Monday, May 27, 2019

A Stanley Cup final rooting guide for every other fan base

Friends, we’ve got a bit of a problem.

One of the columns I look forward to writing each year is my annual rooting guide to the Stanley Cup final. With two teams left standing, it’s usually fun to go through all the other fan bases and try to figure out who it makes the most sense for them to be rooting for. There’s a bit of debate, a few punchlines and a good time is had by all. Well, some. Probably at least a few.

Here’s the problem. Normally, the results play out pretty evenly. I don’t necessarily plan it that way, it’s just the nature of the exercise. Pick any two teams and have them face off in the Stanley Cup final and you’re going to wind up with roughly half of the hockey world getting behind each of them. Last year, the Knights and Capitals basically split things right down the middle. That works out well because you can bounce back and forth between options, and the whole thing never feels too repetitive because you’re not just listing the same team over and over.

Which brings us to this year.

I mean … well … (gestures at the Blues and Bruins) … what am I supposed to do with this?

The Blues are an irresistible story, an underdog chasing their first Stanley Cup in over half a century of existence and who were mired in dead last as recently as January before pulling off a near-miracle run back to contending. When we did our bandwagon-hopper’s guide back before the playoffs started, we had the Blues ranked in the top spot and nobody even argued.

Then there are the Bruins. They’re a team that already won a few years ago, from a city that wins pretty much everything all the time. They’ve faced two of the league’s best stories in the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes and quickly broke the hearts of both. Their best player occasionally licks people. Don Cherry likes them.

At first glance, here’s everyone who should clearly be cheering for this year’s Boston Bruins in the final: People who actually play for this year’s Boston Bruins. That’s it. That’s the full list. And even David Backes should probably be secretly rooting for the Blues.

Therefore, this year’s rooting guide is going to be a challenge. I’m going to try really hard to steer as many teams towards Boston as I can because just listing the Blues 30 times is going to get pretty boring. That may mean putting a thumb on the scale in a few spots. Can we get the Bruins all the way into double digits? I’m not making any promises, but let’s see what we can do.

Toronto Maple Leafs

If we pretend that anyone in Toronto is going to be watching hockey instead of basketball for the next few weeks, there’s actually a surprisingly decent case to be made for Leaf fans backing the Bruins. After all, Toronto took Boston to seven games in the first round, so a Bruins’ Cup win could turn what had seemed like a disastrous early exit into a near-miss that fans can feel at least a little bit better about. And remember, the Blues are tied with the Leafs for the longest Cup drought, so if they win then Toronto is all alone at the top of that unpleasant list. Might be better to root for the Bruins, if only because misery loves company.

It’s a solid case. But is it good enough? I don’t think it is, for many of the same reasons I laid out a few weeks ago when urging Toronto fans to bandwagon St. Louis. The Blues are long-time rivals going back to the Norris Division days, but most of that rivalry falls into the category of pleasant nostalgia these days. Long-suffering fan bases should have each other’s back, and besides, the Blues are packed with ex-Leafs including Tyler Bozak. If it’s between rooting for them or for the team that’s snuffed out three of the last four Leafs’ playoff runs, the choice isn’t all that tough.

Pick: Blues

Carolina Hurricanes

You don’t even need to dredge up Whalers history to know where this one is going. You only have to go back a few weeks, and the anticlimactic end to what had been a dream Hurricanes’ season. Does that mean the Blues are an automatic A+ alternative? Not really, but Carolina fans will give them a C.

Pick: Blues

New York Rangers

Hey New York, how would you feel about cheering on a Boston team to win a major sports championship? That’s what I thought.

Pick: Blues

Montreal Canadiens


Pick: Blues

Chicago Blackhawks

OK, now we’re talking. The Hawks are probably the Blues’ oldest and most bitter rivals, with the occasional massacre thrown in. And the last time the Bruins were in the final it worked out pretty well for Chicago, so they can pay back some of that karma here.

The only downside here is that a Bruins’ win gets them within one of the Hawks for the most cap-era championships. But Chicago’s already sharing that status with Pittsburgh, so it should hardly be a deal-breaker. For what might be the only time in this entire piece, the case here for Boston is a pretty easy one to make. So there you go, Boston – the shutout is broken.

Pick: Bruins

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