Resurgent Canadians eye Stanley Cup redemption


Los Angeles (AFP) - One year after a humiliating absence from the NHL post-season, Canada is back in force for the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The 2016 shut-out of Canadian clubs, a first since 1970 and a national disaster for the ice hockey-mad country, is long forgotten with five Canadian teams among the 16 in the playoffs that begin on Wednesday.

That includes the Edmonton Oilers and their 20-year-old forward phenom Connor McDavid, who have home-ice advantage in their first-round match-up with the San Jose Sharks.

McDavid reached the 100-point mark in the Oilers' final game of the regular season, becoming the sixth-youngest player to reach the plateau behind such greats as Wayne Gretzky Mario Lemieux and superstar Sidney Crosby.

The Montreal Canadiens finished in a promising fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Habs, 24-time winners of the Stanley Cup, are counting on goaltender Carey Price, who missed most of last season with an injury. In the first round they aim to avenge their loss to the New York Rangers in the conference finals of three years ago.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames are outsiders, the Leafs going up against the Washington Capitals and the Flames taking on the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ottawa Senators will take on the Boston Bruins.

The reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins open the post-season against the Columbus Blue Jackets. For their Canadian captain Sidney Crosby, history is on the line, although Crosby is assiduously shrugging off questions about what it would mean to surpass Mario Lemieux with a third Stanley Cup as captain of the Pens.

"I don't think about it that way at all," Crosby said. "I mean, what he did and everything that he's won is pretty amazing so I don't try to compare myself to him. But knowing that this is my 12th year and I'm probably not going to play another 12 years so you want it."

Crosby earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, winning his second Cup as the Penguins claimed their fourth.

"We have a good group that's back from last year and we have an opportunity just like everyone else," said Crosby, who led the league with 44 regular-season goals. "But you understand the situation and you want to make sure you make the most of every opportunity."

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