Canadian flavour on NHL post-season menu
Five teams make cut after last year’s shut-out
Auston versus Ovie.
Chris Kreider versus Carey Price. ( And his bleublanc-rouge-clad friends). Sidney Crosby versus Bob. Zdeno Chara versus his former team.
Mike Yeo versus the squad he used to coach.
The Windy City versus Music City.
And last — but certainly not least — five Canadianbased teams in the post-season, just 12 months after the Great White North was shut out from being represented in the tournament.
Welcome to the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, where the storylines — at least on this side of the border — revolve around the inclusion of Mike Babcock’s Toronto Maple Leafs, Price’s Montreal Canadiens, Erik Karlsson’s Ottawa Senators, Johnny Gaudreau’s Calgary Flames and last, but certainly not least, Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers.
All in all, seven new teams will be in the competition from a year ago, including the five Canadian franchises plus the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets.
The seven participants from the 2016 playoffs who won’t be competing this time around i nclude the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers and, of course, the Detroit Red Wings, whose impressive streak of 25 consecutive post-season appearances has now come to an end.
The odds recently put out by Westgate have the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals listed as cofavourites to win the Cup at 4-1. The Oilers ( 12-1), Canadiens ( 14-1), Flames ( 25-1), Maple Leafs ( 30-1) and Senators ( 40-1) round out the Canadian contingent.
The Capitals will start their quest for the Cup with an i ntriguing matchup against the Cinderella Maple Leafs in a tale of young against old.
When 2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews scored his 40th goal of the season for the Leafs in Saturday’s 5- 3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, he became the first rookie to reach that mark since Ovechkin did it in 2006. Matthews, by the way, ended up scoring seven more times than did Ovechkin, who still finished the season with a respectable total of 33 goals.
Now, these fresh-faced inexperienced Leafs — a team that many nights featured seven freshmen in their lineup — go up against a Capitals team that understands the window of opportunity to win a Cup is closing.
Come the summer, Kevin Shattenkirk, fellow defenceman Karl Alzner and wingers T. J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik will be eligible to become unrestricted free agents while Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly and blueliner Dmitri Orlov are pending RFAs. As such, the Caps roster will look much different next fall.
As f or the Leafs, they squandered a great opportunity to revive the postseason edition of the Battle of Ontario by suffering a 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday. As a result, the Senators will meet the Bruins, the team captained by former Ottawa defenceman Chara.
Credit to incoming GM Pierre Dorion and coach Guy Boucher for bringing defence back to the Nation’s Capital, a key reason for the Sens success.
In Montreal, the matchup against the New York Rangers will bring back for fans unpleasant memories of Game 1 of the 2014 Eastern Conference final when Price was knocked out of the playoffs with a knee injury when Kreider skidded into him, blades up. Price is healthy this time around, which bodes well for Montreal.
The fourth Eastern Conference matchup features Crosby’s Pens going up against Sergei Bobrovsky’s Blue Jackets. The Penguins eliminated the Jackets in six games in their only previous playoff encounter back in 2014.
Out west, the Blackhawks will take on the Nashville Predators in a first-round series between two extremely talented teams. Given the nightlife in both cities, coaches would be well advised to administer strict curfews.
Meanwhile the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild will face off. In an ironic twist, former Wild coach Yeo is now behind the bench for the Blues.
The other two matchups were still to be determined with Sunday’s late games.