Rather hard to imagine already, but it's the final week of the NHL's regular season. And if you happen to be living north of the border or are a fan of a Canadian hockey team, well, sucks for you. That's because all seven teams from that country will miss the playoffs. It's the first time since 1970 that no Canadian team will compete for Lord Stanley's Cup. Back then, the only Canadian teams in the 12-team league were Montreal and Toronto, two of the Original Six franchises. Five Canadian teams made the playoffs last year: the Canadiens, Senators, Canucks, Flames and Jets. But those teams were a combined 15-24, with none advancing beyond the second round. In 2014, Montreal was the only Canadian club in the playoffs.
The Canadiens began this season looking like a lock playoff team and a legitimate Cup contender. They finished second in the NHL last year with 110 points and had the reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy winner in goaltender Carey Price back. The Habs started the 2015-16 season 19-4-3, but a long-term injury to Price led to a crash. Montreal is the last team from Canada to win the Cup in 1993.
It's going to be a financial hit all over the country. Obviously sports bars might now get fewer patrons if there are no Canadian teams to root for (or against, I suppose). Three years ago, Rogers Sportsnet signed a 12-year, $5.2 billion deal for rights to NHL games. Clearly ratings are going to go down now. At least all of the Canadian teams now a chance to get the No. 1 pick in this year's draft and take Auston Matthews -- who is an American, by the way. And there's always the World Cup of Hockey in September in which Canada will be favored. That eight-team tournament, staged for the first time since 2004, is being played in Toronto.
Big Loss For Bolts
Any realistic chance Tampa Bay had of repeating as Eastern Conference champion went out the window over the weekend with the news that superstar captain Steve Stamkos would miss anywhere from 1-3 months with a blood clot near his right collarbone. He had surgery on Monday and may have played his last game as a member of the franchise with free agency upcoming. Stamkos leads the Lightning with 36 goals and is tied with Nikita Kucherov for the lead with 64 points. Stamkos has averaged 0.59 goals per game since the 2009-10 season, tied with Washington's Alex Ovechkin for No. 1 in the NHL.
The Bolts also will be without one of their top defensemen, Anton Stralman, for at least another month with a fractured left leg. He had nine goals and 25 assists and was plus-16 while playing 22:05 minutes per night. You aren't winning the East without those two.
The team that beat Tampa in last year's Cup Finals, Chicago, also is starting to look doubtful of returning. Other than a 12-game winning streak earlier this season, the Hawks have been very mediocre. They will play the rest of the regular season without both goalie Corey Crawford and No. 1 defenseman Duncan Keith. Crawford hasn't played since March 14 because of an upper-body injury. The Hawks do expect him for the playoffs, and it's possible Crawford gets one game under his belt before then. Keith is suspended through Chicago's first playoff game. He didn't appeal the NHL's decision and was probably lucky he only got six games for hitting Minnesota's Charlie Coyle in the face with his stick on March 25.
The Hawks are going to open the postseason most likely at either Dallas or St. Louis. Chicago is +750 at Bovada to win another Cup and Tampa now way up at +2000.
This Week's Games To Watch
Colorado at Nashville & San Jose at Minnesota, Tuesday: I'm pairing these two games because the Avalanche and Wild are battling for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Minnesota has a five-point lead over the Avs, who have a game in hand. The Wild could have clinched Sunday but laid an egg in Winnipeg in dropping their third straight game. They would have to lose this game and Saturday at home vs. Calgary and the Avs win two of their final three for Colorado to get in. The Avalanche finish up at Dallas and home to Anaheim. So I don't see them winning each of those. Colorado is a +185 underdog against the Predators and the Wild are -123 favorites over the Sharks. Both Nashville and San Jose have clinched playoff spots.
Philadelphia at Detroit, Wednesday: This game is on the NBC Sports Network. Neither the Flyers nor Red Wings have clinched a playoff spot yet. Detroit has made the playoffs 24 straight seasons, easily the longest active streak in the four major American pro sports. As of Monday, the Wings hold a one-point lead over Boston for third in the Atlantic Division. The third-place team is automatically in. The Flyers hold the final wild-card spot with 90 points, but that's just one more than Boston, which is the first team out. Philly has won two one-goal games vs. the Wings this season. Detroit then has another big one Thursday in Boston before closing at the Rangers. Philly finishes vs. Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh and Sunday at the Islanders.
St. Louis at Chicago, Thursday: St. Louis will make its push for the Central Division title without forward David Backes and goalie Jake Allen. Both have been ruled out the rest of the regular season and will be re-evaluated before the playoffs. Backes is second on the club with 21 goals and fourth with 45 points overall. Allen has appeared in 47 games this season, posting a 26-15-3 record. He has a .920 save percentage, 2.35 goals-against average and is second in the NHL with six shutouts. But the Blues have another good goalie in Brian Elliott. Meanwhile, it's all but a sure thing only one player in the league this season gets to triple-digit points, and that's Chicago's Patrick Kane. He got to 100 points on Sunday with a hat trick and an assist against Boston. Kane is the first American-born player since Doug Weight in 1995-96 to record 100 points in a season. Kane joins the Penguins' Sidney Crosby (104 in 2013-14) and Evgeni Malkin (109 in 2011-12) as the only players to reach 100 points in the past five seasons. He's the first Blackhawk to do it since Jeremy Roenick in 1993-94. Kane is a lock to win the scoring title as he's 12 points ahead of No. 2 Jamie Benn. But Kane's 43 goals are two behind the Capitals' Ovechkin.
Anaheim at Los Angeles, Thursday: This game could be for the Pacific Division title and a first-round playoff matchup against first wild-card team Nashville. The Ducks lead the Kings by one point and both have four left (L.A. was in Vancouver on Monday). This matchup starts a three-game road trip for Anaheim, which then goes to Colorado and Washington. The Avs might not have anything to play for then and the Caps certainly don't. The Kings are home to Winnipeg on Saturday to close the regular season. If the Kings were to win the Pacific Division, it'd be their first division title since the 1990-91 season and just their second in franchise history. The Kings are +350 Western Conference favorites. The Ducks, who are +500 for the conference title, have won the division each of the past three years. Anaheim leads the season series 3-1 with L.A. so it takes any tiebreaker.
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