Which Team Has Best Chance to Break Canada's 20-Year Stanley Cup Drought?
The Montreal Canadiens were the last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup.
That year, the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Los Angeles Kings to claim the Canadiens 24th championship (22nd since the NHL formed).
Canada has a total of 40 Stanley Cup championships since the NHL formed in 1926, but with no Canadian team winning the Cup in the last 20 years, one might wonder what Canadian franchise will win the Cup next.
So which Canadian team has the best chance to break Canada's 20-year Cup drought?
For the sake of argument, this slideshow will focus on the teams that are in this year's playoffs.
4. Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks find themselves in an 0-3 hole after losing both Games 1 and 2 on home ice and getting blown out in a loss in Game 3 in San Jose.
Despite winning the Northwest division title, claiming the No. 3 seed in the process, the Canucks have looked anemic offensively in three playoff games.
With just five goals in three games against the San Jose Sharks, the Canucks have more questions than answers. They will need to win the next four games to move on to the next round, and would still have to go through the likes of Chicago eventually to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
Their chance at winning the Stanley Cup this season out of the four Canadian teams to make the playoffs this year is the lowest, mostly because of the current predicament with being down three games to none against San Jose.
3. Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens are another division-winning Canadian team, but also have fallen on hard times of late. The Canadiens finished as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and drew the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs.
The reason Montreal is beneath Ottawa and Toronto (the other two teams on this list) is that the Habs have struggled mightily against the Pittsburgh Penguins (who will likely be waiting to face the team that makes it out of the mess that is the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Montreal gave up 14 goals in three games against the Penguins this season, losing by scores of 7-6 (in overtime), 1-0 and 6-4.
Most of these goals can be put right on the head of Carey Price, who gave up three goals or more in two of the games, getting the short-end of a 1-0 decision in the other game.
The Canadiens were also abysmal on the penalty kill in the regular season, finishing 23rd in the league at 79.8 percent. The Penguins were the league's second-ranked power play in the regular season at 24.7 percent, but have gotten better in the playoffs against the Islanders, now converting on 46.2 percent of their power plays through three games with the Islanders.
Combine the above information with the fact that the Canadiens now have to win three of the next four games against the Senators (after losing 6-1 on Sunday night in Ottawa) to advance in this series, and one should be able to see how the Canadiens could have a very long road to the playoffs.
2. Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators have a 2-1 edge in their series with the Montreal Canadiens. After a 6-1 blow-out win in Game 3, the Senators have a chance to punch their ticket to the second round of the playoffs.
Unfortunately, if the Senators win, they could end up playing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the next round if the Penguins win their series against the New York Islanders. The Senators could not beat the Penguins in the regular season, losing 2-1, 4-2 and 3-1, picking up just one point in the three games in a shootout loss.
The kicker with this potential matchup however, is that Erik Karlsson was injured in the first meeting with Pittsburgh. Karlsson did not finish the game and the Senators lost the game in a shootout.
Karlsson's play has risen noticeably since his return, putting up four assists in his final three regular season games as well as four points in three playoff games. He is obviously the cog in the Senators' renewed offense with multi-point games in both of the Senators' first-round playoff wins against the Canadiens.
Ottawa could be on top of this list, but they have to play Pittsburgh in the next round as mentioned above if both the Senators and the Penguins win their respective series. Pittsburgh just has too much offense as a whole that could and likely would overpower the Senators anemic regular season offense.
Although the Senators have been playing better offensively since Karlsson's return, it still likely wouldn't be enough against a Penguins team that is averaging 4.33 goals per game in a first-round series with the Islanders.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
When the Maple Leafs are "on" offensively, they are the most difficult team to stop of the Canadian teams in the playoffs.
The Leafs have some powerful scoring wingers in Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel and James van Reimsdyk. On many nights, the three of these players (or any combination of) can provide enough offense for the Leafs to win games. This is what happened in Game 2 of their series against Boston, as Lupul scored twice while "JVR" and Kessel each scored once in a 4-2 win.
The Leafs also love to hit and they don't back down from anyone on boards battles. The goaltending is usually enough to win games, as James Reimer has given up just six goals on 81 shots in the two games against Boston thus far.
While proponents of the Senators might argue that the Sens deserve the top spot for Canadian team most likely to win the Cup, the fact remains that Toronto won three out of the four regular season meetings between two clubs. The Leafs won by scores of 3-0, 5-4 and 4-0, while the Sens took one of the games by a 3-2 score.
The Leafs do not have to play the Penguins in the next round like the Senators would if the Sens and Penguins both win this round. This means the Leafs have a better chance of avoiding the Penguins before they end up playing them in what would likely be the Conference Finals if the Senators and Penguins play in the Conference semi-finals.
The Leafs have secondary scoring in Nazem Kadri too. Kadri had a hat trick and a four-point night against the Senators in the regular season, but has yet to get going in the playoffs.
Each team has certain factors that they need to advance.
In the case of the Canucks, they need a monumental comeback being down 3-0 in their series. Winning four straight games will not be easy against the San Jose Sharks.
The Canadiens need to find some goaltending and some fire in some way or another. The Habs have given up 11 goals in three games, including four third-period goals in a blowout loss to the Sens in Game 3. If the Habs don't get goaltending, they won't win. Simple as that.
The Canadiens also cannot give up goals to no-name players like Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Pageau had four points in nine regular season games and had not factored on the score sheet until he registered a hat trick in Game 3. The Canadiens need to make Ottawa's "best" players beat them.
The Senators just need to get decent goaltending to contend. Craig Anderson has been fairly good all season long, with success transferring over to the postseason. His numbers are 2-1 record with a 94.9 save percentage and a 2.01 GAA.
The Sens also need Erik Karlsson to continue leading their offense. Karlsson comes back just in time for a Senators offense that was on life support for much of the regular season, just 26th in the NHL regular season with 2.33 goals per game. If the Sens get goals, they're golden.
The Leafs need their big guns to step up, but they also need Kadri to find his offensive prowess that he showed all season with 44 points in 48 regular season games. If the Leafs can get some mediocre goaltending, they should be in a good position to move to the next round.
All stats via NHL.com
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