Montreal flying the flag for Canada in the NHL
Canadian NHL teams have, for many years, maintained a proud tradition of having a strong presence in the Stanley Cup Play-Offs. Although America considerably outweigh Canada in the number of ice hockey teams that participate in the National Hockey League, there is considerable quality North of the border which regularly performs during the regular season and makes it to the post-drama where the excitement, tension and drama intensifies. The 2013/2014 NHL season has unfortunately been a disappointment for Canadian teams, with the Montreal Canadiens being the lone team in the play-offs. But coming in to the playoffs sportsbooks had 3-1 odds that they’d win it all, the best in the NHL. Our team faces a game 7 to advance to the finals and we all hope Vegas had it right! Disappointment is prominent within the other six Canadian cities, as they are left to watch Montreal replicate history as the nation’s only hope of bringing the Stanley Cup to Canada since 1973.
The lone rangers
Finishing third in the Atlantic Division was a wonderful achievement for the Montreal Canadiens who will look to maintain their proud record as the most successful franchise in NHL history by winning their 25th Stanley Cup Championship. Michel Therrien has once again succeeded as the Habs’ head coach, with Montreal making it to the play-offs for the second consecutive season under Therrien’s leadership. Max Pacioretty has led from the front for the Habs, with the left winger currently top of the scoring charts with 39 and overall points tally of 60. Goaltender Carey Price has been key to Montreal’s success this season, recording six shutouts and an impressive save percentage of .927. Both players will have to remain on top form throughout the play-offs, as the level of quality remaining in the hunt for the Stanley Cup Finals is arguably far greater than the Canadiens.
Their regular season record of 46-28-8 was more than enough to see the Montreal Canadians qualify for the Stanley Cup Play-offs in fine fashion. Finishing behind the formidable Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division was an achievement in itself, with Montreal facing Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals. In what was expected to be a close-fought series between the two teams, the Canadians blew the Lightning away with a resounding 4-0 series victory. It was the only quarter-final series in which a team did not register a single victory, which illustrates the superb performances made by Montreal who approached their semi-final with the Bruins without any fear. The series currently sits on a knife-edge, with Boston holding a 3-2 advantage over Montreal who must win Game 6 in order to take it to a decisive Game 7.
Where it went wrong for the others
Despite the fact that only seven of the thirty NHL teams originate from Canada, it is still widely seen across the country as a disappointment that only one put themselves into post-season contention. Play-off hopes slipped away at different stages of the 2013/2014 NHL season, although the Calgary Flames could arguably be the only team forgiving for not being more competitive. The Flames are going through a vigorous rebuilding period in which focusing on the future through players such as Sean Monahan is more important that being competitive this season. March 30 was the date when their faint play-off hopes were officially ended, but it could all be worth it if Calgary enjoy considerable success as a result of their rebuilding.
A roster packed with young talent and potential which was picked up through the NHL draft failed to put it together as the Edmonton Oilers endured a rather indifferent season on the ice. Many of their star players, including Devan Dubnyk, simply failed to deliver, while an awful start to the regular season with just 4 wins from 21 games indicated that the Oilers’ chances of making it to the play-offs had been extinguished even their season had even started.
The other Canadian hopefuls fared much better in the NHL, with the Canucks, Jets, Senators and Maple Leafs all being in the running for a play-off spot in the latter stages of the regular season, only to fall at the final hurdle. Vancouver enjoyed a wonderful start to the season, particular during December where they went 10-1-2 to put themselves well within the play-off picture. Unfortunately, 2014 signaled a major fall of grace for the Canucks; losing seven from the first eight games of the calendar year led to a freefall down the Western Conference, with the decision to trade Roberto Luongo to the Florida Panthers and blowing a three-goal lead against the New York Islanders to lose 7-3 was the final nail in the coffin.
A six-game losing streak in March put pay to the Winnipeg Jets’ chances of making it to the post-season showdown, although they can take heart from coming so close during a regular season which only fell away at the last. The Ottawa Senators suffered a similar fate, as they went from play-off contenders to facing no post-season hockey for the third time in five years following a 2-7-2 run in March.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were widely expected to be one of the main contenders for the Stanley Cup, but their season was defined by one moment which changed everything. Toronto were second in the Atlantic Division in mid-March and were in the sort of form that made them look certain of a play-off spot. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier was in the form of his life, but two injuries turned the Maple Leafs’ season upside down. Backup goaltender James Reimer could not prevent a tide of goals flying past him as the defense line in front of him crumbled, leading to an eight game losing streak that saw Toronto crash out of contention.