Top Teams Canadiens Fans Should Cheer On in 2022 Playoffs

Montreal Canadiens fans were probably conflicted when Ben Chiarot assisted on Anthony Duclair’s goal in their game against the Florida Panthers last week. Understandably so.

Ben Chiarot Florida Panthers
Ex-Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot – (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

After all, Chiarot had just been traded to the Panthers, getting the Canadiens a sizeable haul of futures in exchange. Not for nothing either, but Duclair is from Montreal, while Jonathan Huberdeau, to whom the second assist went, is also from the province of Quebec.

Add in the fact the playoffs are all but officially a pipe dream for the last-place Habs, and maybe, just maybe, some of them were hoping for the Panthers to come away with the win to help their chances at a higher draft pick. Habs fans actually don’t need to go that far. Those chances really aren’t at risk.

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The Canadiens are going to draft high regardless, but what happens once the playoffs actually start? The show must go on, even if the Habs aren’t going to play a part. So, do fans cheer on the Panthers instead?

They’re one possibility anyway. Looking exclusively at virtual playoff locks at this point in time, here’s where the Panthers rank on this list of the top five teams Habs fans should cheer on come the playoffs:

5. Carolina Hurricanes

Sure, the Carolina Hurricanes stole Jesperi Kotkaniemi away via an offer sheet last summer. And for that reason alone cheering them on is probably out of the question for many Habs fans. Fair enough.

However, in the Hurricanes’ defense, ex-general manager Marc Bergevin started it, when he offer-sheeted Sebastian Aho a few seasons ago (and failed). And, when it comes down to it, the Hurricanes are a pleasure to watch, combining a fairly high-octane offense with arguably the league’s best defense/ goaltending. And shouldn’t that be the priority in the minds of Habs fans?

No, not the fact the Hurricanes have allowed the fewest goals in the league, but that they’re doing it at the expense of the Toronto Maple Leafs, on the strength of the play of their ex-goalie Frederik Andersen. Remember, while Andersen was an unrestricted free agent, the Leafs effectively signed his walking papers, going with Jack Campbell in net to start (and, yes, end) last playoffs. Andersen moved on. The Leafs’ wheels are seemingly spinning in place in the crease all the while.

Frederik Andersen Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina Hurricanes goalie Frederik Andersen – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

True, to end his Leafs tenure, Andersen struggled. However, all Andersen’s done since joining the Hurricanes is excel, putting together a Vezina Trophy-caliber campaign. Campbell has meanwhile fallen on hard times. In fact, as has become the norm, the Leafs’ goaltending as a whole has come into question, with five separate goalies having suited up for the Leafs this season.

If you’re a Leafs fan, wouldn’t you come to question everything you know and love if the goalie your favorite team so easily discarded a year ago helped lead another team to a Stanley Cup? Wouldn’t your management group have to consider blowing everything up facing the sad realization the way the Leafs are constructed is the problem?

Quite possibly… even if they already have practice coping after the whole Tuukka Rask debacle. All that to say, Habs fans who can look past the Kotkaniemi saga should want this. Nay, pray for this.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning

Hear me out: Yes, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final last summer, shattering the dreams of Habs fans everywhere. There’s no denying that (or that Lightning star Nikita Kucherov was the exact opposite of gracious in victory).

Nikita Kucherov Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, look at it this way if you can: The Canadiens were always going to be hard-pressed to win that series. They had a chance in that they had just won three rounds, everyone seemed to be peaking at the same time, and, well, they were in the Final. It’s hard to write off any team completely under those circumstances, but the undisputedly better team still won and in well-deserved, decisive four-games-to-one fashion too, en route to capturing their second straight championship.

Related: Positives Canadiens Can Take Away from Stanley Cup Loss to Lightning

Now the Lightning have a chance for a third. It would be the first time a team three-peated since the New York Islanders won four in a row back in the 1980s, and that would be something. I know what you’re thinking. First off, keep in mind the Canadiens’ record of five Cups in a row would still be secure.

