Perhaps I failed to convince you to support one of the 5 Canadian teams in this years’ Stanley Cup race. In which case, there are a few good stories floating around some of the American teams, hoping to keep the Cup south of the border, where it has been for the past 22 years! A fact in itself that may skew you in the opposite direction simply to even the playing field a little bit.
There are plenty of reasons given by some of these teams that make it more appealing to cheer for them, even if you can’t stand the team in general. Let us being with a dark-horse team, whom I think has the potential to surprise everyone, even more than they did by easily qualifying for the postseason.
The New York Islanders – The Proper Send-off
The Islanders will be playing their final games in Nassau Coliseum during the playoffs, before packing up and heading to Brooklyn next season. They had a good run in Long Island, securing 4 consecutive Stanley Cups in the early 80’s, but it’s time for them to move on and lucky for them, it is at a time that their much-anticipated young talent is finally coming into his own. There would be no better way to honour what happened in the building that built their fan-base, than to reward them (and it) with one final Championship before locking the doors forever.
John Tavares is finally living up to his potential, finishing second overall to Jamie Benn in the NHL scoring race this season. The hype surrounding this young player has been somewhat wasted with a mediocre team, as is usually the case for several years after one is taken first overall, as he was in the 2009 entry draft. The pieces of this puzzle are finally coming together in a way that has not only put the Islanders in the playoffs, but is actually giving them a chance to make a decent run for it…that is if their slightly inconsistent All-Star goalie, Jaroslav Halak, can get past Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in round 1.
The New York Rangers – The Odds on Favourite
The Rangers accomplished some amazing things this season, and finishing first overall is just the beginning! They proved that they have the firepower to score goals, and the defence and coaching fit to prevent them as well. Their special teams was on the more mediocre side of things, finishing 9th overall in that category, but that statistic is not as important as what the Rangers learned about themselves this season.
Goaltending has been the backbone of the Rangers success for about as many years as Henrik Lundqvist has been between the pipes. The thing that suddenly makes the Rangers so poised to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, is they they have proven to themselves and the rest of the league, that they can also win without him, while he was out with a neck injury for 7 weeks late in the season! With Hank back in the lineup and feeling ready to face the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in round 1, the only question now surrounding the Rangers, is if Rick Nash can shake his lack of ability to produce goals for his team in the playoffs. Either way you look at it, the top ranked team heading into the battle is sure to attract some much deserved attention which will hopefully translate into a long and well-deserved playoff run.
The Detriot Red Wings – The Draft Specialists
The Red Wings organization clearly knows what it’s doing when it comes to drafting young players to maintain a competitive team every year. How do we know this? Detroit hasn’t missed the post-season since the 1989-90 season. Somebody out there knows what they are doing, and not only that, they are extremely confident in the pieces which make up their team. Cheering for Detroit is just something you do because the team is impressive. That playoff streak transcends all of the major sports leagues as far as consecutive post-season appearances are concerned.
This year they are bringing something new to their mix. Generally speaking, Detroit’s success is a result of an excellent mix of veteran presence, and new talent that is given every opportunity to grow and learn with some of the best ever to play the game. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Steve Yzerman, and the list goes on and on of legends produced by the Detroit Red Wings. Today, Jimmy Howard is also a veteran presence in net, but he too, is already passing the torch onto whom could be the future of the organization. Most people were not expecting the Red Wings to mess with the success of their veteran game plan, but rookie Petr Mrazek will start in net for the Wings in Game 1 in Tampa Bay. Mrazek had a .936 save percentage in nine appearances from March 15 through the end of the regular season, so head coach Mike Babcock is starting the rookie in place of Howard to start the series. If you trust Babcock (and you should), then Detroit should be your Golden Goose!
The Pittsburgh Penguins – The Charity Case
For the first time in years, the Pittsburgh Penguins are heading into the playoffs struggling quite visibly. Truth be told, with the way the wheels were falling off of this team late in the season, it is a miracle they are even vying for the Cup! If they are going to turn things around in the playoffs, they are going to need all of the help they can get, especially facing the New York Rangers in round one. Their Norris-Trophy caliber defenceman Kris Letang, is reportedly out for the entire playoffs after suffering a concussion on March 28. The Pens went 2-4-1 without Letang, and he will be sorely missed if they can’t pull it together.
If Pittsburgh regains it’s identity, it is hard to deny that it is fun to watch Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin when they are at their best. If they are, and they lead their team to victory in round one, the Penguins could have a long and healthy run. If any two players in the league have proven themselves consistently cable of turning the tides, it’s them. Consider Pittsburgh for the upset!
The St. Louis Blues – The Canadian Backbone
Ken Hitchcock has it pretty good down in St. Louis. He has 2 outstanding Canadian goalies, whom have both proven themselves trustworthy in net. Hitchcock’s biggest problem is deciding who to start between Jake Allen and Brian Elliot. This scenario is the ultimate test of teamwork for the two goalies, who are going to have to work in tandem to give the Blues the best chance to move on.
If being Canadian isn’t enough for you to like these guys (and it should be), take into account that Allen’s playoff experience is limited to one minute of play in 2012, and this is his chance to break out and make a name for himself as a number one goaltender. Brian Elliot, from Newmarket, Ontario, is a certified moose caller, and often entertains his teammates with this odd talent. Enough said.
Happy Cheering fans! Enjoy the show!
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Cover Photo by: Anthony J. Causi/NY Post