Thursday, July 30, 2020

Who to cheer for (or against) if your team wasn't invited to the postseason

Hockey fans have finally had their first taste of NHL action in four months, sort of, thanks to this week’s exhibition action. But the main event doesn’t start until the weekend when the most bizarre postseason in history kicks off. And every fan will be on the edge of their seat watching it all play out.

Well, unless you’re a fan of one of the seven teams that didn’t get invited. It’s been a rough year for you folks. First, you had to watch your teams suffer through miserable seasons. Then came the unprecedented pause, which was awful for everyone. But now, while the rest of us are getting amped up for a wild postseason, those seven fan bases are trudging towards month five of what could end up being a nine-month offseason. Also, you somehow all lost the draft lottery. As I said, rough.

Today, we’re going to make an extra effort to include those teams, with a playoff rooting guide that’s designed especially for them. For each team, we’re going to do three things. We’ll suggest a team they could definitely root for. We’ll offer up a backup team, one that might be a little tougher case to make but should still work. And then we’ll close out with one team that the fan base can actively root against, because let’s face it, spite-watching the playoffs is usually the best way to enjoy them.

We’ll use a different team for each of the three slots with no repeats, which (spoiler warning) is going to ramp up the difficultly more than a little for certain teams. Let’s see where this goes.

San Jose Sharks

You could cheer for: The Penguins. It’s the Patrick Marleau factor. Sharks fans got to watch him try to win a Cup for 20 years, plus one brief comeback that seemed like a good idea at the time. The relationship had its ups and downs, but surely any Sharks fan would love to see him get his first Cup. (You could say the same for Joe Pavelski and the Stars, by the way. The Sharks are the league’s leading exporters of OGWAC stories.)

Or you could try: The Capitals. First, they’re all sorts of fun to watch. Second, they employ Ilya Kovalchuk, and if he had a great run and won his first Cup, it would probably annoy Kings fans. And third, there was a time when the Caps were the Sharks – the team with a ton of talent that never quite broke through, then fell apart and missed the playoffs to signal that their window was closed. That was back in 2014, and they bounced back so quickly that everyone just kind of forgot about writing them off. If you’re still holding out hope that this version of the Sharks can win a Cup without a total teardown, the Caps aren’t bad inspiration.

While rooting against: The Bruins. Look, not to beat a dead horse, but the Sharks should have traded Joe Thornton to Boston at the deadline. They didn’t, and both sides had their reasons, but Thornton was bummed out, and if Boston just goes and wins without him, it just makes it even worse.

Also, Brad Marchand.

Detroit Red Wings

You could cheer for: The Lightning. Yes, there’s a recent playoff history here, with the Lightning beating the Red Wings in each of Detroit’s last two trips to the playoffs. But when you just finished one of the worst seasons in modern NHL history, anything that reminds you of what it feels like to be in the playoffs is a good thing. Both teams know the pain of racking up a monster regular season and then crashing and burning in the first round. And maybe most importantly, the Lightning are just a really good, exciting team to watch and they should go deep into the playoffs, and Detroit fans deserve that after what they just went through. Red Wings fans can have a little winning, as a treat.

Or you could try: The Canadiens. I’m no math wizard, but if a team wins the Stanley Cup and you beat that team four straight times during the season, I’m pretty sure that means you’re the champion.

While rooting against: The Avalanche. I know time heals all wounds and they’re not even in the same conference anymore, but if there’s a world where the Red Wings and Avalanche can be friends, then I don’t want to live in it.

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