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Battle of Alberta on again after playoff successes of Flames and Oilers

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Battle of Alberta on again after playoff successes of Flames and Oilers

The Canadian Press
By:

"My mom phoned me, she's got them, and my brother phoned me and he's got them," Playfair said Wednesday. "The nervous energy in your body is making sure you are triggering on all cylinders. That just means you are getting ready and it matters to you."

Playfair will make his NHL head coaching debut Thursday when the Oilers host the Flames (CBC, 10 p.m. ET) at Rexall Place in the season opener for both clubs.

Playfair was an assistant coach for three seasons before general manager Darryl Sutter vacated the head coaching position and promoted Playfair in July.

It will be a memorable first game for the 42-year-old Playfair, a native of Fort St. James, B.C., because it kicks off this season's Battle of Alberta and it will be on national television.

"I'm looking for a good tie," he joked.

Edmonton and Calgary will meet eight times this season, including the Flames' home opener Saturday at the Pengrowth Saddledome. The two clubs will also square off in their regular-season finale on April 7 at Calgary.

Their Cinderella runs of the last two NHL post-seasons have revived the provincial rivalry that lost its lustre when Edmonton and Calgary were have-not teams that barely made the playoffs, or in the case of the Flames, not at all from 1997 to 2003.

The Flames were the sixth seed in the Western Conference and went on to reach the 2004 Stanley Cup final, where they lost in seven games to Tampa Bay.

After the NHL lockout, the Oilers surprised almost everyone last spring by coming out of the eight-hole to reach the final before losing in seven games to Carolina.

Calgary has been picked as one of this season's Stanley Cup contenders and a possible top three finisher in the Western Conference.

Despite the confidence and momentum the Oilers gained last spring, prognosticators have been less kind to Edmonton and another run like last season is seen as a longshot.

"You know what they say about predictions. They're about as good as the paper they're written on," Flames winger Darren McCarty said. "They almost did it last year. They were one game away from doing it. That goes a long way for a lot of guys in that (dressing) room."

On paper, Calgary has the edge in experienced defencemen with offensive skills. Edmonton is younger on the blue-line and there is no replacing Chris Pronger, who asked for, and got, a trade to Anaheim in the off-season.

Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff seemed to regain his Vezina Trophy form in his final pre-season game. If 36-year-old Dwayne Roloson plays as well for Edmonton as he did in the post-season before he was sidelined with a knee injury, the Oilers should be a playoff team.

Edmonton has good depth up front after acquiring free agent Petr Sykora and getting 28-goal man Joffrey Lupul in the Pronger trade.

Calgary has the potentially explosive pairing of wingers Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay, with Daymond Langkow winning the job to play between them.

"You don't want to disappoint your teammates or the coaches, so we want to go out there and be a force," Langkow said. "I always saw myself as a passer (rather) than a shooter. Obviously those guys are pretty gifted with the puck, so my job is to get in there and try and get it for them and get it to them.

"But at the same time if I get a chance to shoot . . . as a group we don't want to be passing up opportunities to shoot the puck."

The Oilers aren't a really big team, but they are fast and they make the most out of the Rexall Centre ice, which is the best in the NHL.

"Keep it simple early and obviously try and not turn the puck over in the neutral zone," said Langkow. "They've got a real fast-skating team, good transition team."

With expectations high in Calgary, the Flames need a better start than last season lest they incur the wrath of their faithful.

"Last year we got off to a 4-7 start," McCarty recalled. "That's something we want to learn from."

Notes: - Calgary is going with six defenceman as Rhett Warrener (knee) is another week or two away from returning . . . Playfair said Wednesday that Kiprusoff will play fewer games this regular season, but had not set a number yet.

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Battle of Alberta on again after playoff successes of Flames and Oilers