Published: 10:46, April 16, 2023 | Updated: 10:46, April 16, 2023
Oh Canada, is this the year the Stanley Cup comes home?
By Reuters

In this file photo taken on Oct 12, 2022, the Stanley Cup sits on a platform on the ice for the Colorado Avalanche championship banner raising ceremony before an NHL hockey game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Chicago Blackhawks, in Denver. (PHOTO / AP)

TORONTO - This year it will fall on the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets to end Canada's national humiliation and a 30-year Stanley Cup drought by bringing home the famous mug to the country that claims to have given birth to the sport.

Not since the Montreal Canadiens beat the Los Angeles Kings in 1993 has the Stanley Cup been paraded through a Canadian city, an ego-deflating run of failure that has scarred a generation of fans.

Teams and cities have weathered championship droughts but it is rare an entire country has suffered through a barren stretch like the one Canadian hockey fans have endured.

Imagine England soccer fans waiting three decades for a Premier League club to win the Champions League and you have some idea of the level of despair.

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While Canadian fans in general have suffered, Maple Leaf supporters have confronted a special kind of hockey hell that has placed them in the company of two of North American sports cursed franchises, the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, who went 108 and 86 years respectively between World Series wins.

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the third period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, California, April 8, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

Canada's best chance of bringing home the Cup may lie with the Oilers, who are led by the NHL's best player Connor McDavid and made it all the way to the Western conference finals last year before losing to eventual champions Colorado

One of the NHL's most storied and valuable franchises, number two on the Forbes list at $2 billion, second only to the New York Rangers, the Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967 when there were only 12 teams in the league.

It is not just the nearly six decades of failure that gnaws away at Leafs supporters but the painful ways the team has found to disappoint.

Toronto has not won a playoff series since 2004, exiting in the first round in each of the last six years.

While the Red Sox could link their struggles to the Curse of the Bambino and the Cubs to the Curse of the Billy Goat, there is no sorcery connecting the Maple Leafs to their misfortune although some have tried to find a reason.

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For a few, the "Hillman Hex" was the root of all Toronto's troubles.

After winning the Stanley Cup in 1967, Maple Leafs defenceman Larry Hillman allegedly jinxed the team, saying they would not win it again until the club settled a contract dispute and paid him the $2,400 plus interest he believed he was owed.

Team president Brendan Shanahan exorcized that threat in 2017, paying Hillman in full, but the drought continues.

The Maple Leafs' big misfortune is playing in the same division as the Boston Bruins, who this season set NHL records for wins (65) and points (135), and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Stanley Cup finalists for the last three years.

These two teams are once again hurdles that must be cleared on the way to a Stanley Cup.

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First up for the Leafs are the Lightning, an aging squad but one packed with playoff experience after winning the Cup in 2021 and 2022 then losing to the Colorado Avalanche in last year's final.

Colorado Avalanche center Evan Rodrigues (left) collects the puck as Winnipeg Jets right wing Nino Niederreiter defends in the second period of an NHL hockey game, April 13, 2023, in Denver. (PHOTO / AP)

Toronto's hopes will rely on an explosive attack led by the league's reigning MVP Auston Matthews and Swede William Nylander, both 40-goals scorer this season, and magician set-up man Mitch Marner.

Canada's best chance of bringing home the Cup may lie with the Oilers, who are led by the NHL's best player Connor McDavid and made it all the way to the Western conference finals last year before losing to eventual champions Colorado.

When the playoffs open on Monday, the Oilers will be the first of the Canadian teams to hit the ice, hosting the Los Angeles Kings in Game One of their best-of-seven series.

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The frontrunner to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player for the second time in three years, McDavid has already added to his trophy case, claiming the Art Ross as the league's scoring champion (153) and Maurice "Rocket" Richard honors for most goals (64).

McDavid's 153 points were the most by any player since the 1995-96 season and 25 more than the next-closest player, team mate Leon Draisaitl.

Other Western Conference first-round best-of-seven matchups will see the Winnipeg Jets face off against the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the Avalanche open the defense of their crown against the Seattle Kraken and the Minnesota Wild meet the Dallas Stars.

In the Eastern Conference, the top-seeded Bruins go against the Florida Panthers while the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils renew the Hudson River Rivalry and Carolina Hurricanes take on the New York Islanders.