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Oilers, Maple Leafs lead NHL’s Canadian revival

Vancouver Canucks v Edmonton Oilers

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 9: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers acknowledges the crowd after being named second star of the game against the Vancouver Canucks on April 9, 2017 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The Oilers won 5-2. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

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The NHL’s two most dynamic stars under 21 play there, and it’s the home of five playoff teams from last season and potentially more this year.

Oh, Canada, home of some pretty good hockey.

Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are at the forefront of a revival north of the 48th parallel two years after no Canadian team made the Stanley Cup playoffs. McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers, Matthews’ Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames are all in position to qualify again, with the young Winnipeg Jets looking like a contender, too.

“It’s great for hockey when you got the Canadian teams, they’re fighting for playoff spots and they’re in the playoffs,” Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau said. “It was two years ago zero teams (made it). Now you can see all those teams are making a push to make the playoffs and hopefully win a Cup eventually.”

No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since Montreal in 1993. If six Canadian teams make the playoffs in 2017-18, it’ll be the first time since then.

Carey Price gives Montreal a shot, Erik Karlsson can work magic with Ottawa and goaltending could make all the difference in Calgary, but it’s Edmonton that gives Canada the best chance of ending the country’s Cup drought. The past 23 times the Cup has been handed out, it has gone to an American team.

“It’ll vary from year to year,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “What’s in the league’s interest is that we have great hockey.”

There’s plenty of that across Canada right now.

McDavid is coming off winning the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP at age 20, and the Oilers have a talented young core with forward Leon Draisaitl, defensemen Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom and goaltender Cam Talbot that looks ready to challenge the big boys in the Western Conference.

“That’s what good teams do, teams that have won, that’s kind of their recipe is draft good players and watch them develop,” McDavid said. “We’re very lucky that way that we have a lot of young faces in Edmonton, as well as a good mix of older guys that have played and been around the league.”

Adding goalie Mike Smith has given the Flames a spark in the Battle of Alberta. The team and city of Calgary are locked in a dispute over a new arena, but on the ice there’s a lot of optimism about a team with Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and a deep defense.

“I’m excited. I know all the guys in Calgary are excited,” Gaudreau said. “For the Flames and Edmonton, it’s a great rivalry. The province gets pretty crazy and excited for those games.”

Things can get pretty crazy in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia, too. In the Eastern Conference, the Canadiens and Maple Leafs being playoff contenders at the same time has led some to dream about the first playoff series between those Original Six teams since 1979.

“It creates good rivalries,” Montreal forward Jonathan Drouin said. “Obviously the Toronto one is good. They’re a good team. You saw it last year. They surprised a lot of people, and they’re going to do the same this year.”

If any Canadian team is a major surprise this season, it’s the Vancouver Canucks, who have a new coach in Travis Green and are expected to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive year. Aging faces of the franchise Daniel and Henrik Sedin remain committed to the Canucks, saying on The Players Tribune, “If we are going to win a Stanley Cup, if we are going to achieve our dream, we’d only want it to be in Vancouver.”

But Vancouver is the anomaly as the Canadiens, Senators, Maple Leafs, Jets, Flames and Oilers can all think playoffs and dream of the Cup.

“It is exciting to see all these Canadian teams taking big steps,” Jets center Mark Scheifele said. “Hopefully we’re at the top of that Canadian list.”