when Tanguay got loose for a breakaway eight minutes into the second, but he rang his shot off the post.
The Flames finally caught a big break with eight minutes to play in the second as a hopeful point shot by Giordano hit a pair of Oilers on the way to the net, giving Dubnyk no chance on the play.
Edmonton restored its two-goal advantage midway through the third as the rebound from a Ryan Jones shot came to Nugent-Hopkins in front, and he slid his second goal of the game into a wide-open net.
Both teams are back in action on Sunday when the Oilers will host Phoenix and the Flames return home to play Columbus.
Notes: It was the sixth and final meeting between the provincial rivals. Calgary won the first four encounters before the Oilers finally captured a 6-1 victory in their last match in Calgary on Feb. 21. Prior to that win Edmonton was a woeful 1-13-3 in games against the Flames.…Edmonton has not had much success at home against the Flames, coming into the game with losses in four straight at Rexall Place and nine of its past 12 at home in the series.…Calgary captain Jarome Iginla entered the game with 34 goals and 81 points in 87 career games vs. Edmonton.…AHL call-up Teemu Hartikainen drew into the Edmonton lineup with Ben Eager out with a sore back.…The Oilers opted to sit out F Linus Omark and go with seven defencemen for the game…The Flames were without D T.J. Brodie (upper body), D Chris Butler (leg), F Tim Jackman (upper body), F Michael Cammalleri (upper body) F Mikael Backlund (arm). Lee Stempniak (ankle) and Lance Bouma (upper body) were also out but have been skating and could be back soon.