Edmonton Oilers winger Zack Kassian, fresh off a two-game suspension for pummelling Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk, thinks winning will be the best revenge when the teams meet again Wednesday.
Kassian feels like he already delivered his message to Tkachuk, referring to the one-sided beatdown on Jan. 11, and said with the playoff race so tight, the Oilers can’t risk losing the next game just to make a statement.
“It’s about the two points. That’s the way we’re going to stick it to them,” Kassian told reporters after practice Tuesday at Rogers Place.
“[But] obviously if Tkachuk has the puck and I can hit him clean, I’m not going to pass on it, right?”
The game in Edmonton has become one of the biggest tickets in town. Tickets on the re-sale site StubHub were approaching $200 for a cheap seat and around $400 in the lower bowl.
It’s followed by a rematch in Calgary on Saturday.
WATCH | Tempers flare in Battle of Alberta:
With about 30 games left in the season, points are at a premium as the top five teams in the Pacific Division, including Edmonton and Calgary, are within three points of each other heading into action Tuesday night.
“It’s about winning,” said Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett. “Think of it this way, if this was the first game of the playoffs, would you be out to try to settle scores?
“Zack understands that. Zack knows he doesn’t want to put our team in a bad position.”
‘Messed with the wrong guy’
Kassian was suspended for pounding on a turtling Tkachuk late in the second period during a tie game Jan. 11 at the Saddledome after Tkachuk drilled him into the boards, sending Kassian’s helmet flying.
Kassian responded by grabbing Tkachuk by the scruff of his sweater and landing 10 punches while the Flames forward hid his face behind his gloves.
The Oilers forward was given a double minor for roughing. It was a costly penalty as the Flames scored on the ensuing power play and won 4-3.
Kassian supporters noted that up to that point in the game Tkachuk had twice delivered questionable, potentially blindside hits on Kassian — although the NHL didn’t agree.
Tkachuk, for his part, said hits are part of the game and he was OK with avoiding the fight to get the win in the close game.
After he was suspended, Kassian publicly warned Tkachuk that the issue wasn’t settled.
“He messed with the wrong guy,” Kassian said on Jan. 14. “I don’t think [Tkachuk] realizes that we’re in the same division and I have a great memory.”
But on Tuesday, Kassian chided reporters for keeping the issue going.
“You guys are throwing twists and turns and building it up. I thought what happened on the ice, I handled it for the most part. I got punishment and that’s that,” he said.
Fans firing barbs
Fans of both teams have been attacking and baiting each other on social media. Oilers fans have been slapping Tkachuk’s face on turtles on Twitter while Flames fans put up a pro-Tkachuk billboard in the Alberta capital, titled “Tkachuk Friendship Tour Coming Jan. 29.”
The NHL’s chief disciplinarian George Parros is scheduled to be in Edmonton for the game.
Kassian said he went to California during the all-star break last week and put the issue in the back of his mind only to come back to find it still on the front-burner in Edmonton.
At a fan autograph session Monday he signed a toy turtle and a poster-sized picture of him rag-dolling Tkachuk.
The back and forth has helped re-ignite the Battle of Alberta, which burned red hot in the 1980s when both were elite teams, but has faded since.
“You got the fire back. And that’s what’s worthwhile,” said Kassian. “Sports is something to get the fans talking.”