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Edmonton Oilers forward Warren Foegele, left, and Vancouver Canucks defensemen Tyler Myers chase a loose puck in game six of the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place, in Edmonton on May 18.Perry Nelson/Reuters

The inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League season was a North American project, but it had a national purpose. It was going to prove that Canada can win a top-level pro-hockey championship.

There were three Canadian teams in a six-team league – a 50-50 shot. During the regular season, Toronto and Montreal were the best teams by far.

The postseason set-up was rigged to benefit the top finisher. Toronto was allowed to pick its first-round opponent. The playoffs would be a quick-and-dirty affair – two best-of-fives – presumably favouring the in-form squads.

This is as close as you can get to fixing the system, but Canada still couldn’t get anywhere near closing it out.

Montreal was swept by Boston. Toronto wishes it could have got off that easy. It’s one thing to lose. It’s another thing to lose to a team you don’t rate, because you asked to play them.

The only way to describe what Minnesota did to Toronto is rope-a-dope. It played dead for the first two games, then rolled the rock off its playoff grave and popped out to pull the reverse sweep.

Again, someone has to lose. But after finishing top of a league, does someone have to lose three in a row during which they scored just one goal? Because that’s not losing. That’s surrendering.

Is it possible the Toronto and Montreal women’s teams came into contact with a Canadian NHL team right before the playoffs began? Did someone drop by a dressing room somewhere to pick up a roll of tape? Because whatever’s going on here, it may be contagious.

Still, there’s hope. Canada is being treated now to a fabulous Vancouver-Edmonton series.

At its best, hockey walks a line between Ice Capades and Canadian Gladiator. You want it skilled and vicious at the same time. Canucks vs. Oilers has been that sort of series. Up and down and all over the place. Zero momentum carried over from game to game.

It’s fun to watch. It also looks exhausting. Every time they swing the camera to Connor McDavid on the Oilers bench, he looks like he’s aged a month in the past two shifts.

People you know are probably saying things like, ‘Why can’t the final be this good?’ or ‘Too bad they can’t play best-of-15.’

This is why Canada can’t win anything. This is the final – in Canada. Which is at least as harrowing as an actual final.

Edmonton wins a game and there are a hundred people trying to get into the dressing room afterward to ask a million questions that boil down to one question: ‘Can you promise us that this time it’s for real?’

Dallas wins a game in Dallas and there’s one or two guys standing at the door afterward going, ‘So how was that? Good? We honestly can’t tell the difference.’

In Canada, the NHL playoffs last a month and feel like they go on for a year. In the United States, those numbers are reversed. In most U.S. markets, the playoffs don’t begin until the conference finals. That’s when people who aren’t hockey diehards realize that there is a thing called hockey and that it’s played right there in their hometown.

Two rounds into the playoffs, the Oilers and Canucks are existing 24/7 at an emotional volume of 11. There is no escaping from the long-term consequences of this series, even while those consequences are still being determined. Whoever loses will be gutted – like, literally. Their local press will gut them. Whoever wins gets it worse.

If Vancouver wins, they are the ascendant Canadian team. Their methods will be held up as obviously superior.

Long before it’s over, people will start worrying publicly about how they can capitalize on this magic moment. Who’s going to pay Nikita Zadorov and Arturs Silovs? How are they going to keep this band together? It is in the nature of a Canadian NHL team to agonize about the end game before anything’s been accomplished.

If Edmonton wins, say a prayer for it. It’s going to be so bad when this doesn’t work out again. Everyone understands the problem – Dallas.

Edmonton’s up here grinding the best player in the world to dust with its collective anxiety. Meanwhile, the Stars are down there in Texas, not a worry in the world, paying guys a million bucks a year to play like Jean Béliveau.

If Wyatt Johnston worked in Toronto, the media would be following him to and from the rink each day in a fleet of helicopters. Instead, he lives in a city where his landlord probably doesn’t understand what he does for a living. Something at a gym?

You’re starting to get the bad feeling that the only thing Vancouver and Edmonton are accomplishing is tenderizing each other before one or the other is dropped on the Stars’ plate.

Over in New York, the NHL bandwagon started filling up on Sunday afternoon after the Knicks were eliminated. The Rangers live in the shadow of their Madison Square Garden roommates. Any year they play one more game than the Knicks is a good one for them. The rest of the way, the Rangers are playing with house money.

This is the Joseph Heller-esque predicament of Canadian hockey – we suffocate teams with our love, and then blame them for not living in the moment.

We’re doing it again with the PWHL. For the entire first season, you’ve heard an awful lot about the crowds, and rather less about the players. This is another chance for Canadian hockey fans to celebrate themselves – so devoted, so understanding, so willing to keep showing up for all these chokers.

People call it a curse. It’s more of a prophecy. The watched pot of Canadian hockey will never boil. Instead, everybody marinates forever.

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