SUN Hockey Pool

All six Canadian teams have chance at playoffs

LANCE HORNBY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

The only thing better than celebrating Hockey Day In Canada yesterday would be six Canadian teams in the playoffs at the close of regular-season play on April 7.

That remains a possibility heading into the all-star break, though such hopes often have been dashed in the waning days of the season. The last all-Canadian final was 1989 between the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens.

"It looks good now, but the way it's going in the standings, four of us could be out tomorrow," Maple Leafs goaltender Andrew Raycroft said jokingly yesterday morning before playing the Vancouver Canucks in the second of three Hockey Day telecasts.

"The three of us (Montreal, Ottawa Senators and Toronto) are in pretty good shape right now and the other three (Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton Oilers) beat up each other like we do."

The Leafs play Montreal on the final Saturday of their season, as do Edmonton and Calgary, while Vancouver is in Phoenix for Game No. 1,230, the last on the schedule.

The new NHL has had a role in keeping the six in contention. Four qualified last season and the Leafs and Canucks just missed at 90 and 92 points respectively.

STRONG

"The salary cap and the (American) exchange (rate) have obviously helped the Canadian teams, where five or six years ago there was talk of losing three or four of them," Raycroft said. "Now they're probably the strongest (six) in the league."

Canucks' Trevor Linden hopes the six-pack is served as well.

"I'm sure it's been a while since it's happened," Linden said, noting that Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver all took turns with playoff droughts in the 1990s.

"It's exciting, because every year now it seems like it comes down to the last week. It would be neat. Come April in Canada, there's nothing better to watch."

Leafs coach Paul Maurice has seen fans in Carolina get Cup fever, but can't equate it to Canada.

"There are some great cities in the states, but the most passionate fans in the world are north of the border," he said. "It would be outstanding to have two months of (playoff) hockey."


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