Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 17, 2014

O No Canada

From coast to coast the Stanley Cup playoffs got underway on Wednesday, and for hockey fans everywhere the most exciting time of the year has arrived. In Pittsburgh, Tampa, and across the country in Anaheim, each of the three first round games that opened playoff action were decided by a single goal, with one of the contests going to overtime. Eight more teams began play Thursday night, with the Bruins and Red Wings finally getting their series started on Friday.

There is hope in all 16 cities where teams are contending for the Cup, but the fans with the highest expectations are those in Boston and across New England. The Bruins won the Cup in 2011 and were back in the finals last spring, falling to the Blackhawks in six games. This year coach Claude Julien’s squad skated away with the Presidents’ Trophy, the NHL award for the team with the best regular season record. It’s the first time in more than two decades that the Bruins have finished atop the league standings. Boston earned the top seed and home ice for the playoffs by finishing strong, winning 12 games in a row and 15 out of 16 in a surge through the month of March.

But the excited fans who will pack TD Garden on Friday night would do well to remember that as much as regular season success is to be savored, it doesn’t guarantee a similar performance in the playoffs. In fact the Presidents’ Trophy is thought by some fans to be a Stanley Cup jinx. In the 28 years that the Trophy has been awarded, only 8 teams that won it went on to hoist the Cup. That’s barely more than the 6 Trophy winners who were bounced from the playoffs in the very first round. Boston could have its hands full with Detroit, a team that beat the Bruins three times in four games during the regular season. Still Bruins fans will point out that just last year Chicago pulled off the double, so there’s no reason why Boston can’t do the same and perhaps put an end to the rather silly notion that posting the best regular season record somehow dooms a team come playoff time.

If anticipation is rampant and dreams of a victory parade abound in Boston and New England, a very different feeling is the norm a few degrees of latitude to the north; and not just in a city or region but almost throughout an entire country. No nation is more hockey-mad than Canada, and just two months ago Canadians rejoiced in the Olympic gold medals won by both their men’s and women’s teams. But as the Cup playoffs get underway, in one Canadian city after another the lights have been turned off at the local arena. Sixteen teams have a chance of winning hockey’s top prize, but only one of them is from Canada.

It’s been more than forty years since only one Canadian franchise qualified for the playoffs. In 1973 the sole Canadian representative was Montreal, and once again this season the Canadiens are the only team from north of the border still skating. Of course back then only eight teams made the playoffs, half the current number. Also in 1973 only three NHL franchises were based in Canada, and all played in the Eastern Conference, limiting the chances of all three qualifying for one of just four conference playoff positions.

These days seven of the thirty NHL franchises call Canadian cities home, and they are nicely divided between the two conferences. But both Ottawa and Toronto fell well short of qualifying for one of the two Eastern Conference wild card spots, and the four worst teams in the Western Conference were all from Canada, with Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton bringing up the rear of the regular season standings.

There’s no single reason for the failure of Canada’s hockey clubs this season. Some have been consistently bad of late. Edmonton had the worst record in the league three years in a row, and the Calgary Flames have missed the playoffs five years running. For others trouble has been more recent. The Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2011 and 2012, and were in the finals against the Bruins in the first of those years. But this season they made the mistake of hiring John Tortorella as head coach. Tortorella made a mess of the New York Rangers, and now he’s done the same on the west coast. Meanwhile the Maple Leafs appeared headed for the playoffs until an eight-game losing streak in March saw them plummet in the standings.

Whatever the reason, only Montreal plays on as the chase for Lord Stanley’s oversized prize begins. Of course the Canadiens are the most successful franchise in NHL history, and a team that fans of most other squads love to hate. Try as they might, hockey fans across the rest of Canada will probably have a tough time rooting for Les Habitants to claim a 25th Cup. At least on paper it wouldn’t appear that they would have much reason to do so, as the Canadiens entered the playoffs with only the fourth best record in the East.

On the other hand, maybe those fans should give it a try. Back in 1973 the only Canadian team in the playoffs kept skating and winning, right through a six game triumph over Chicago in the finals. While in every year between then and now multiple teams from Canada have made the playoffs, the Cup hasn’t been lifted in triumph north of the border since 1993. The Canadian team that won the Cup that year? Montreal, of course. But if all of those fans up north can’t bring themselves to cheer for the Habs, we in New England will welcome their support for the Bruins. Did I mention that fifteen members of Boston’s roster are Canadians?


  1. Think I’ll enjoy a nice, cold Molson Golden Ale in honor of the Habs tonight, though at one time, I was a huge Islanders fan.

    • An excellent choice of beverage Bill, seeing as how the Molson family owns the team! They leave Florida up 2-0, so feeling good no doubt. Meanwhile a bit of angst here in New England after the Bruins dropped Game One. Thanks for reading,


  2. Nice. I just hope John Tortorella doesn’t start stalking you.

    • There’s a man with some anger issues! Something about his childhood no doubt. Thanks, Mike

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