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Canada’s Stanley Cup Hopes Rest on Leafs, Flames, Oilers

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It’s a rule that spring involves Canada erratically, just a few mild days followed by a foot of snow followed by rain followed by a day so hot you’ll swear it was summer, normally followed by sleet and more snow. On the day I used to be born in April my mother needed a heavy winter coat on the technique to the hospital, and by the point I had arrived within the afternoon it was hot enough to go to the beach.

Something else occurred that very same spring, but unlike the unpredictable weather, it has not happened since. In May 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs won their thirteenth — and last — Stanley Cup. Around this time every year, town of Toronto gets a bit of twitchy. Occasionally the Raptors provide a distraction, and that would last a bit of longer — they’ve won two straight games against the 76ers after happening three games to none to begin their N.B.A. playoff series.

The N.H.L. regular season effectively ends on Friday (there’s one game on Sunday between eliminated teams) with the playoffs scheduled to start May 2, and Canadian fans have three rooting decisions: the Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.

If the playoffs began today, the Oilers would face the Los Angeles Kings; the Flames would play the Dallas Stars; and the Maple Leafs would play the Tampa Bay Lightning, winner of the last two Stanley Cups.

That doesn’t sound hopeful. However the Leafs have been having fun with good times, largely due to the American center Auston Matthews, who has put together his best season yet with 60 goals to this point. The Oilers feature Connor McDavid (with a league-leading 122 points) and Leon Draisaitl (109 points). The Flames have Johnny Gaudreau (a career-high 113 points) and Matthew Tkachuk (a career-high 102 points).

In hockey, it’s most fun to follow the celebrities, especially in the course of the playoffs. But star players haven’t at all times ensured playoff success. The Maple Leafs haven’t won a championship in 55 years — and so they haven’t even won a playoff round since 2004.

McDavid, for all his otherworldly talent, has won only a single playoff series (in 2017) and, except for a first-round loss in 2021, the Oilers have missed the playoffs in every other season since losing within the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006.

The Calgary Flames haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

Cue essentially the most repeated and moped-upon fact around this time of yr: The Stanley Cup has not been won by a Canadian team since Montreal did so in 1993. It’s all a bit of grim.

Hockey is a regional interest. The province of Alberta will divide neatly, and rabidly, between the Oilers and Flames, but Toronto presents an issue for those outside its sprawling borders. The Leafs, just like the Latest York Yankees, are easy to like and straightforward to detest, depending in your postal code and generational loyalties.

One solution is to choose a team based in the US with a implausible Canadian player, a team just like the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sidney Crosby, in his seventeenth season with the team that drafted him first overall in 2005 because the league emerged from a lockout and a canceled 2004-05 season, has quietly been having probably the greatest seasons within the N.H.L.

I spent Crosby’s rookie yr in Pittsburgh to follow a child saddled with putting the salary-cap era of hockey on the map. His team won only 22 games, but he led the Penguins with 102 points. Greatness was not far-off. Crosby won his first Stanley Cup in 2009, and two more in 2016 and 2017. Packed between championships have been quite a few Hart, Conn Smythe, Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies. On Feb. 15, Crosby scored his five hundredth profession goal, becoming only the second energetic player to achieve the mark and the forty sixth in N.H.L. history.

Just a few days later, I saw him in Toronto when the Penguins played the Leafs. It was our first lengthy conversation since his rookie season. Now 34, he was relaxed and reflective, and excited in regards to the team’s playoff possibilities.

“I even have a terrific appreciation for having the ability to play so long as I even have,” he said. “It’s a privilege. Don’t get me improper, I would like to play lots longer, however the more you play the more you understand that it’s challenging.”

Yet he still makes it look easy. Crosby, with 31 goals (nine of them game winners) and 53 assists through 68 games, is having a remarkable season — without fanfare, which has all gone Alex Ovechkin’s way as he climbs the profession goals list.

Crosby, whose 1.24 points-per-game average edges Ovechkin, continues to prove his longevity in a sport that takes an incredible physical toll. He stays the most effective 200-foot player in the sport, and considered one of its most creative playmakers.

Ahead of the playoffs, I can have rather more from my conversation with Crosby, and insight into what has made him such an everlasting and dominant player 17 seasons into his profession.

If you happen to are on the lookout for a bandwagon aside from the Flames, Oilers and Maple Leafs, it might be clever, whilst the Penguins have struggled recently, to never bet against Crosby.

I asked him what milestone is next. “A Stanley Cup,” he said.

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