The great Canadian playoff hockey drought looks to be over. It was a one-year blip and now, hockey fans north of the border can prepare to do some flag waving in April once the Stanley Cup playoffs get under way.
Chances that NHL president Gary Bettman will present the Cup in June to a United States-based team for the 23rd year in a row are strong, however, as none of the likely Canadian entries in the 16-team playoff chase should be considered as top-tier clubs.
Perhaps the closest to the top tier — let’s just say they’re the leaders of the the NHL’s Tier II — are the Montreal Canadiens, who would likely have to beat out either Washington Capitals, the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets or defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to make it to the Stanley Cup final. Carey Price has shown he can perform the odd miracle or two, but getting past those three clubs this year seems to be even out of his range.
Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs have both been hovering all season among the top eight of the Eastern Conference and an appearance by the rookie-led Leafs (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander) would almost cause heads to explode in glee within the offices of Toronto-based Sportsnet, which will be Stanley Cup headquarters from April through June.
Out West, the best Canadian bet — albeit unlikely — to make the Cup final are the Edmonton Oilers, who, like the Habs, are the No. 1 team among the Tier II Western Conference entries. Surprising Minnesota, guided by coach-of-the-year candidate Bruce Boudreau, perennial contending Chicago Blackhawks, along with the California duo of Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks could also contend.
Connor McDavid and the Oilers might wind up being the only Canadian team from the Western Conference to make the playoffs. Calgary, Vancouver and Winnipeg are close to the bubble, fighting it out with L.A. Kings and Dallas for the final couple of spots.
It’s too early to determine favourites for the Stanley Cup this year, but it’s certainly not too early to see that teams from Canada will be heavily in the
playoff mix when the puck drops in April.
• Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: “An angry Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski, banned his team from their locker room. Just like the women’s high school volleyball coach did to me.”
• Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald: “Tim Duncan has a new cereal called Duncan-O’s. He’s not the most exciting personality. You pour milk on and the cereal goes “Snap, crackle, zzzzzz.”
• Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, marrying the topics of ‘fake news’ and the world of sports: “(Oakland A’s Billy) Beane announced other “streamlining” moves, including the elimination of a first-base coach. ‘Our guys know how to make that left turn without help,'” Beane said.
• Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Margot Robbie has been cast in the role of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding in the upcoming biopic ‘I, Tonya.’ Giddy critics are already predicting they’ll give it get two clubs up.”
• Mark Bechtel, in Sports Illustrated, in a feature on Jimmie Johnson being an avid triathlete: “But not the old school NASCAR triathlon of beer drinkin’, fightin’ and hell-raisin.'”
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