NHL

Kassian, Tkachuk have sights set on Cup conquest rather than renewing old feud

Exhibition matches rarely generate much excitement in the National Hockey League. But the mentality is different this time for the Oilers and the Flames as the provincial rivals tangle in their one-and-only exhibition game prior to the Stanley Cup qualifiers.

Flames, Oilers tangle in lone exhibition game at 10:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday

Edmonton Oilers forward Zack Kassian, right, and Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk talk before puck drop during a game in January. Their teams are set to compete in an exhibition game on Tuesday with both rivals likely to set aside their feud ahead of the NHL's resumption of play. (Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Prior to descending into the secure zone, Edmonton Oilers winger Zack Kassian delivered a reality check to fans hoping for fisticuffs in tonight's exhibition clash with the Calgary Flames.

"There's so much at stake for both teams going into the playoffs," the agitating forward told reporters via Zoom. "Everyone is going to be smart."

Exhibition matches rarely generate much excitement in the National Hockey League. Many veteran players quietly see them as a chore to endure – hopefully without getting hurt – before advancing to games that actually count.

But the mentality is different this time for the Oilers and the Flames as the provincial rivals tangle in their one-and-only exhibition game prior to the Stanley Cup qualifiers.

WATCH | NHL players arrive in Edmonton, Toronto bubbles:

The excitement is growing for the return of the NHL season, especially in the two hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton where players and staff have started arriving under strict measures to avoid bursting the NHL’s bubble. 2:05

Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Oilers open their best-of-five qualifying series Saturday afternoon against the NHL's Chicago team. Later that evening, the puck will drop between the Flames and the Winnipeg Jets in their best-of-five.

All of the Western Conference games will take place at Edmonton's Rogers Place.

"We have got to treat Tuesday like it's a playoff game," said Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk, who led the team in scoring this season with 23 goals and 61 points in 69 games.

"You look at the teams that win in the past and they're winning going in. We have to play the same way we want to play against Winnipeg. We have to dial it in and play a good, hard physical game and take advantage of our opportunities and not give up much defensively."

Setting feuds aside

Clearly, Kassian and Tkachuk are not in the mood to renew their on-ice feud, which is widely considered one of the nastiest in the modern-day NHL.

Tkachuk enraged Kassian – and the Oiler faithful – back on Jan. 11 with three questionable hits. He then refused Kassian's invitation to fight, and the Edmonton forward let loose with a flurry of punches regardless.

Kassian earned a double minor for roughing and a two-game suspension. Tkachuk earned the nickname of "Turtle" in the Alberta capital for cowering under his gloves while Kassian unloaded.

The pair fought on Jan. 29 in Edmonton and parked the rivalry, for the time being.

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Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett is interested to see how players react but they must remain focused on the task at hand. 1:02

"Obviously, you've got to ride the fine line," said Kassian, who isn't about to ask Tkachuk to go for a socially distant coffee inside the secure zone. "The Stanley Cup playoffs isn't a time to get redemption. It isn't a time to take stupid penalties. It isn't time to screw around. It's business, and we're looking forward to the opportunity to play a good Chicago team and hopefully move on."

'I'm sick of losing in these first rounds'

The likely future captain of the Flames, Tkachuk says he's tired of hearing people talk about his club as underachievers who can't win when it counts.

The window for Mark Giordano, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund and Sean Monahan to win in Calgary is closing. Perhaps one final opportunity is before them.

The Flames have not advanced to the second round of the playoffs since 2015.

WATCH | Giordano says Flames learned lessons the hard way:

Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano says difficult loses in recent playoffs have taught the team valuable lessons. 0:45

"I'm sick of losing in these first rounds," said Tkachuk, clearly still bitter over Calgary's quick exit in the 2019 playoffs when they fell in five to Colorado. "I know a lot of guys are also sick of losing, who want redemption after last year.

The mission starts tonight against Edmonton as both teams strive to build up the game speed and intensity necessary to win in the NHL post-season – and they'll have to do it without fans in the building.

"We know what we're here for," Tkachuk said. "The past four months, I've been waiting for this moment, waiting to see what it's going to be like.

"We're here now and we're here for a reason. We didn't come here for a vacation. We came here to win. This is a really great team, a group of guys, and we all want to win together."

About the Author

Vicki Hall

Freelance writer

Vicki has written about sports in Canada for more than 15 years for CBC Sports, Postmedia, the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. She has covered five Olympic Games, 10 Grey Cup championships and one Stanley Cup Final. In 2015, Vicki won a National Newspaper Award for sports writing and is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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