Nine long years.
That’s how much time has passed since as many as five Canadian-based teams made the Stanley Cup playoffs.
If the season ended now, there would be five in the post-season, including Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Toronto in the Eastern Conference and Vancouver in the west.
Only Edmonton and Calgary would be left out, although heading into Monday’s games the Oilers were just two points behind eighth-place San Jose in the West and four points out of first place in the Northwest Division. The Flames were another two points back.
“It’s great to see,” Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges said. “Canada’s been longing for a team to win a Cup and when you have more teams in the playoffs, obviously the odds are a lot greater.”
However, it is not like Gorges or any other player is rooting for fellow Canadian teams to make it. They’re only concerned about getting their own teams over the hump.
“It’s exciting, but that’s about it,” added Gorges. “I’m worried about us. I don’t care whether the other teams make it or not, to be honest.”
His teammates said much the same, but that mindset could change if they get into the amped-up atmosphere and media coverage of a playoff series between two Canadian teams.
It hasn’t happened since five clubs made it in 2004.
That year, the Flames downed the Canucks in the first round en route to the Stanley Cup final, where they lost in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The same year, the Maple Leafs beat the Senators in the first round before bowing out to Philadelphia in a conference semifinal. It was the fourth time in a five-year span Toronto downed Ottawa in the post-season.
Montreal also made it in 2004 and beat Boston in the first round before losing to Tampa Bay.
The Canadiens, the last Canadian team to win a Stanley Cup in 1993, are battling for first place in the conference with a 19-5-4 record heading into a game Tuesday night against Buffalo.
With 20 games left to play, only a major collapse would keep them out of the post-season.
It’s dicier for the other Eastern Conference clubs.
The Jets (15-12-2) are battling Carolina for first place in the Southeast Division. If they hold on, it will give them third spot in the conference and put the franchise, formerly the Atlanta Thrashers, into the post-season for only the second time in its 13-year history.
An exhausted Winnipeg ended a three-game winning run with a 4-1 loss in Ottawa on Sunday that was their fifth game in eight days, but start a four-game homestand Tuesday night against Boston.
The Senators (15-8-6), already without star forward Jason Spezza, appeared to have their hopes dashed when Norris Trophy defenceman Erik Karlsson’s season ended with a sliced Achilles tendon on Feb. 13. When goalie Craig Anderson went down with a sprained ankle on Feb. 21, they looked dead line the water.
But goalies Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop stepped up, as did defenceman Sergei Gonchar, who has a seven-game point streak, and flashy winger Jakob Silfverberg. Ottawa has maintained a 10-1-3 home record and is 2-0-2 in its last four to move into fifth place.
The Leafs (15-12-2) got off to a hot start despite the loss of top line winger Joffrey Lupul three games into the season, but have tailed off alarmingly in the last two weeks. They are 0-3-2 in their last five, although Lupul has returned.
Toronto has not made the playoffs in seven years since the 2004-05 lockout.
The Canucks (13-8-6) are coming off consecutive seasons of finishing first overall in the 30-team league but they are in a battle with Minnesota just to win the Northwest Division this season.
They were 3-3-2 in March heading into a showdown with the Wild on Monday night.
It has been three years for Calgary and six for Edmonton since they last played in the post-season.