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When hub hosts Toronto and Edmonton joined Winnipeg in checking out of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, it looked like Canada’s bubble had burst barely before the teams had all entered the bubbles.
The nation that is in the process of playing host to every single game of the NHL playoffs in 95 years had entered six teams in the 24-team unique version of the tournament that thanks to the coronavirus pandemic is being held in August and September without fans. And the Maple Leafs, Oilers and Jets were Qualifying Series favorites.
There was hope.
Then there was nope, nope and nope.
But the country that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since the Oilers won five from 1984 to 1990, the Flames won one in 1989 and the Montreal Canadiens paraded it down “the usual route” one last time in 1993, hasn’t won one since, Friday found a heaping helping of hope from the “leftovers.”
Who would have figured that best-of-five ‘play-in’ survivors Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and 24th-seeded Montreal would take the national focus off the depression involving the departed disappointments and create excitement like they did Friday.
All three Canadian teams played and were still standing tall after Friday’s schedule.
Vancouver, a team that has been out of the playoffs for the last four seasons and has never won a Stanley Cup, won 4-3 in overtime to go up 2-0 against the defending champion St. Louis Blues.
Calgary, first-round Flame-outs who haven’t won a playoff series in five years and only one in the last 16 years, backed by shutout goaltending from Cam Talbot, blanked the Dallas Stars 2-0 to go up 2-1 in their series.
And Montreal, with Carey Price continuing his heroics from the Qualifying Series upset over Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, shocked the hockey world with a 5-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers to even that series.
When was the last time Canada had a 3-0 day at the Stanley Cup playoffs?
So what’s happening here?
While there are plenty of other storylines with each team, at the centre of each is goaltending. You need to have great goaltending to be successful in the Stanley Cup playoffs and all three Canadian teams have been getting it.
Talbot, who shutout Winnipeg to eliminate the Jets from the Qualifying Series, was the man of the match for Calgary again.
“He was outstanding. He was the reason why we won the hockey game,” said head coach Geoff Ward who went back to the goaltender who backstopped the Oilers to Game 7 of the Pacific Division final in 2017.
“He’s been real good for us. We had no qualms at all,” said Ward of sticking with Talbot after the Flames 5-4 loss in Game 2.
“There wasn’t even a question of changing goalies. He’s been so solid for us. We had confidence he’d come out and battle hard for us in the net to give us a chance to win. He certainly did that. He was the difference in the hockey game.”
Considering his history here, this is turning into a triumph for Talbot who stopped 35 shots to become the third Flames goaltended to record multiple shutouts in a single post season, joining Miikka Kiprusoff who had five in 2004 and Mike Vernon who had three in 1989.
You should know that when a best-of-seven series is tied 1-1 the winner of Game 3 owns an all-time series record of 215-106. If the Flames continue to roll behind Talbot, it won’t be long now before Calgarians will be driving to Edmonton just to drive around town with their team flags flying.
While the storyline for Montreal was on losing coach Claude Julien being hospitalized to have a stent placed in a coronary artery and Kirk Muller taking over behind the bench, goaltender Carey Price produced the clean sheet in goal.
“Carey is our best player every single night. He’s a rocks for us and is continuing to do that,” was the quote-unquote from Canadiens Ben Chariot.
Price turned aside all 30 shots he faced to record his seventh playoff shutout, third most in Canadiens history. One Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden had more with 10 each.
While Bo Horvat is the story in Vancouver with two goals in each of the first two games against the Blues, Canucks 30-year-old goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who made 34 saves Friday night, hasn’t been such a shabby story himself.
He’s in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time.
The Canucks have now won five straight games since losing Game 1 to the Minnesota Wild in the Qualifying Series opener and you should know that teams that take a 2-0 series lead in a best-of-seven series hold an all-time series record of 324-51.
Just when it looked like the storyline was going to be ‘No Canada’ early in the Stanley Cup again, it has become ‘O Canada’ until further notice.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020