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Canadian fans yearning for end to lengthy NHL championship drought

NHL.com @NHL

Nobody could have envisioned when the Montreal Canadiens hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1993 that it would take so long for another Canadian team to triumph.

When the playoffs begin next April, it will have been 15 years since that last celebration. The previous longest stretch without a Canadian NHL champion was 1936-1941.

Canadian clubs have been getting, oh, so close. Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa made it to the last three finals and fell just short. Well, here we go again.

The puck is about to drop in North America on the league's 90th anniversary campaign and fans of Canada's six teams have high hopes.

Defending-champion Anaheim got things going by splitting two games with Los Angeles in England last weekend and now the other 28 teams are good to go.

There are four games Wednesday night: Ottawa at Toronto, Montreal at Carolina, Anaheim at Detroit and Dallas at Colorado.

On Thursday, Edmonton is at home against San Jose, while Calgary is at home against Philadelphia. Vancouver plays its first game against visiting San Jose on Friday.

Last spring's finalists, Anaheim and Ottawa, are favourites to win it all.

"It's a good feeling to get started off on the right foot," Senators centre Jason Spezza said of his team's 7-0 pre-season record.

Detroit, San Jose, the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh are also considered contenders by sports betting operators.

Vancouver, Calgary, Buffalo, Minnesota and New Jersey are in the next tier. Look way, way down on the odds table at most websites and there's Toronto and Montreal listed at 35-1, and Edmonton at 50-1.

A few dates to remember: the second outdoor game in league history on Jan. 1 in the suburbs of Buffalo, the Jan. 26-27 all-star weekend in Atlanta, CBC Hockey Day In Canada on Feb. 9, and the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

As for individual players, eyes will be riveted on 20-year-old Sidney Crosby of the Penguins as he attempts to continue on the path to greatness. He displays so much colour as a player that he's hockey's rainbow.

"I have always played with emotion and I need to keep playing like that," Crosby said. "As long as I channel it and put it towards the right things, that's what I have to do."

Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier, who led the league with 52 goals last season, and Ottawa's Dany Heatley, who had 50, will attempt to crack the barrier again. Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who scored 46, is a candidate to do it, too.

Chris Chelios will turn 46 on Jan. 25. The league should see to it that he's in that all-star game in Atlanta.

Chelios, Brendan Shanahan, Glen Wesley, Luke Richardson, Mark Recchi, Trevor Linden, Joe Sakic, Teppo Numminen, Rod Brind'Amour, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Modano, Mats Sundin and Martin Gelinas are the NHL's elder statesmen having played more than 1,200 games each. Modano is about to own the record for most points by an American-born player.

There will be some outstanding rookie forwards to watch progress - Nick Foligno of the Senators, Sam Gagner with the Oilers, Jonathan Toews and Pat Kane with the Blackhawks and David Perron of the Blues to name just a few.

Foligno's father, former NHL forward Mike Foligno who played for the Leafs, mom Janis, sisters Cara and Lisa and brother Marcus are all going to be at the Air Canada Centre for his debut Wednesday night.

"It's a bit surreal," he said. "To have your family there is special.

"It's obviously very special. There's some (family) history there. Hopefully I play well."

Jack Johnson is one of the most highly-regarded defencemen to break into the league in years, and Kings teammate Jonathan Bernier has made an instant impression in the nets.

Subplots concerning coaches include Scene 8 in Calgary of Mike Keenan's coaching act, and the beginning of the Brent Sutter era in New Jersey.

Maybe, just maybe, after 1,230 games plus playoffs, the Stanley Cup will be won by a Canadian team for the first time since 1993.

"There's 30 teams in the NHL and only one wins every year," said Leafs forward Darcy Tucker. "It's a long season.

"Everybody has to battle through injuries and adversity and the team that does it the best comes out on top. We're one of six Canadian teams that are in that battle and we expect ourselves to be one of those teams fighting for the championship this year."

Optimism always reigns supreme in early October.

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