Coming off one of the most exhilarating NHL playoff pushes in recent memory, I am relieved to say that it is finally time for fans to catch their breath. The race is over at last, and the battle is about to begin! Now that the gladiators have been decided, and we know who will be watching from golf course club-houses, there are many fans out there whom, just like those players teeing-off today, are not ready for their hockey season to be over.
The bad news is that you and your team have been left out in the cold, the good news is that there are some teams still in it, inviting you to come in and warm yourselves by their fire, no matter how deep your hatred for them might be! We begin with the Canadian teams, since there are so many of them in attendance this post-season, and no shortage of rivalries between teams on both sides of the playoff picture.
Edmonton and Toronto, along with many fans of the eliminated American teams will be in the market for teams to cheer for, and while it might seem against nature for some of them to do so, I suggest narrowing your search by focusing on a Canadian team. As difficult as it might be for Oilers supporters to cheer for the Flames, or Leafs nation to root for Ottawa, or fans of American teams to cheer for one north of the border, it’s just like willing yourselves to watch any of your own teams’ games this past season- you need to find a reason! I’m not asking you to love them, but for argument’s sake, it would be nice to bring the Stanley Cup back home to Canada for the first time since 1993.
The Ottawa Senators- A Cinderella Story
Love them or hate them, the Senators have been impossible to ignore lately. From their unexpected success en route to an improbable playoff berth, to their games resembling that of a sequel to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs; Thanks to a goaltender nobody saw coming, Ottawa has earned your admiration!
Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond came onto the scene when starter Craig Anderson went down with a hand injury. Nobody expected the rookie would go undefeated for as long as he did, posting a 20-2-1 record since he first suited up, helping the Sens secure a 21-3-3 record in their final 27 games, and of course, punching Ottawa’s ticket to the dance when it came down to the final game of the season. I don’t care which team you’re a fan of, if you’re a true hockey fan, that is incredibly impressive!
Mark Stone is another reason to catch some Sens games this post-season. Just like he did in the World Juniors, this rookie is lighting up the scoreboard down the stretch, including 2 goals on Saturday afternoon to secure a win in Philadelphia, when Ottawa desperately needed a point to land a spot! How can you not want to see this team go the distance?
The Winnipeg Jets -The Underdog
The Jets are like the foster child of the NHL. The franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007, back when they were the Atlanta Thrashers, and the fans in Winnipeg haven’t seen live playoff hockey since 1996, when their team first relocated to Phoenix.
For a team lacking an identity for so long, Jets fans have shown the NHL exactly what they are made of, and it is now reflected by the team that General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been building since 2011. The Whiteout that will be created by the amazing fans in Winnipeg will make it even more difficult for visiting teams to play there than it was during the regular season. The Jets’ push for the playoffs was highlighted by a 13-2-2 run on home ice in the second half of the season, against some of the toughest teams in the NHL down the stretch, proving just how frustrating the deafening and over-crowded MTS Centre can be to play in when it’s not your house. So if your hatred for some of the other teams is just too strong, the Jets are a good “Swiss” candidate for your playoff affections, having belonged both to Canada, and to the United States. Without a real rivalry with any team in the NHL, from Dustin Byfuglien to Andrej Pavelec, the Jets are poised to perform in a way that just might create a whole new one!
The Vancouver Canucks - The Mental Case
Speaking of home-ice advantage, the Vancouver Canucks might be the only team in the NHL to which that poses a real physical threat! The more games they have on home ice, the more likely they are to lose on home-ice, increasing the odds of their fans burning the city to the ground.
All joking aside, it might be easier for Oilers fans to cheer for the Canucks, especially in round one, since they will be hosting their biggest and provincial rival, the Calgary Flames. Although they would be hard-pressed to cheer for either team, as would most NHL fans. Leafs and Canucks fans do seem to have a deep-seated hate for one another, but again, this is all about finding a reason, any reason. Perhaps a rise of common ground would lure you in? If there is one thing that Toronto fans and Vancouver fans do share, it is their intense distaste for the Boston Bruins, and if you are a fan of either team, you know exactly why your blood pressure just increased. Hockey lovers who are looking for a reason to like the Cancuks and aren’t already fans, needn’t look farther than their goaltending duo, Eddie Lack and Ryan Miller.
Truth be told, the Canucks will probably have the most trouble of any of these teams to lure in stray fans for the postseason. Besides Edmonton and Calgary, the Canucks other big rivals include the San Jose Sharks, the L.A. Kings, the Chicago Blackhawks, and of course, the Boston Bruins! The hatred is wide-spread, so jumping on the Canucks bandwagon could make for a lonely ride anywhere outside of British Columbia.
The Calgary Flames- David and Goliath
If you still can’t stand the Canucks, why not take a dip in the Sea of Red? Nobody would have predicted six months ago, that the Flames would be where they are now- in the playoffs! If that is not unbelievable enough, they took down the defending Champs to secure their spot in the post-season, simultaneously erasing the possibility of a repeat crown for the L.A. Kings.
They haven’t made the playoffs in six years, and in a die-hard hockey city like Calgary, we too here in Toronto can sympathize, that seems like an eternity. The fans in Calgary make watching Flames games more entertaining. The way Scotiabank Saddledome erupts with every goal, their supporters make it look like the arena is on fire, and it’s enough make any fan want to stand up and join in! The Flames are getting contributions from places and players some never thought possible. They are unpredictable, but seemingly capable of anything. Following this team through the playoffs could not only be a solid investment in entertainment, it might just turn you into a long-time fan!
The Montreal Canadiens- Old Reliable
If what you are looking for throughout this postseason is for the team you are cheering for to have a long, successful playoff run, the Montreal Canadiens could be the horse on which to place our bet. Statistics certainly speak for themselves, and it is no secret that the Habs have had a consistent season, winning the Atlantic Divisions and finishing second overall with 110 points. Something else that speaks volumes about a teams’ success? History. Montreal has far more Stanley Cups than any other team in the league with 24. So even if you do admit that you’re cheering for them this post-season, at least there is a decent argument as to why you would do such a thing!
Carey Price and Pekka Rinne down in Nashville have been battling it out for the King of the Cage for most of the season, which alone makes both teams worth watching. For the Habs, Carey Price is worth cheering for all on his own. He hit the 44 wins mark this season, breaking the record of 42 set and met by Canadiens’ greats Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden, respectively. He is said by many to be the main reason that the Habs have had the confidence, and the ability to triumph during the regular season. If his recent success isn’t enough for you to cheer for him, remember that he has also been a valuable member of team Canada throughout his entire hockey career, contributing to many National and International Championships at multiple levels.
Not convinced to put your eggs in any of these teams’ baskets? Perhaps an American team with a playoff dream could win you over…to be continued…
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