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In N.H.L. Playoffs, a Canadian Divide Between Winners and Losers

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TORONTO — Here, within the a part of Canada that likes to think about itself as the middle of the country — and because the center of ice hockey — the N.H.L. playoffs quickly and predictably withered. But hockey is raging like wild roses in Alberta, method to the west.

The second round of the postseason begins Tuesday, and Canada, which had three teams in the sphere at the beginning of the postseason, is all the way down to two.

In Toronto, the Maple Leafs lost a Game 7 to the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, extending and setting several ignominious records. The Leafs, for instance, became the first team within the history of the N.H.L., N.B.A. and Major League Baseball to lose an elimination game within the opening round of the playoffs in five consecutive seasons.

In Alberta, the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames each won Game 7s to advance, deliciously, and can meet within the playoffs for the primary time since 1991.

Oilers center Connor McDavid, who’s widely considered the very best player in the sport, scored after a relentless effort Saturday as his team eliminated the Los Angeles Kings. Then, on Sunday, Johnny Gaudreau, the left winger who led the Flames with 115 points within the regular season, scored to beat the Dallas Stars in additional time to book the Battle of Alberta.

(The Battle of Alberta is just like the Subway Series between the Yankees and the Mets — only as an alternative of riding the 7 and 4 trains you make a three-hour automotive trip running north-south on Highway 2 through the prairies. And sometimes you get a goalie fight.)

The most important stars have scored the most important goals when it has mattered most in these playoffs. In Latest York, the Rangers eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins after the star winger Artemi Panarin scored in additional time in Game 7.

But not in Toronto. In nine consecutive attempts to win a game that may have eliminated their opponent in a first-round playoff series, dating to 2004, the Maple Leafs have lost. They haven’t won a Stanley Cup because the 1966-67 season, and on Saturday night, they eclipsed the Rangers’ 54-year championship drought from 1940 to 1994. They’ve been within the playoffs for six consecutive seasons, and did not advance every time.

In a news conference after Toronto’s Game 7 loss to the Lightning, the Toronto players, low-voiced and red-eyed, were sad.

“It’s hard to clarify,” the team’s captain, John Tavares, a former star of the Islanders who was born in suburban Toronto and who signed a $77 million, seven-year contract with the club he famously adored as a toddler in 2018, said of the loss. “It hurts. It’s disappointing. We’re attempting to go all the best way, and we haven’t been in a position to get past this hurdle.”

Auston Matthews, the American center who scored a league-best 60 goals within the regular season, cap pulled low over his eyes, said, “We’re very disenchanted.”

Mitch Marner, a winger who grew up in suburban Toronto, said, “We’re sick and bored with feeling this fashion.”

A number of hours later in Edmonton, McDavid, playing in as possessed a way as he ever has, was putting his team on his back. He leads all skaters within the playoffs with 14 points.

In contrast to the low-talking Leafs, Leon Draisaitl was ebullient talking about his teammate McDavid. “He’s the very best player on the earth,” said Draisaitl, whose 55 goals were second to Matthews. “He showed that within the last two games. It’s not skill. I mean, there’s plenty of skill obviously with him, that’s a given. It’s the need. You may see it in his eyes. You may feel it every shift that he’s on the market. He’s determined. There was just no way that he, or us, were going to be denied. He led the best way. He was amazing.”

The Leafs did not get a performance worthy of the Game 7 stage from Matthews or any of their other stars Saturday. Over the past 18 years, failing early within the playoffs or missing them altogether has turn out to be predictable.

The collapses are quite a few, and it’s difficult to choose the worst, but two storm to mind. In 2013, the Leafs led the Bruins, 4-1, within the third period of Game 7 before surrendering three regulation goals — two within the last minute — and conceding a Patrice Bergeron goal in additional time. Last season, the Leafs coughed up their three-games-to-one lead over the Montreal Canadiens and lost a Game 7 on home ice, and the Canadiens went on to the Stanley Cup finals.

Losing this yr to the Lightning, winners of the last two championships, softened the final result for Leafs Coach Sheldon Keefe.

“This one is hard because I actually feel we’re so much closer than it appears,” Keefe said.

As years go by, the bands on the Stanley Cup that every list a dozen teams are removed for display within the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto to make room for brand spanking new champions. The following band will probably be removed in 2031, sending the winners from the 1965-66 to 1977-78 seasons permanently to the Hall. If the Leafs don’t win by then, they will probably be gone.

Don’t feel too bad for Toronto. Hockey has all the time been its heart, but town’s multicultural soul has felt intermittent joy since 1967 from other sports. The Toronto Raptors won an N.B.A. title in 2019. Toronto F.C. won an M.L.S. championship in 2017 (and made the finals in 2016 and 2019). It was some time ago, however the Blue Jays won World Series titles in 1992 and 1993, and postseason hopes are legitimately high this season. Toronto will probably be nice even when the Maple Leafs won’t.

There are calls to explode the team and its close-knit cadre of well-paid stars. There are calls to “run it back.” Pay no mind. Look west, where playoff hockey will probably be wild, guaranteeing that Canada has a team among the many final 4. And two for no less than the following week, and maybe longer. A Canadian team has not won the Stanley Cup since Montreal did so in 1993. The Battle of Alberta begins in Calgary on Wednesday.

Darryl Sutter, the Flames’ coach and certainly one of six brothers to play within the N.H.L. and 4 to educate within the league, grew up in Viking, Alberta, population 1,083, and 85 miles southeast of Edmonton.

“Pretty lucky that two Canadian teams are still playing, being from Alberta,” Sutter said in his postgame news conference. “Pretty unique.”

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