While snowboarding season may be winding down, the NHL’s current campaign is just warming up. The Stanley Cup Playoffs began last evening, with three more series getting underway tonight. Perhaps the most intriguing matchup pits the Washington Capitals against the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs. Led by rookie phenom Auston Matthews, the Leafs are viewed as the next great hope for our neighbors up north. Will 2017 finally be the year the Stanley Cup makes its way back to Canada?
The country’s beloved sport has seen a dry spell in championships recently. The last time a Canadian team hoisted a Stanley Cup was way back in 1993 (Montreal Canadiens). Since then, the country has seen five of its teams fall just short in the Stanley Cup Final; Vancouver being the last team to claim second place in 2011.
This is a relatively new phenomenon for the northerners that once dominated the NHL landscape. Before Montreal claimed the cup in the early-90s, Canada won seven straight championships from 1984-1990 (thank you, Wayne Gretzky). The country has only come close a few times since, with Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary all sending the final series to a seventh game, before falling just short.
This season has seen a revival for Canadian teams across the Eastern and Western Conferences. Five of the country’s seven teams have qualified for the postseason. This comes just one year after the nation was completely shut out of the playoffs altogether. Now, the Leafs, Canadiens, Flames, Ottawa Senators, and Edmonton Oilers all have a shot at hockey’s ultimate prize. So, which team represents the best chance at bringing the cup back to the sport’s motherland?
While the Leafs look to be contenders for years to come, it may be too soon for their young nucleus including Matthews and other emerging superstars, William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Same goes for the Calgary Flames, led by a youth invasion including Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Ottawa may struggle in their first-round matchup against a tough Bruins squad, especially with a hampered Erik Karlsson. An entire country may rest its hopes on two teams: Edmonton and Montreal.
The Oilers possess the most explosive player in the game in Connor McDavid. This year’s Art Ross Trophy winner definitely has his work cut out for him in the quarterfinals. Edmonton was victim of a rough draw; matching up with 2016’s Stanley Cup runner up, the San Jose Sharks. After dropping game one in overtime, will the Oilers respond with a win or will inexperience shine through when the going gets tough?
Montreal won the Atlantic Division, once again riding the strong play of netminder Carey Price. Price and company have come close to Lord Stanley before, and many pundits believe this is their year to win it all. But, will facing a high-flying Rangers squad knock the Canadiens out of the postseason prematurely, once again? The team that began the 2016-17 season at a scorching 9-1 pace, has since cooled off considerably. A game one loss to the blue shirts must have a nation wondering if their top team will let them down again.
Nonetheless, this season has definitely been a bright spot for the folks above the border. Vancouver and Winnipeg were the only Canadian teams to not qualify for the playoffs, already making this year a success for the country. But the question remains, can hockey’s homeland end its curse and claim a Cup in 2017? With stars like Matthews, McDavid, and Price on their side, Canada may not have to wait much longer to claim its first championship in nearly 25 years.