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Will a Canadian team finally win the Stanley Cup? | CBC Sports

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The Stanley Cup playoffs begin Saturday. With four strong Canadian teams involved in what looks like a wide-open tournament, the best trophy in sports could return home for the first time since Patrick Roy’s Montreal Canadiens captured it with their overtime magic in the spring 1993.

Here’s a quick look at those four teams:

Edmonton Oilers: With Connor McDavid hurting early in the season, Edmonton got off to an ugly 3-9-1 start that cost coach Jay Woodcroft his job. Since Kris Knoblauch took over, the Oilers have the highest points percentage in the league. And the best player in the world is back on top of his game. McDavid’s bumpy start kept him from winning his fourth consecutive scoring title, but he still became one of only five players in history to reach 100 assists in a season. The other members of that club — Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr and Nikita Kucherov, who joined a few days after McDavid — all own multiple Stanley Cup rings. McDavid, 27, has yet to even make it to a Cup final. After placing second to Vancouver in the Pacific Division, the Oilers face Los Angeles in the first round for the third straight year, starting Monday night.

Vancouver Canucks: One of the league’s great surprises, Vancouver improved from 83 points to 109 to make the playoffs for the first time in four years and capture its first division title in more than a decade. Though their scoring cooled in the second half of the season after a red-hot start, the Canucks still finished with the sixth-most goals in the league. Veteran J.T. Miller put up his first 100-point season while young forward Elias Pettersson notched 89 and Quinn Hughes exploded for 92 — pretty remarkable for a 24-year-old defenceman. Vancouver opens its first-round series vs. Nashville on Sunday night.

Winnipeg Jets: Speaking of pleasant surprises, Winnipeg wasn’t expected to do much after winning a grand total of one playoff game over the past two years. Instead, the Jets soared to fourth place overall — tops among Canadian teams — after closing the season with eight straight wins. Anchored by star goalie Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg finished second in the Central Division to Dallas and tied Florida for the fewest goals surrendered in the league. But the Jets’ stinginess will be tested in the first round by Colorado, which led the league in scoring as MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon racked up 50 goals and 140 points. This fascinating series begins Sunday night in Winnipeg.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The NHL’s most tortured franchise shed a heavy weight last year by defeating Tampa Bay for its first playoff series victory in 19 years, only to crumble in five games to Florida to extend the Leafs’ Cup drought to 57 years. Auston Matthews scored a club-record 69 goals this season — the NHL’s highest total this century — as Toronto ranked second in the league in scoring. But goaltending and defence remain question marks ahead of another rematch with Atlantic Division rival Boston. The Big Bad Bruins have blown the Leafs out of the playoffs all three times they’ve met since 2013, and once again finished ahead of them in the standings. The series opens Saturday night in Boston.

And here are some questions about the four all-American series:

Did we go back in time to the mid-’90s? Just asking because O.J. Simpson is in the news, the New York Knicks are good and so are the Rangers. The Blueshirts finished with the NHL’s best record and now hope to hoist their first Stanley Cup since Mark Messier paraded it down Broadway in 1994. But they’ll have to break the Presidents’ Trophy curse: each of the last 10 regular-season champs failed to win the Cup, and only two of them made it past the second round. New York begins its quest against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, who snuck into the playoffs as the 8 seed.

Can Florida go all the way? Last year, the Presidents’ Trophy curse took animal form as the bottom-ranked Panthers toppled record-setting Boston in the first round. It was no fluke: Florida then stomped Toronto in five and swept Carolina to reach the franchise’s first Cup final since its rat-infested journey in 1996. The Panthers ran out of gas, losing to Vegas in five, but they look poised for another deep run with gritty star Matthew Tkachuk and 57-goal man Sam Reinhart leading the way. Florida’s first-round foe is Sunshine State rival Tampa Bay, led by NHL scoring champion Nikita Kucherov.

Can Vegas repeat? The gold standard for expansion teams won the Cup last June in just its sixth season of existence. Its fortunes dipped this season as several key players suffered injuries and the Golden Knights ended up with the lowest seed in the West playoffs. But it looks like star forward Mark Stone could once again return just in time for the playoffs, making Vegas a decent bet to upset top-seeded Dallas in the first round.

Is this Carolina’s year? The Hurricanes have been a top-three overall team for four straight regular seasons. But they tend to lose steam in the playoffs, where they failed to win a game beyond the second round over the past three years. The trade-deadline acquisition of sniper Jake Guentzel should help, and Carolina can build some momentum against a non-descript Islanders team that had the fewest regulation wins of anyone in the playoffs.

Here’s the full round 1 schedule. And here are the Hockey Night in Canada games you can watch on the CBC TV network and stream for free on CBC Gem.

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