Playoff format could help end Canada’s Stanley Cup drought

Nick Foligno was 5 when his father made his longest playoff run with Toronto and he remembers it like it was yesterday.

The festive atmosphere in the streets after winning Game 7 to advance to the conference final. The questionable missed call against Wayne Gretzky and the searing pain of the Maple Leafs losing to Los Angeles in seven games, one step short of the 1993 final.

“I’ll never forget that run,” Foligno said after being traded to Toronto. “I’m looking forward to going on another one, being the next Foligno to do so.”

It wasn’t the Maple Leafs, but that year saw the last time a Canadian team hoisted the Stanley Cup when Montreal beat the Kings. This year provides a great opportunity to end the 28-year drought because the NHL’s divisional playoff format guarantees a team from Canada will be in the final four.

“You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself,” said Winnipeg’s Paul Stastny, who played on the 2018 Jets team that reached the Western Conference final. “But we do realize the opportunity that one of the final four is going to be a Canadian team.”

Stacked with talent, led by top goal-scorer Auston Matthews and scarred by years of playoff failures, Toronto is the top seed and favored to emerge from the North Division playoffs. The Maple Leafs open against the Canadiens, while MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers face Winnipeg as the playoffs begin this week.

“There should be plenty to be motivated about,” said Matthews, who scored 41 goals in 52 games. “We’d like to obviously play a long time here in the spring and the summer. We’re obviously focused on Montreal here, but I think everybody in this room is extremely motivated and really excited to get going.”

The Maple Leafs haven’t won a playoff series 2004, which predates the season-canceling lockout, and the franchise hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, which predates expansion beyond the league’s Original Six. First-round losses to Columbus, Boston (twice) and Washington over the past four years have only served as reminders for this core of how difficult it is to win this time of year.

“It’s not a good feeling, and you want to do what you can to not have that feeling again,” defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “We know how bad it feels to go home early, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

General manager Kyle Dubas added some size, grit and experience with Foligno and fellow forwards Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds, along with 2020 Cup-winning defenseman Zach Bogosian. The goal was to add some more willpower to the skill provided by Matthews, captain John Tavares, Mitch Marner and more.

“It’s a little more well-rounded,” said defenseman Jake Muzzin, who won with L.A. in 2014. “We brought in some guys who are a little grittier, some veteran guys who’ve been around and seen some stuff, and the young guys have learned.”

Toronto isn’t the only scene of some crash-course learning. Edmonton and Winnipeg each got bounced from the playoff bubble in the qualifying round last summer.

“This team’s in a different spot than we were even a year ago,” Oilers goaltender Mike Smith said. “But saying that, it’s playoff hockey. Winnipeg’s a great team. They’re not in the playoffs by accident, so it’s going to be a dogfight and anything can happen.”

McDavid’s response as Oilers captain was to post a league-best 105 points in 56 games. The Jets’ best — only? — chance of advancing is containing McDavid and reigning MVP Leon Draisaitl.

“I’m definitely very excited for the opportunity and excited for the challenge, and I know those guys are, as well,” Winnipeg center Mark Scheifele said. “It’s fun to play against the best. Both those guys prove day in and day out how they’re the best players in the world, and you have to be at your best every single shift against them or they’re going to make you pay.”

The same goes for Matthews against Montreal, which is expected to get starting goalie Carey Price back from a concussion. Price is aware of what Matthews can do, but he is also capable of being the X-factor for the Canadiens to spring an upset.

“That’s what makes the playoffs so much fun — it’s those opportunities,” Price said. “They don’t come as often as people think. Everybody wants to be that guy. It’s a chance to prove yourself.”

For one of these teams lies a chance to join the ’93 Canadiens in hockey history. Thornton, who has been in the NHL since 1997, is trying to lift the Cup for the first time.

“All you want is get into the final 16, and here we are,” Thornton said. “Everybody should have that chance, and we have a chance right now.

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    Hughes has first NHL hat trick, Devils beat Capitals 5-1

    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
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    NEWARK, N.J. – Jack Hughes had his first career NHL hat trick, Vitek Vanecek made 38 saves against his former team and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Saturday for coach Lindy Ruff’s 800th victory.

    “It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “Couple of two-goal games in my career, so nice to cap it off with the third one tonight.”

    Ruff became the fifth NHL coach to reach the 800-victory mark. The former Buffalo player won 571 games with the Sabres from 1997-2011. He had 165 wins in five seasons with Dallas and has 64 in two-plus seasons with New Jersey.

    “It means I’ve been around a long time,” Ruff cracked. “Great to win the game. Again, you got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there.”

    The Atlantic Division-leading Devils have won two in a row after seeing their franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped by Toronto.

    Devils captain Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund also scored.

    John Carlson scored for Washington and Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves.

    “Not scoring goals, not capitalizing on our chances,” Carlson said. “We’ve had our chances, especially today, but we only walked away with one goal. We could have had five or six. It’s just not going in right now.”

    Vanecek, meanwhile, was hoping for the shutout against a familiar foe.

    “That would have been nice, but that’s hockey,” Vanecek said, “For sure you’re trying, but not every time; the win is more important.”

    Hischier opened up the scoring with his 10th goal of the season midway through the first period on a power play after Alexander Ovechkin was called for slashing.

    Hughes wrapped the puck around goalie Lindgren’s right leg and the goal post to put the Devils up 2-0 5:59 into the second period. Hughes appeared to have lost his angle on the goal when he ripped a shot off Lindgren’s face mask and into the net midway through the period for his 10th goal of the season to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

    The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick added his third midway through the third period as hats rained down on the ice with New Jersey up 4-0.

    “You want to continue to play the right way, but if an opportunity comes you want to definitely put it in the back of the net with authority,” Hughes said. “So tonight, I was able to cap it off and it was nice.”

    Fabian Zetterlund capped the scoring for New Jersey late in the third period.

    NOTES: The Devils improved to 16-0-0 this season when Hischier has a point. New Jersey’s Nathan Bastain (upper body) did not return after the first period. . Ovechkin is still nine goals away from 800 and 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL goals list.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: At Vancouver on Tuesday night.

    Devils: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.

    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.