Monday, May 29, 2017

A team-by-team rooting guide to the Stanley Cup final

We’re now just a few hours away from the start of the 2017 Stanley Cup final, pitting the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Nashville Predators. It’s a classic battle between the powerhouse defending champs and an inspiring Cinderella story, and plenty of fans have already picked sides.

But not everyone. Some fans insist on remaining neutral, which is fine. But others might want to root for one team or another, but can’t figure out which way to lean. After all, there’s a lot to like about both teams. If you haven’t decided who you’ll root for yet, you’re rapidly running out of time to make your decision.

We’re here to help. So today, we’ll go through the 29 other NHL franchises and offer up team-by-team recommendations for any fans who are still sitting on the fence and looking for a last-minute bandwagon to hop on. These are, it should go without saying, merely suggestion, but they might be of assistance for the more indecisive fans out there.

Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks fans may not want to cheer on the Predators, a division rival who swept them out of the first round. But they should, for a couple of reasons. For one, a Nashville Cup win takes some of the sting out of that opening-round upset. But more importantly, a Penguins' win strips Chicago of their status as the NHL's unquestioned modern dynasty. The Penguins wouldn't just tie the Hawks with three cap-era Cup wins, they'd do it by pulling of the back-to-back wins that have so far eluded Chicago. That should have Blackhawks fans backing the Predators, if only to protect their own turf at the top of the NHL's hierarchy.

Pick: Predators

Los Angeles Kings

The once-mighty Kings have won just a single playoff game in three years, and just overhauled their front office and coaching ranks. Now, the Penguins are threatening to pass them in cap-era Cups won. Much like the Blackhawks, Kings fans need to protect their turf here.

Pick: Predators

Colorado Avalanche

There was a time back in the ’90s when the Penguins were one of the best teams in hockey, winning a pair of Stanley Cups. But then the franchise fell on hard times, eventually plunging all the way to dead last overall in 2004. The Avalanche have followed a similar trajectory, and are coming off a season even worse than any nadir the Penguins ever hit. If you're a Colorado fan looking for any hope you can cling to these days, watching the Penguins win another Cup would serve as a reminder that there is a path from rock bottom back to the promised land.

Pick: Penguins

Montreal Canadiens

Come on.

New York Islanders

The Islanders' season was a rough one. They missed the playoffs, fired their coach, and had to endure another round of arena drama and speculation about their future. At times, it feels like this franchise is a million miles away from winning anything. After all that, Islanders fans have a chance to watch the Stanley Cup be awarded to a team that posted the exact same 41-29-12 regular-season record that they did. That might not make the season a success, but it would make the whole "We're not as far away as we seem" story a lot easier to swallow. Besides, they can root for former coach Peter Laviolette, who was once fired by Mike Milbury because he clearly wasn't the sort of coach who could take a team to the final.

Pick: Predators

Florida Panthers

The Panthers still owe the rest of the hockey world some penance for shocking the Penguins in 1996 and costing us a Mario Lemieux-vs.-Patrick Roy showdown in the Stanley Cup final. Rooting for Jaromir Jagr's old team is the least they can do.

Pick: Penguins

Ottawa Senators

This is a tricky one. Sens fans getting behind the Penguins just days after a heart-breaking Game 7 loss would be a big ask, and you could forgive Ottawa if the city united behind the Predators finishing the job that they couldn't. (Longtime Senators favourite Mike Fisher chasing his first Cup helps here, too.)

But that feels shortsighted. If the Penguins win it all, Senators fans can always claim they were one overtime goal away from going on to do the same. A Predators win takes some of the drama out of that epic overtime. Besides, it's not like the series against the Penguins was especially heated. And in a way, the Penguins and Senators are linked by some common history, with both franchises fighting through bankruptcy and accusations of being an unworthy market. Senators fans should have their back, if only so down the road they can claim that it should have been them.

Pick: Penguins

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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