5 Teams Canadiens Fans Should Cheer on in 2023 Playoffs

Montreal Canadiens fans must be pretty conflicted heading into their regular-season finale against the Boston Bruins on April 13. On one hand, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins are the Habs’ biggest rival, who can technically lay further claim to being the best team in NHL history, now with 133 points on the season compared to the 132 the 1976-77 Canadiens earned.

Of course, it’s hard to make a fair comparison on points alone, considering the four extra the Bruins have earned in the shootout this season (when none existed prior to 2005). However, if you look at it like that, both teams are currently sitting at 60 (instead of the Bruins’ current 64) wins. So, a lot is at stake from the perspective of pride.

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On the other hand, looking at things practically, with a loss the Canadiens would lock down 28th place in the standings and an 8.5% chance of winning the first-overall pick. For their part, the 27th-ranked Arizona Coyotes (7.5%), who have one more point than the Habs, play the Vancouver Canucks later later on the same night. With Connor Bedard, a potential franchise-altering, generational talent up for grabs, some may be tempted to temporarily put aside their literal hate for the Bruins, even for just one night.

Connor Bedard, Regina Pats
Regina Pats forward Connor Bedard – (Photo Credit: Keith Hershmiller)

Rest assured though, once the playoffs start, all Canadiens fans will go right back to cheering against the Bruins. That means (hopefully) cheering for the wild-card New York Islanders, because, instead the Bruins could still face the Florida Panthers, whose first-round pick the Canadiens acquired last season. So, the Canadiens are hypothetically looking at the 32nd pick, if the Panthers go all the way, which would be less than ideal.

It’s admittedly a less-than-convincing argument to pull for the Islanders. So, they take the No. 5 spot on this list of teams Canadiens fans should cheer on during the 2023 playoffs. Here are the remaining four:

4. Tampa Bay Lightning

Just like Canadiens fans are actively rooting against the Bruins, they are similarly hoping for bad (or more so humiliating) things to happen to the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs haven’t been out of Round 1 since 2004, making their drought ironically old enough to drink.

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Under normal circumstances, with a chance to earn 50 wins this regular season, the Maple Leafs would be Stanley Cup contenders. However, they have that dark cloud hanging over them, coincidentally coming in the form of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who lost in the Stanley Cup Final last season, after winning two straight championships before that, one at the Habs’ expense in 2021.

Artturi Lehkonen, Edward Pasquale
Ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

So, the wound may still be fresh for some Canadiens fans, while some may just prefer not to cheer for the Lightning, when they’ve enjoyed as much recent success as they have. Misery loves company after all. That’s why the Lightning are as low on this list as they are.

3. Seattle Kraken

Consider the Seattle Kraken the anti-Lightning, and not just because of how they’re geographically located at opposite ends of the United States. Coming into existence at the start of the 2021-22 season, the Kraken, like the expansion 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights before them, are simply easy to root for as the ultimate underdog.

The fact the Kraken are accomplishing all their success without Shane Wright, their top draft pick from last summer, playing a starring role, kind of adds to the appeal for Habs fans. It perhaps reinforces the idea the Canadiens made the right decision to go with Juraj Slafkovsky at No. 1 overall instead. Of course, it’s far from a lasting testament one way or another as both will likely go on to enjoy long careers, but it certainly doesn’t hurt in the short term.

2. Edmonton Oilers

The Kraken make the list under the assumption the standings stay as is. There’s still a chance the wild-card Kraken move up to face the Edmonton Oilers as the second and third seeds in the Pacific Division, in which case Canadiens fans would probably have a hard time choosing a favorite.

The Oilers aren’t just exciting to watch as a four-goal-per-game behemoth. They’re also proof that patience can pay off for fans of a rebuilding team. Some argue that stockpiling high draft picks doesn’t work, pointing to the Oilers as proof (even though they reached Round 3 in 2021-22. However, were they to finally win it all on the strength of play of the likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, etc., that argument could possibly be put to bed finally.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Plus, there’s the whole argument the Oilers are the best chance for Canada to recapture the Stanley Cup since 1993 (excluding the Leafs, of course). For some that may carry some weight, putting the Oilers at No. 2 on this list.

1. New Jersey Devils

For others still, let’s be real. If it isn’t your team winning the Stanley Cup, you’re probably not going to actively cheer for another Canadian squad to accomplish the feat. “Why should another Canadian fanbase be happy, while we continue to suffer,” and all that jazz? In that sense, the New Jersey Devils are a good top option instead, as they’re in the midst of telling a similar success story, relative to the Oilers.

It’s been literally over a decade since the Devils won a round, when they reached the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. Since then, they’ve built up their team with a few first-overall picks in Jack Hughes (2019) and Nico Hischier (2017), while diamonds in the rough like Jesper Bratt (No. 162 in 2016) have also surfaced as key contributors.

Jack Hughes New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils forward Jack Hughes – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

All in all, the same patience-as-a-virtue narrative holds true. In contrast, the idea that long stretches of losing can hold teams down in the standings (through a hypothetical lack of a winning culture), instead of say just general mismanagement, is pure poppycock. The Devils are just one of many examples that prove that. Tanking may not always lead to a championship, but it is the one strategy that works most often. Finally, the Devils are seeing the fruits of that labor pay off.

Meanwhile, it’s been longer than before 2012 since the Devils were a perennial powerhouse, so there’s not the same issue some may have cheering for the Lightning. Even so, the 110 points the New Jersey Devils have earned make them a legitimate threat to the point you’d be hard-pressed to call them underdogs to the same degree as the Kraken. That could be considered a point in their favor, though.

The Devils are legitimate threats to go very far in the playoffs, while simultaneously being the new kids on the block. In effect, they’re the best of both worlds. True, there’s a good chance they face off against Canadiens executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton’s ex-team, the New York Rangers, in Round 1, who are on a similar redemption story arc after writing an open letter to fans that they were rebuilding back in 2018.

Jeff Gorton
Montreal Canadiens executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton – (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

So, in at least one regard, it’s a veritable toss-up between the two. In all others though, Chris Kreider is still playing for the Rangers, and that’s just something most Canadiens fans won’t be able to look past, after he crashed into Carey Price back in 2014. You may not fall into the camp that believes Kreider cost Price his career, seeing as he went on to win the 2015 Hart Memorial and Vezina trophies. However, that one injury did cost the Habs one of their best chances at the Cup.

Related: Carey Price’s Accomplishments Ranked After Masterton Win

So, another great reason to cheer for the Devils.