Oilers calm, confident ahead of 'another level' Battle of Alberta
While many hockey fans in Edmonton were glued to the Calgary Flames Game 7 Sunday night, some Oilers players slept through it.
"I tried not to care. Honestly, I didn't even watch it. I just checked the score this morning when I woke up," forward Derek Ryan told reporters after a skate on Monday.
"I actually fell asleep around 9 p.m. last night, so I missed a bunch of it, but woke up in time for overtime," goalie Mike Smith said.
Calgary's 3-2 overtime win against the Dallas Stars means the Oilers and Flames will meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1991, reigniting a version of the Battle of Alberta not seen in decades.
Ryan played for Calgary last season. While he slept soundly Sunday night, he understands how big this matchup is for hockey fans in "the Wild Rose province."
"It's huge. Obviously, the Battle of Alberta is another level in the regular season and now for us as players and fans in the cities to have that rivalry exist in the playoffs is something special," he said.
Defenceman Brett Kulak grew up in Stony Plain and was drafted by the Flames. He's excited to be wearing blue and orange now after he was traded from Montreal late in the season.
"Edmonton is my home. This is where my family is and this is where I grew up and this was my team growing up. Edmonton was my team so I carry a lot of pride playing for the Oilers," Kulak said.
"Everyone's pumped. I've got friends, family…lots of people who are diehard Flames fans and lots of diehard Oilers fans. They're looking forward to it, and I think we all are."
Ryan said both Alberta cities are great to play in, and while he expects the intensity to ramp up, he thinks the "hatred" that some talk about between players on both sides is overblown.
"I think the games themselves, with the tenacity and the vibes in the rink and everything, builds up that dislike. But I think at the end of the day we respect each other and we don't hate the guys over there, at least I don't," Ryan said.
Smith echoed those thoughts. He also played in Calgary before signing in Edmonton. The 40-year-old goalie is confident in his team, after the Oilers played a dominating Game 7 on Saturday, defeating the L.A. Kings 2-0.
"You have friends on a lot of teams in the league now, but when it comes down to it you're trying to win a series," Smith said, adding that journalists make more of the matchup than the players do.
"Whether it's Calgary or whoever it is, the job is the same. We're trying to go out there and compete for the ultimate prize."
The Oilers skated Monday without several players including captain Connor McDavid and sniper Leon Draisaitl, who finished the L.A. series with an obvious leg injury.
Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said some players were held off the ice and instead had meetings. Draisaitl is "very good," Woodcroft said, but he wouldn't confirm if he'll play Game 1.
The series starts Wednesday night in Calgary.