Hockey Day in Canada showcases key games for country’s NHL teams

An annual celebration of everything hockey will have extra implications for many Canadian NHL teams this year.Six of the country’s seven squads are still in the hunt for playoff spots, making each of this year’s Hockey Day in Canada matchups an opportunity to collect crucial points.This year’s event is based in Swift Current, Sask., but the highlight takes place in Montreal, where the Canadiens host the Toronto Maple Leafs in a battle that could foreshadow a first-round playoff series.Global NewsHelp us improve GlobalNews.caGlobal NewsTake the survey now!Story continues below

Here’s a look at all four of Saturday’s Hockey Day in Canada contests:Winnipeg Jets (34-17-3) at Ottawa Senators (20-29-5)Hockey Day in Canada has long been a big deal for Senators right-winger Mark Stone.“I still remember when it was in Winnipeg and I was like seven or eight years old, and my dad was one of the guys who got to go on camera and ask Don Cherry a question,” he said Thursday. “I remember thinking that was the coolest thing in the world.”The event is an opportunity to recognize a big part of Canadian culture, said Matt Duchene, a native of Haliburton, Ont.READ MORE: Regina approves funding for NHL Heritage Classic“It just makes you proud to be Canadian. I still love getting on the outdoor rink,” said the Ottawa centre. “When I go home, I have a big bunch of buddies who get together, and we’re always talking hockey and we have a big group chat. It’s been really nice to be able to get home and enjoy those moments.”Stone, Duchene and the rest of the Sens will play the early game on Saturday, taking on the Winnipeg Jets in Ottawa.The Jets are coming off a tough 5-2 loss to the Canadiens on Thursday but still sit atop the Central Division with 71 points.They’ll have to play a different game to beat Ottawa, said Brendan Lemieux.“We just have to be better. And if we clean up our game, we can beat anybody. But if we’re not sharp, this is the NHL and they’re getting paid, too. Anybody can beat us,” the Jets left-winger said after the Montreal loss.Ottawa is lingering at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with just 45 points, but Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck said the team shouldn’t be underestimated.
Toronto Maple Leafs (33-17-3) at Montreal Canadiens (31-18-6)If the hockey season ended today, these longtime rivals would meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1979.Leafs coach Mike Babcock said this is the first time both Toronto and Montreal are excelling since he joined the franchise in 2015.“They’re a team that’s doing well, we’re a team that’s doing well,” he said. “We’d both like to be higher in the standings. It’s an important game. They’re a good hockey club, we’re a good hockey club. Something’s got to give.”The Canadiens sit just a point behind the second-place Leafs in the Atlantic Division standings. Both teams are on three-game winning streaks and neither has lost in regulation since Jan. 20.Facing the Leafs in Toronto will be another “playoff-type game,” said Montreal centre Phillip Danault.“We want to keep getting points to make the playoffs,” he said after the Canadiens’ win over Winnipeg. “We know it’s a really good team. They’re playing well, too. A lot of skill. It’s always been a big battle and rivalry against the Leafs. It’s going to be exciting.”WATCH: Watch as a male TV broadcaster explains hockey to a female Olympic gold medalist