NHL playoffs: What to know about the Canadian teams and their matchups
Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto seek Canada's first Stanley Cup since 1993
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The Stanley Cup playoffs start tonight
Three teams — Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto — have a chance to bring the best trophy in sports back to Canada for the first time since Montreal's magical Cup run in 1993. Here's a quick look at each of them and their first-round matchups:
Toronto vs. Tampa Bay (starts tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET)
If you don't believe in curses, the Leafs might make you want to start.
The team that hasn't captured a Stanley Cup since 1967 and hasn't won a playoff series in the salary cap era ought to be feeling pretty good about its chances of ending those embarrassing droughts right now. Toronto just had its best regular season ever, placing fourth overall with a franchise-record 115 points, and features the game's best goal scorer in Auston Matthews, who won his second straight Maurice Richard Trophy and became the first NHLer in a decade to reach 60 goals.
But the Leafs drew an almost comically tough first-round opponent in the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning. With their incredible core of forwards Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point, defenceman Victor Hedman and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy still going strong, no one would be really surprised to see Tampa Bay become the first team since the early-'80s Islanders to win three consecutive Cups.
Love or hate the Leafs, you have to feel for the predicament they're in. Though they're the slight betting favourite in this series, it wouldn't really be much of an upset if Tampa beats them. And yet, another first-round defeat would be disastrous for Toronto and could trigger a major shakeup. So, once again, the pressure is on the most talked-about team in hockey. Read more about the Leafs-Lightning series here.
Edmonton vs. Los Angeles (starts tonight at 10 p.m. ET)
The term is overused these days, but Connor McDavid is truly a generational star. He just became the seventh player in history to capture the Art Ross Trophy at least four times, and only the third to do so before his 26th birthday, joining Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe. When you're in that kind of company, there's nothing really left to prove as an individual. McDavid is already one of the best hockey players of all time.
Still, there's one glaring hole in McDavid's resumé: he's experienced very little success in the playoffs. In his six NHL seasons prior to this one, the Oilers have won just one series — back in 2017. In 21 career playoff games, McDavid has 22 points — pretty solid considering the higher quality of competition and defensive intensity in the playoffs, but not exactly up to McDavid standards. Last year's brief playoff appearance was a microcosm of the McDavid/Oilers playoff struggles: he averaged an incredible 1.88 points per game in the regular season before managing only four in a humbling four-game sweep at the hands of Winnipeg.
To be clear, it's not McDavid's fault that Edmonton keeps flopping in the post-season. Outside of Leon Draisaitl (55 goals this season), the Oilers don't have any other real stars. But he might be feeling the heat if they can't get past this lacklustre Los Angeles team, because that's the burden that star players must bear.
Led by two-way stalwart Anze Kopitar, the Kings have the physicality to make things tough on McDavid. But they're lacking in firepower, and the bettings odds imply Edmonton has about a 70 per cent chance of beating them. McDavid and the Oilers need to follow through on this one. Read more about the Oilers-Kings series here.
Calgary vs. Dallas (starts tomorrow at 10 p.m. ET)
A year after missing the playoffs, the Pacific Division champion Flames have the look of a legit Cup contender. Led by the all-40-goal line of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm, they finished sixth in the NHL in scoring. Meanwhile, Calgary placed third in goals against, with workhorse netminder Jacob Markstrom posting the third-best save percentage in the league.
The Flames also drew a relatively easy path in the playoffs. They're heavily favoured to beat the wild-card Stars, which would set up a winnable second-round matchup vs. Edmonton or Los Angeles (Battle of Alberta, please!). High-flying Colorado will probably await in the conference final, but the Flames' superior overall size and physicality (key for the playoffs) could give them a better shot than most to take down the ultra-talented Avalanche.
Speaking of physicality, that's the concern with Calgary's best player. Gaudreau is coming off a superstar-level regular season in which he racked up career highs in goals (40) and points (115) to finish second to McDavid in the scoring race. But his 5-foot-9, 165-pound frame hasn't held up in the playoffs, where Gaudreau has only 19 points in 30 career games. Lindholm and the gritty Tkachuk, who both scored 42 goals this season, can pick up the slack if the going gets tough for their linemate, but Calgary still needs its best player to be at his best in order to make a run at the Cup. Read more about the Flames-Stars series here.
Thousands lined up in Montreal to pay their respects to Guy Lafleur. A week and a half after his death, public visitations for the late hockey legend were held yesterday and today at the Montreal Canadiens' arena. Some fans waited in line for hours to say their goodbye to Lafleur, who won five Stanley Cups with the Habs in the '70s and is still the franchise's all-time leader in points. A national funeral will be held Tuesday morning at a church in downtown Montreal. Read more about the final tributes to Lafleur here.
Mattea Roach can keep climbing the all-time Jeopardy! list tonight. If the 23-year-old Toronto-based tutor extends her Canadian-record winning streak to 20 on tonight's airing of the show, she'll move into a tie with Julia Collins for the fifth-longest streak ever. Collins owned the women's record from 2014 until about four months ago, when Amy Schneider surpassed Collins on her way to an eventual 40 in a row. Roach's latest victory, on Friday, brought her total winnings to $460,184 — the sixth-largest sum ever in regular-season play. Read more about that win here.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.