A team from Canada has not won the Stanley Cup since 1993, and although Tampa Bay won 62 games in the NHL this season, only two teams with the most regular season wins went the distance in the playoffs to win the Cup in the last 13 years.
Only a trio of teams “north of the border” qualified for the postseason this year: Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Calgary Flames. Will one of them finally go all the way to win the first Cup for Canada to end a 26-year drought?
Meanwhile, only the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 went wire-to-wire with the best regular season record followed up by a Cup victory. Tampa Bay has history haunting them after a loss the opening game of the playoffs with a 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets rallied from a 3-goal deficit to pull off the Game 1 upset.
The Tampa Bay Lightning obliterated opponents this season with 62 wins. Only one other team in history had more regular season victories.
The Detroit Red Wings, led by Steve Yzerman, broke the record back in 1995-96 when they won 62 games, which eclipsed the previous record of 60 wins by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. During that magical year, the Red Wings scored at least one goal in all 82 games and avoided a shutout.
The 1996 Red Wings ran out of gas in the postseason and were upset by the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference finals.
The current batch of Lighting players are hoping they do not fizzle out in the postseason like the Red Wings 23 years ago.
Underdog Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets won 47 games this season and qualified as a Wild Card team. They were matched up against the top seed and hit the road for the first two games in Tampa. During the regular season, the Blue Jackets were outgunned 17-3. In order to beat the best, they knew they needed to figure out how to increase their scoring output.
The Lighting jumped out to a 3-0 goal lead in the first period. Columbus regrouped at intermission and scored once in the second period to trim the lead to 3-1. Alas, history was against them. The Blue Jackets were only 2-23-1 while trailing heading into the third period. Meanwhile, the Lightning knew how to shut the door with a 39-2-2 clip while leading after the second period.
The Blue Jackets ignored the metrics and saved their best offense for the final period with goals from David Savard, Josh Anderson, and Seth Jones.
“We have to give them credit,” said Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman. “They played hard for 60 minutes. Good thing it’s a best-of-seven. We’ll learn from our mistakes today and make sure we bounce back right.”
Anderson scored a short-handed goal as the equalizer. Then Seth Jones scored on the power play to put the Blue Jackets ahead for good.
Oh, Canada… Maybe This Is the Year?
The Calgary Flames were the best team in the Western Conference this season with 50 wins. Winnipeg finished fourth overall in the West with 47 wins. The Toronto Maple Leafs won 46 games in the East this season.
The Maple Leafs got off to a good start to win Game 1 in Boston against the Bruins. The Jets were tripped by the St. Louis Blues in a low-scoring Game 1.
The Flames came out fired up in Game 1 against the Colorado Avalanche. They won 4-0 and Mike Smith made 26 saves to shutout the Avalanche.
“He played with a lot of juice tonight,” said head coach Bill Peters. “Smith has been doing it for a long time and he has been playing his best hockey the last six weeks. It showed tonight.”
“It’s always nice when your goalie plays the way he did tonight,” Matthew Tkachuk said. “Our team defense was pretty solid. We didn’t give up too much in front of him.”
Smith also got an assist on a Tkachuk empty-net goal late in the third period. Tkachuk, who scored 34 goals this season, scored twice to lock up the opening-game of the series.
According to the South Point Casino and Sports Book in Las Vegas, the Tampa Bay Lightning are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup at +140. The Calgary Flames are 6/1 odds to be the first Canadian team to win the Cup since 1993. The Toronto Maple Leafs are 14/1 odds to win the Cup. The Winnipeg Jets are one of the long shots on the board at 30/1 odds to win the Stanley Cup.