It has been 26 long years since Canada hoisted the Stanley Cup, but all of a sudden, many of Canada’s NHL teams have become top contenders. At the start of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs were the joint-favorites with the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Cup, with the Winnipeg Jets a few points back.
Now, the Bolts have steamed ahead of the rest of the NHL, looking destined to conquer the Eastern Conference in the playoffs and meet the best of the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. While the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks look to be very real threats in the postseason, the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames look to be the biggest contenders, with the Flames looking just that little bit more potent than the Jets.
With five of their players in the top 30 players in the NHL for points after 48 games – Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, and Mark Giordano – there’s no stopping the Flames right now.
Is history repeating itself?
Source: Sportsnet, via Twitter
The Calgary Flames have enjoyed a blistering first half of the season, leading them to lead the Pacific Division with a 30-13-5 record and a +39 goal difference – which only trails that of the Lightning. The biggest contributors to this success is the ever-improving, already elite-level partnership of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. With a combined 129 points at the 48-game mark, and linemate Elias Lindholm raking in 55 points in that time, the dynamic duo has put teams to bed almost singlehandedly at times.
This season saw the Flames have their best NHL start since 1988/89, which is when they last won the Stanley Cup. It’s the virulent nature of the offense which mostly covered for the early season struggles of former go-to starting goaltender Mike Smith, as well as the growing pains of David Rittich as he gets more time in the crease.
Now, the team looks very well-balanced and poised for greatness this season. According to the NHL betting odds, the Flames are at +800, joint-second favorites, to win the Stanley Cup, only behind the Lightning. With the Flames and the Jets at +800, the Maple Leafs are fourth-favorites at +900. Even if the Flames don’t pull it off, the experts foresee Canada having a strong showing in the playoffs with three very highly-rated teams.
It all comes down to the Finals
Source: Tampa Bay Lightning, via Twitter
By virtue of being in the opposite division to the Tampa Bay Lightning, it would be fair to say that the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets have a better chance of winning the Stanley Cup than the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Buds could pull off a huge upset but it doesn’t look to be on the cards just yet. If they improve their defensive corps significantly at the trade deadline, they’ll be in with a better shot.
Right now, however, Canada’s hopes look mostly to be settling in Calgary and Winnipeg in the hope that the huge occasion of the Stanley Cup Finals can throw off the Bolts and allow the somewhat inferior rosters of the Jets or Flames to take the glory.