Sports

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

TORONTO — Right here, within the a part of Canada that likes to consider itself as the middle of the nation — and because the heart of ice hockey — the N.H.L. playoffs rapidly and predictably withered. However hockey is raging like wild roses in Alberta, method to the west.

The second spherical of the postseason begins Tuesday, and Canada, which had three groups within the area firstly of the postseason, is down to 2.

In Toronto, the Maple Leafs misplaced a Sport 7 to the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, extending and setting a number of ignominious data. The Leafs, for instance, turned the first team in the history of the N.H.L., N.B.A. and Main League Baseball to lose an elimination sport within the opening spherical of the playoffs in 5 consecutive seasons.

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

Oilers heart Connor McDavid, who’s extensively thought to be the most effective participant within the sport, scored after a relentless effort Saturday as his staff eradicated the Los Angeles Kings. Then, on Sunday, Johnny Gaudreau, the left winger who led the Flames with 115 factors within the common season, scored to beat the Dallas Stars in extra time to e book the Battle of Alberta.

(The Battle of Alberta is just like the Subway Sequence between the Yankees and the Mets — solely as a substitute of using the 7 and 4 trains you make a three-hour automobile journey operating north-south on Freeway 2 by means of the prairies. And generally you get a goalie fight.)

The largest stars have scored the largest objectives when it has mattered most in these playoffs. In New York, the Rangers eradicated the Pittsburgh Penguins after the star winger Artemi Panarin scored in extra time in Sport 7.

However not in Toronto. In 9 consecutive makes an attempt to win a sport that may have eradicated their opponent in a first-round playoff collection, courting to 2004, the Maple Leafs have misplaced. They haven’t received a Stanley Cup since the 1966-67 season, and on Saturday night time, they eclipsed the Rangers’ 54-year championship drought from 1940 to 1994. They’ve been within the playoffs for six consecutive seasons, and didn’t advance every time.

In a information convention after Toronto’s Sport 7 loss to the Lightning, the Toronto gamers, low-voiced and red-eyed, had been unhappy.

“It’s arduous to clarify,” the staff’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 membership he famously adored as a baby in 2018, mentioned 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 previous this hurdle.”

Auston Matthews, the American heart who scored a league-best 60 objectives within the common season, cap pulled low over his eyes, mentioned, “We’re very disenchanted.”

Mitch Marner, a winger who grew up in suburban Toronto, mentioned, “We’re sick and uninterested in feeling this manner.”

Just a few hours later in Edmonton, McDavid, enjoying in as possessed a fashion as he ever has, was placing his staff on his again. He leads all skaters within the playoffs with 14 factors.

In distinction to the low-talking Leafs, Leon Draisaitl was ebullient speaking about his teammate McDavid. “He’s the most effective participant on the planet,” mentioned Draisaitl, whose 55 objectives had been second to Matthews. “He confirmed that within the final two video games. It’s not talent. I imply, there’s numerous talent clearly with him, that’s a given. It’s the need. You’ll be able to see it in his eyes. You’ll be able to really feel it each shift that he’s on the market. He’s decided. There was simply no manner that he, or us, had been going to be denied. He led the best way. He was superb.”

The Leafs didn’t get a efficiency worthy of the Sport 7 stage from Matthews or any of their different stars Saturday. Over the previous 18 years, failing early within the playoffs or lacking them altogether has grow to be predictable.

The collapses are quite a few, and it’s troublesome to select the worst, however two storm to thoughts. In 2013, the Leafs led the Bruins, 4-1, within the third interval of Sport 7 earlier than surrendering three regulation objectives — two within the final minute — and conceding a Patrice Bergeron objective in extra time. Final season, the Leafs coughed up their three-games-to-one lead over the Montreal Canadiens and misplaced a Sport 7 on dwelling ice, and the Canadiens went on to the Stanley Cup finals.

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

“This one is hard as a result of I actually really feel we’re loads nearer than it seems,” Keefe mentioned.

As years go by, the bands on the Stanley Cup that every listing a dozen groups are eliminated for show within the Hockey Corridor of Fame in Toronto to make room for brand spanking new champions. The following band shall be eliminated in 2031, sending the winners from the 1965-66 to 1977-78 seasons completely to the Corridor. If the Leafs don’t win by then, they are going to be gone.

Don’t really feel too unhealthy for Toronto. Hockey has at all times been its coronary heart, however the metropolis’s multicultural soul has felt intermittent pleasure since 1967 from different sports activities. The Toronto Raptors received an N.B.A. title in 2019. Toronto F.C. received an M.L.S. championship in 2017 (and made the finals in 2016 and 2019). It was some time in the past, however the Blue Jays received World Sequence titles in 1992 and 1993, and postseason hopes are legitimately excessive this season. Toronto shall be wonderful even when the Maple Leafs won’t.

There are calls to explode the staff and its close-knit cadre of well-paid stars. There are calls to “run it back.” Pay no thoughts. Look west, the place playoff hockey shall be wild, guaranteeing that Canada has a staff among the many closing 4. And two for at the very least the following week, and maybe longer. A Canadian staff has not received the Stanley Cup since Montreal did so in 1993. The Battle of Alberta begins in Calgary on Wednesday.

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

“Fairly fortunate that two Canadian groups are nonetheless enjoying, being from Alberta,” Sutter mentioned in his postgame information convention. “Fairly distinctive.”

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