Monday, November 2, 2020

Every all-Canadian playoff series of the modern era, ranked

While nothing is official, it sure sounds like there’s a good chance we’re going to get a temporary all-Canadian division this season. That would be pretty crazy, giving us a one-time opportunity to see all seven of the country’s teams fight it out for national bragging rights.

It would also presumably mean we’d be guaranteed to see four Canadian playoff teams, who’d face each other over the first two rounds. That would make for three all-Canadian series, the first time since 1987 that we’ve had that many in one year.

That’s going to be a lot of fun, right up until we all strangle each other. So today, let’s get hyped for some national rivalries with a ranking of every all-Canadian playoff matchup of the modern post-1967 era. There have been 44 such matchups, which sounds like a lot until you realize that it averages out to less than one per season. And as you’d expect, some have been better than others.

We’re looking for all the things that add up to an entertaining series: A close matchup, big star power, as many games as possible, at least a few overtimes, and a dramatic twist or two. We’ll start from the bottom and work our way up to the best all-Canadian matchup in modern history.

(And I’ll give you fair warning: I’m a little surprised about where I wound up.)

44. Oilers 4, Jets 0 – 1987 division final
43. Oilers 4, Jets 0 – 1985 division final
42. Oilers 3, Jets 0 – 1983 division semifinal
41. Oilers 3, Jets 0 – 1984 division semifinal

We’ll start with a recurring genre that fans became way too familiar with during the 1980s: The plucky Winnipeg Jets facing the powerhouse Oilers and just straight-up getting their doors kicked in.

Seriously, look at those results. Four straight series, played over a span of five years, with the Oilers sweeping all four. That’s 14 straight wins, if you’re keeping count. The Jets often kept it close – two of those 14 Oilers wins came into overtime, and more than half were by one or two goals. But that just made it worse. The Jets always seemed like they were this close to having a chance. Then they’d lose, again, like always. By the end, you just wanted this matchup to stop.

40. Oilers 3, Canucks 0 – 1986 division semifinal

The Oilers took a temporary break from embarrassing the Jets to embarrass the Canucks instead. Vancouver was outscored 17-5, then responded by trading point-less winger Cam Neely to the Bruins for Barry Pederson.

39. Flames 3, Jets 0 – 1986 preliminary round

I know, it feels like we’re picking on the Jets. I promise, they have won a playoff game before. Just not in this series, which saw Winnipeg waste a five-point performance by defensive defenseman Mario Marois. Did I mention that the mid-80s Smythe Division produced a lot of mismatches? It did.

38. Oilers 3, Canadiens 0 – 1981 preliminary round

In theory, this should have been legendary. You had the Canadiens, just two year removed from winning four straight Cups, facing an Oilers teams on the verge of something special. Gretzky, Messier and Coffey vs. Lafleur, Robinson and Shutt. But the series was a bust, with the Oilers rolling to an easy sweep. The entire Canadiens team combined for 12 points in the three games while Gretzky on his own had 11.

37. Canucks 3, Flames 0 – 1982 division semifinal

Both teams were under .500 and there wasn’t much in the way of star power, but the retroactive fun factor of it being the start of the Canucks’ unlikely run to the final is enough to keep it out of the running for last spot.

36. Oilers 4, Flames 0 – 1988 division final

Even the best rivalry of the era can produce the occasional dud, as what turned out to be the last Battle of Alberta of the Gretzky era ended in a disappointing whitewash. Fun fact, this was the last all-Canadian series to end in a sweep for 23 years, until our next entry …

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