Josh Morrissey remembers the city coming to life before his eyes.

A nine-year-old Flames fan in the spring of 2004, he was captivated by every Jarome Iginla chance and Miikka Kiprusoff save during Calgary's run to the Stanley Cup final.

“It was just an awesome experience,” said Morrissey, now a star defenceman for the Winnipeg Jets. “Living and dying on every win and loss.”

Hockey fans across Canada are once again preparing themselves to experience that annual thrill and torment.

The Jets, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs make up the north-of-the-border contingent set to embark on the 16-team race for the sport's silver chalice when the playoffs open Saturday.

Morrisey was far too young to hit Calgary's electric “Red Mile” after games 20 years ago, but could feel the pulsating energy in his hometown as the Flames advanced through three gruelling rounds to the final.

“That's the best part about Canadian teams doing well in the playoffs … it means so much,” he added. “A special time of the year. The longer you go, the more that excitement ramps up. It can really mean a lot to the cities.

“I know as a kid, it meant a ton to me.”

Canada's well-documented Cup drought dates back to Montreal's triumph in 1993. The Canucks (twice), Flames, Oilers, Canadiens and Ottawa Senators have all made it to the final since only to fall short.

The four Canadian clubs in this year's post-season tournament represent the most to make the cut in a normal campaign since 2017.

Vancouver defenceman Carson Soucy, who grew up southeast of Edmonton in Irma, Alta., remembers the Oilers' march to the 2006 final.

“That was when they came out with the car window flags,” he said. “They were everywhere … those were popular that year.”

He added it would be “insane” to bring the Cup back through customs.

“It'd be crazy, honestly, just the support, I think from all of Canada - maybe besides a couple of rivalry teams,” Soucy said. “I think Canadians, in general, would be so pumped to have a Canadian team have it back.”

Jets blueliner Brenden Dillon grew up a Canucks fan and was in the city when the team lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the 2011 final.

“There really is nothing like playoff hockey (in Canada),” said the New Westminster, B.C., product. “Everyone bonds together.”

Vancouver blueliner Noah Juulsen, who grew up in nearby Abbotsford, B.C., also enjoyed the 2011 run as a fan, but remembers the black eye that came afterwards.

“The riot,” he said. “Not the best memory you want, but it is a memory.”

Leafs defenceman Simon Benoit, who grew up in the Montreal suburb of Laval, recalls watching his Canadiens go on a couple playoff runs when he was a kid.

“Having a chance here to play for that Cup, it's pretty special,” he said of this opportunity with Toronto. “I'm pretty excited about it. When the time comes, I'll be ready.”

Edmonton Oilers centre Adam Henrique is set to play his first playoffs on home soil after making the 2018 final with the New Jersey Devils.

“You see the passion in the fan base,” said the native of Brantford, Ont. “I've certainly watched in the past, and even on TV you can see it and feel that emotion.”

Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet won the Cup as a player with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992. He said the team that brings hockey's holy grail home will have bragging rights for a long time.

“It's going to be a hell of a party,” he said. “You might be Canada's team after that Stanley Cup. There's a lot at stake for the Canadian teams that are in. As a Canadian, it could be huge.

“That would be the ultimate, right?”

Like so many Canadian fans over the last 30 years, Morrissey was left bitterly disappointed when the Flames bowed out in Game 7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning two decades ago.

“I remember being just absolutely devastated,” he said.

But there were plenty of good times along the way.

“My friends and I from that era still talk about some of the games,” Morrissey continued. “It lives on for a long time.”

The glow of a Cup victory would last even longer.

-With files from Judy Owen in Winnipeg, Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver, and Steven Sandor in Edmonton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2024.