Canadian hockey teams make playoff push

AUSTIN ARVAY 

The Montreal Canadiens are one of the Canadian teams that should advance to the playoffs, but will anyone else be joining them in the hunt for the Stanley Cup?

The Montreal Canadiens are one of the Canadian teams that should advance to the playoffs, but will anyone else be joining them in the hunt for the Stanley Cup?

Following their Olympic victory, Canadian hockey fans have turned their attention back to the National Hockey League. While the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens have enjoyed success, it has been a disappointing season for the rest of Canada’s teams.

The last time a Canadian squad won the Stanley Cup was in 1993, when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Los Angeles Kings. It has been a long wait since then for diehard Canadian hockey fans.

There have been some close calls over the years. In 2004 the Calgary Flames went on a cinderella run, upsetting many higher seeded teams to reach the final only to lose in game seven to Tampa Bay. Two years later the Edmonton Oilers had a similar miraculous postseason and shot at the cup, but they likewise fell in game seven.

In 2007 the Ottawa Senators made the Cup final, but they were defeated in five games by the Anaheim Ducks. Most recently the Vancouver Canucks advanced to the final in 2011 but they lost to the Boston Bruins in game seven, which ignited a riot in the streets of Vancouver.

Every year fans have the same renewed optimism. “This is the year!” says the Toronto Maple Leaf devotee — for the past 45 years. Oilers fans are time and again convinced their young talent will finally take the next step this season. No matter what team you cheer for and how good or bad they are doing, you will always root for them.

The Edmonton Oilers are in the midst of another disappointing season. After having the first overall pick in the draft for three of the past four seasons, Oiler fans were hoping they would see their team amongst the best in the league. Unfortunately they currently sit in 29th place out of 30.

The Oilers seemingly fixed their problems in net by acquiring Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth at the trade deadline, but still need stronger defencemen and their young players to gain experience in order to compete consistently.

The Calgary Flames traded away Jarome Iginla last season and are still looking for a leader to replace him. Struggling to find consistent goal scoring, as well as keeping pucks out of their own net, the Flames find themselves 26th in the league.

Centre Sean Monahan seems to have a bright future with the club but until he gets some help the Flames could have a few tough years ahead of them. Both the Oilers and the Flames have been eliminated from playoff contention.

The Ottawa Senators have had an up and down season and are currently seven points out of a playoff spot. Having to deal with a plethora of injuries this year to key players hasn’t helped the Senators cause. New captain Jason Spezza should get some help on offence from the newly acquired Ales Hemsky. If they want a shot at making the playoffs, the Senators will need to earn some wins over higher ranked teams to finish the season.

The Winnipeg Jets have found themselves oh-so-close to playoff spot. If the Jets are able to advance to the post-season, it would be the first for the team since they moved back to Winnipeg last year. After struggling early on in the season, head coach Claude Noel was replaced by Paul Maurice, who has turned the team around dramatically.

The Jets won nine of their first 11 games under Maurice, helping to vault them up the standings. With the raucous Winnipeg fans behind them, the Jets are a very strong home team but they need to perform better on the road in order to get wins down the stretch and make the playoffs.

Just three points out of a playoff spot, the Vancouver Canucks are currently 10th in the Western Conference. The Canucks made headlines at the trade deadline by dealing Roberto Luongo to Florida, making young netminder Eddie Lack the new starter. Due to an injury just before the Olympic break, the Canucks lost Henrik Sedin and have since found themselves in a massive slump. The team has won just four of their last 17 games and seems to be collapsing at the wrong time — and they’ll have to figure things out soon or they could miss the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

The Leafs are one of two Canadian teams currently sitting in a playoff position, with goaltenders Jonathon Bernier and James Reimer keeping them in games thanks to their strong play. Right wing Phil Kessel has surprised many to sit second in the league in scoring, behind only Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby. The Leafs have been fairly inconsistent as a team this year and need big wins down the stretch to assure a second straight postseason berth.

Currently the best Canadian team in the NHL, the Canadiens sit in third place in the Eastern conference. Montreal has used a balanced attack to win games and all-star goalie Carey Price has been excellent this season. Montreal will need to keep up the good play to make the playoffs. They are currently on course to play their bitter rivals the Maple Leafs in the first round.

The season wraps up April 13, with the Stanley Cup playoffs starting April 16. Stay tuned to see how your favourite teams fare in the final weeks of the season.


Photo: pointnshoot/flickr