Secondly, in the salary cap era, where the closest thing to a dynasty fans have is the Chicago Blackhawks of the last decade, it would be somewhat refreshing to know it’s possible for at least one organization to defy the odds. Even if the Lightning technically beat the Canadiens while $18 million over the salary cap to do it.

3. Colorado Avalanche

In a similar vein to how fans might want Chiarot to succeed with the Panthers, Artturi Lehkonen did score the biggest goal in recent Canadiens history. It’s great to see him get a (second straight) chance at a championship after he got traded at the deadline, especially with a team built the way the Avalanche are, for offensive success. The only drawback is it’s the Avalanche, i.e., the team that used to be the Quebec Nordiques.

Artturi Lehkonen Montreal Canadiens
Ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It’s for the same reason the Boston Bruins aren’t on this list altogether. Or why Habs fans should temporarily put aside their disdain for the Hurricanes and hope for a Frederik Andersen Conn Smythe Trophy (see No. 5 above).

Some rivalries are that intense. Has it been enough time to erase almost two decades of deep-seated intra-provincial hatred? Maybe, but some argue the rivalry never dissipated, just relocated, in which case rooting for the Avalanche might be impossible.

2. Calgary Flames

With ex-Habs defenseman Brett Kulak having gotten traded to the Edmonton Oilers, they too could theoretically make this list, especially as a Canadian team. But, alas, the Oilers aren’t really guaranteed a berth right now. They could just as easily be left on the outside looking in, so enter their own intra-provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames.

Obviously, ex-Habs forward Tyler Toffoli got traded to the Flames weeks before the trade deadline. Consider his starring role on the Habs over parts of two seasons and how he maybe shouldn’t have been traded at all (with term left on his deal for starters). Some Habs fans may still feel a connection with him, but there’s also the fact the Flames are a deep team from the net out, one of which fans north of the border could theoretically feel proud to call the first Canadian champion since 1993.

Tyler Toffoli Calgary Flames
Calgary Flames forward Tyler Toffoli – (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On the flipside, the Flames fall short of the top spot on this list for almost that exact same reason. The idea that Canadian fans want another Canadian city to win the Stanley Cup before their team does is a bit of a misconception.

Sure, some very well may feel that way. Others, though? That it’s their team or bust. No other Canadian team should so much as come close before the Canadiens win it all, even if it takes another 28 years for the Habs to get back to the Final. Plus the Flames employ the services of one Milan Lucic. So, moving on…

1. Florida Panthers

If Canadian fans really want to cheer for their country, it might make more sense to cheer on the team with the most actual Canadians on it. Especially for those fans who can acknowledge the general absurdity of it all. When you stop to think about it, does it really make sense to root for your local team, when it’s a bunch of people you don’t know, the vast majority of whom (if not all) don’t even come from the city?

Welcome to professional sports, though.

In any case, the Panthers are actually tied with the Avalanche on this list for the most on-roster Canadians with 13. However, they might get an edge with two Quebecers in Duclair and Huberdeau. Technically the Avalanche only have one, Samuel Girard, unless you count Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who moved to the province at a young age. But Claude Giroux, despite hailing from Ontario, could maybe further tilt the scales if you’re so inclined to throw specifics out the window.

Claude Giroux Florida Panthers
Florida Panthers forward Claude Giroux – (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

On top of all that, you have the very real fact many Quebec “snowbirds” call Florida their home during winter. Why not hope the Panthers go all the way, especially if it’s no skin off your back as a Habs fan?

Plus, that first-round pick the Canadiens got in the Chiarot trade? It only kicks in next season. However the Panthers do these upcoming playoffs, it won’t really impact the Canadiens. Just sit back and enjoy.

Even though they’re named after felines, the Panthers are also the subject of a classic underdog story. They came close to winning it all early on in their history, but have only made the playoffs literally a handful of times since then. They haven’t even been out of the first round.

From one team that just missed out on a Stanley Cup, getting beaten handily in the championship round, to another, show the Panthers some love. It obviously won’t feel as good as last season, but it’s not meant to.

No team can ever truly replace the Canadiens in the hearts of lifelong fans. However, it’s not cheating if the Habs aren’t around. Rest assured, the Panthers are one team for which Canadiens fans can feel good about cheering.