Playoff riches for Canada with four teams in NHL postseason
The Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks have clinched a playoff spot this season. The Ottawa Senators could make it five Canadian teams in the postseason. (QMI Agency)
Cue the whiteouts in Winnipeg and the Red Mile Mania in Calgary.
NHL playoff hockey is returning to Manitoba for the first time since 1996.
In Cowtown, meanwhile, the Flames will end a post-season drought that dates back to 2009.
In fact, with both the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames clinching their berths in the Stanley Cup tournament Thursday night, four Canadian teams are guaranteed to be part of the 2015 playoffs, joining the already-qualified Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks.
Given that only one Canadian-based team -- the Habs -- made the postseason one year ago, there are plenty of smiles going around in the Great White North, especially by both hockey fans and television executives north of the border.
And if the Ottawa Senators beat the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday, they’ll be the fifth Canadian team to make the big dance.
Kudos to the Flames for ploughing full-speed into the postseason, posting an impressive 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday that eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champions from playoff contention.
All the while, the Kings loss meant the single point accrued by Winnipeg in a 1-0 shootout defeat in Colorado was enough to ensure the Jets a playoff spot of their own.
“We have as much of a chance as anyone,” Jets forward Blake Wheeler said afterward when asked about how far his team could go in the playoffs.
Winnipeg last hosted a playoff game 19 years ago during the Jets first stint in the Manitoba capital, The team, of course, eventually moved to Arizona, leaving a deserving hockey-starved city stripped of its franchise.
NHL hockey arrived back in Winnipeg in 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Manitoba to kick off the Jets 2.0 era. The Thrashers franchise only reached the playoffs once and failed to record a post-season win.
One interesting note: both franchises that once were located in Atlanta -- the Atlanta-Flames-turned-Calgary-Flames and the Atlanta Thrashers-turned-Winnipeg-Jets -- clinched playoff berths on the same night.
The Senators, meanwhile, now control their own fate, thanks to a 3-0 win in New York over the Rangers Thursday coupled with a 4-2 loss by the Boston Bruins in Florida to the Panthers.
If the Sens either win or gain a point by going to overtime in Philly Saturday, or if Boston loses in Tampa Bay that same night, the Senators are in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Not bad for an Ottawa team that was 14 points out of a wild-card playoff spot two months ago.
And not bad for the hockey-mad country of Canada, which now has four representatives in the playoffs -- and, potentially, five with an Ottawa victory on Saturday.
Over to you, Sens.