Thursday, April 29, 2021

McDavid’s 100, Leafs vs. Habs, and six more things to root for down the stretch

We’re headed down the stretch in the regular season, and there’s a good chance that you know exactly what you’re rooting for. If your team is fighting for a playoff spot, or first place in a division where that really matters, you’re locked in. That’s all you care about it, and rightly so. Having something to care about in a season’s final weeks is all sorts of fun.

But what if you don’t? Maybe your team has been out of the race for weeks, or months, or are the Sabres. Or maybe they’re at the other extreme, and have already clinched whatever spot you were hoping they’d earn. If that’s you, you might find yourself staring down two more weeks without any real rooting interest.

I’m here to help. So today, I’ll offer up eight suggestions for outcomes you can root for as the season winds up. It goes without saying that if any of these conflict with what your favorite team needs to happen, you go with your team. Loyalty trumps all. But if you’re neutral, and just looking for one or two things to cheer along and/or get irrationally mad about, I’ve got you covered.

Idea 1: Root for Connor McDavid to get to 100 points

Let’s start with the one that I feel like we can get close to unanimous agreement on.

When the NHL announced that the abbreviated season would be just 56 games long, fans knew that most of the major milestones would be out of reach for another year. Nobody would get to 50 goals, and even 40 might be a stretch. Hitting 100 points? That would mean scoring at a prorated 146-point full season pace. In other words, forget it.

But here’s McDavid having a season for the ages, and he’s got a chance. It’s a slim one – the Oilers have nine games left, and he still needs 19 points to hit the century mark. For most guys, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime heater. But for McDavid? It’s realistic, especially with all his remaining games coming against the Flames, Canucks and Canadiens.

Who’s going to root against this? OK, maybe Calgary fans just out of spite, and we’ll allow that. But everyone else should be on board. McDavid’s brilliance means we’re not getting an Art Ross race this year, or even a Hart Trophy debate. He can at least give us this, along with the ridiculous highlights the hot streak would surely generate.

Ultimately, 100 points is an arbitrary cutoff and it wouldn’t be any less impressive if he finished the season with 99. But fans like round numbers, and it would be undeniably cool to see a player hit triple-digits in a season where it wasn’t supposed to be possible. There hasn’t been a player in a generation who’s as much fun to watch as Connor McDavid. Let’s see the kid go full-on beast mode for the rest of the year and hit the magic number.

Idea 2: Root for the Hurricanes to take the Central and set up an all-Florida matchup

I probably don’t have to sell you too hard on cheering for the Hurricanes. They’re a fun team, they’ve got a ton of skill, and you know they’ll cook up some sort of crazy celebration when it’s all over. Who doesn’t like that? OK, we can think of a few people, but most of us are on board, even if grudgingly.

But that’s not even the best reason to hope Carolina takes the Central. Instead, it’s because the Hurricanes as top seed would put the Lightning and Panthers in second and third, meaning we’d get the first all-Florida playoff matchup in NHL history. Despite being in the same division for almost three decades, the two teams have never met in the postseason. This might finally be the year.

In theory, there’s nothing magical about geography. But in hockey rivalries, it tends to work. The Battle of Alberta was amazing. The Battle of Ontario had some great moments. The three-way Battle of California is mostly on hold, but it was amazing when it was cooking. The Battle of Florida could be next.

We might get fireworks. Or we might just get two really talented teams battling it out. That would be good too. So here’s hoping the Hurricanes stay out of the way.

And since we’ve slotted in the top three spots in the Central, we may as well do the last one…

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