Battle of Alberta won’t help Canada’s odds
At first there were three, then there were two.
Soon there will be one.
The percentages for a Canadian-style NHL championship have been sliced-and-diced down to a mere 25 per cent, regardless of what happens in the upcoming Round 2 of the playoffs.
Canada’s last remaining hopes – hard-hitting Calgary and free-flowing Edmonton – square off in this upcoming round. One survives, the other joins Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver sitting aside preparing for free agency and the upcoming entry draft.
Calgary finally stepping down hard on Dallas’ air-hose took a lot longer than most expected. Most predicted a quick in-and-out for the Stars. Most were wrong.
That opening round?
Five of the eight sets went the full seven games, two others wrapped up in a tight six, one was a sweep and that happened so long ago I forgot Nashville was at one point actually in the post-season.
Heartbreak in Toronto, yet again, but thrills and elation in Alberta as the two rivals get set for a series so rich in potential storylines it’d make Charlie Dickens blush with pride. It’ll be the first Battle of Alberta since 1991 when guys like Messier, Tikkanen and Simpson out-duelled foes Fleury, Roberts and Gilmour (and Ottawa’s Jimmy Kyte). Super-pest Tikkanen ended that one in overtime in Game 7, who steps up this time?
Will it be OT hero and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Johnny Gaudreau? Mouthpiece toting (in more than one way) Matthew Tkachuk? Former 67 Tyler Toffoli?
How about Edmonton with the best player in the world? Wobbly Leon Draisaitl? Former 67 Cody Ceci?
Calgary-Edmonton is one of two marquee matchups ahead. In the East, we’ll have an equally spirited tilt, rich with spite and spit as Florida tackles Tampa.
The other two set-to’s have the Rangers playing Carolina out East and Colorado (remember them?) tackling St. Louis in the West. Not quite must-see TV from this end but they could surprise.
THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: Leaf fans, media, casual observers and even Walmart shoppers stated this loudly during pre-season: If Toronto doesn’t conjure playoff success this time around, heads are gonna roll. Starts at the top, no? . . . The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to figure out who we’re targeting there . . . One of the major differences between the Bolts and Buds: T-Bay surrounds stars Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov with guts-and-pluck-and-gamers (Nick Paul, Brandon Hagel, Anthony Cirelli, Corey Perry). The Leafs don’t have an answer . . . Also: Apparently Victor Hedman’s don’t grow on trees . . . Got an eye-roll out of Ottawa fans chortling that the Leafs were sent packing by Nick Paul. Yup that’s right, Nick Paul, the former Senator. Not here anymore, people . . . Ottawa’s propensity for trading away guys like Paul and J-G Pageau is not how you build a winning formula . . . Best not bring up Mika Zibanejad at all . . . Oops . . . I had high hopes for Pierre Engvall, I really did . . . Engvall – as relayed in this corner before – has all the physical elements: superb skater, size, good shot, and well, you know the rest of the story . . . Anyone else notice while the Leafs were being ousted by the Lightning this past weekend, Toronto’s baseball team was facing Tampa’s? (Slightly better results there) . . . Wasn’t terribly surprised that the Bruins gave Carolina such a tough test. Boston has Brad Marchand. Brad Marchand – love him or otherwise – is clutch . . . Marchand’s 11 points placed him third overall through the opening round . . . I sure hope Florida’s Carter Verhaeghe (12 points) slows up. He’s a strenuous spell . . . Ottawa lands the 7th-overall selection at this summer’s draft. There’s absolutely no question I field offers for the pick . . . The Senators’ youth and prospect drawer is over-flowing. Comes to a point when you need to ask – where do all these guys play? . . . The first round of the draft is slated for the Bell Centre in Montreal on July 7. Rounds 2-7 go July 8 . . . Bienvenu à montréal Shane Wright! . . . The Habs won the lottery (in case you missed it). New Jersey picks second, Arizona third.
After going a respectable 6-2 in flat-out picks through Round 1, here’s where we could be headed next.
CAROLINA – NY RANGERS:
Thought the New Yorkers looked a bit out-coached against an under-manned Penguins club. Rangers’ boss Gerard Gallant better have the troops in tune against one of the best in Rod Brind’Amour.
Hurricanes in six
Is Tampa running out of juice, finally?
Panthers in seven
Seeing a Flames-Avalanche West finale.
Flames in six
Av’s might be a bit rusty out of the gate. It won’t last.
Av’s in six