Has your favourite National Hockey League team let you down? Have they been relegated to the golf course while 16 others are competing for the Stanley Cup? Could you use a break from seeing them for a few months?
If so, swipe right and have a passionate spring fling with a playoff team! Why not watch the sport you love while entertaining the possibility that your new beau might actually win something? Besides, nothing like showing your ex what could have been, right??
The Unreliable One
An elite regular season team – they have won their division an incredible five consecutive years, the Ducks have never quite been able to get themselves in a row come playoff time. Seeking to shake a reputation for crashing out of the postseason in spectacular fashion – four straight years of being up 3-2 in a series and going on to lose game seven on home ice, the Ducks come into the 2017 playoffs seeking to recapture their glory of a decade ago.
The Old Flame Who’s Suddenly Hot Again
The Bruins appeared to be in gradual decline following their trip to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, even missing the playoffs the past two springs. However, an infusion of young talent throughout the lineup has rejuvenated a squad that was showing its age early in the season. Youthful exuberance combined with oodles of playoff experience make for an Eastern Conference dark horse.
The Comeback Kid
The Flames snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, turning their season around just in time to slide into the playoff picture. With the fifth-most points in the NHL after Jan. 24 – when an alcohol-fuelled train ride galvanised the team, the Flames are not to be taken lightly. A skilled, energetic squad with some bite (err, elbow), the Flames are going to be a handful for any opponent. Just so long as they don’t have to play in Anaheim. What? What did I say?
The Blackhawks have won three of the last seven Stanley Cups and finished first in the Western Conference this season. They’ve done it all and won it all. What more do you want? That said, the Hawks have been jammed down our throats by the NHL for nearly a decade now, so you might be tired of them already.
Brash, obnoxious and truculent, the Jackets bulldozed their way into relevance this season under head coach John Tortorella. Imposing their will through a nice balance of scoring, goaltending and physical dominance, the Blue Jackets, as master irritants, have a real opportunity to annoy their way to victory. At the very least, you’ll get two months of Torts pressers.
The Flawed One
Where would the Oilers be without Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot? Still in Edmonton, silly. They do rely quite heavily on that duo, though, which is worrisome going into the meat grinder that is the NHL playoffs. That said, two of the best regular season performances in recent memory, not to mention a home atmosphere that is sure to be electric, is reason enough to overlook the warts.
Be honest: when was the last time you heard “Minnesota Wild” and “fun” in the same sentence? Boasting Vezina-calibre goaltending, solid defense and hilariously balanced scoring, the Wild have broken out of their spiral of mediocrity and are one of the most enjoyable teams to watch. Their hot start really never went away; after a slump in March, Minnesota enters the playoffs on a four-game winning streak. Also, the lovable Bruce Boudreau has a chance to prove his former teams – the Caps and Ducks – wrong. The Wild are the dark horse of the Western Conference, in my view.
The One With Something to Prove
The Habs made waves this past summer by trading P.K. Subban for Shea Weber. Weber’s not getting any younger and Carey Price only has one year left before free agency. The Canadiens’ time to win is now, and they know it, so best buckle up. On a fans’ note, Montreal has some of the best game ops in the league, with an always mesmerising, often tear-jerking introduction.
If efficiency is your thing, look no further than the Music City. The Predators do just about everything pretty darn well. Nothing spectacular here, just a real good hockey team. Not bad to watch, either. The Preds are particularly good on home ice, when they get to wear their golden buckets in the bedlam that is Bridgestone Arena.
The Overlooked One
“Oh, the Rangers are still good?” “Why don’t I recognise half the names on their roster?” Much like the Bruins, the Rangers appeared to be on the slow road to nowhere, when a jolt of young talent, particularly in the speed department, catapulted them to a 102-point season. Which was unfortunately only good enough for the first wild card spot. Because the NHL.
Sometimes, you don’t want a fiery, passionate partner. Sometimes, you just want to hear about someone’s stamp collection for three hours, y’know? And then you look up and, hey would you look at that, the Sens won 2-1! The Senators are the thinking person’s team. A deliberate, chess-like game plan combined with outstanding, inspirational goaltending makes Ottawa a force to be reckoned with. Or at least frustrated with.
Already a high-flying, offense-first team, the Penguins will have to double-down on this strategy given the catastrophic injury to top defenseman Kris Letang. Thankfully for them, they’ve got the horses to make such a system work. Besides, two (more) months of watching two of the best players of all time do their thing – ON THE SAME TEAM – is just about the best this game can deliver. Go Pens.
The Wild One
Oh look at those crazy kids with their crazy beards; what a riot! Because their facial hair is unkempt, we should talk about it 18 times per broadcast, right?? This is what passes for fun in the NHL, apparently.
In all seriousness though, the Sharks are one of the few teams in the league with any semblance of personality. They are also fresh off a trip to the Stanley Cup Final and will surely be hungry for redemption this spring. After all the years of playoff disappointment, don’t the Sharks deserve your love and support?
“This Time Will Be Different, I Swear!”
Every single year, the Blues are expected to contend for the Cup. And every single year they disappoint. This year, they traded their starting goalie, fired their coach and then shipped out one of their best defensemen. That’s it, right? Time to re-tool? Instead, the Blues ended the season on a 15-2-2 run. Maybe this year it really will be different…
The One You’ll Have to Buy Beer For
The Leafs threw out seven rookies with regularity this season, but it felt like seventeen. If you can stand announcers commenting on Toronto’s youth every five seconds, the Leafs are a hugely fun, if wholly unreliable, team to watch.
The Caps have to win this year. They just have to. With half their team headed for some kind of free agency this summer, the roster will undergo a drastic makeover following this season. Time to get Ovi a Cup too, eh? Nobody wants to win more than him, and I would like nothing more than for him to prove his doubters wrong. The Presidents’ Trophy winners are the overwhelming favourites heading into the playoffs and have no glaring weaknesses to speak of. It’s go time.
There’s just no good reason not to watch the playoffs, even if your team is out of it. Just because they let you down, doesn’t mean you have to stay there! I know it’s tough to move on; it really is. But it doesn’t have to be forever! So swipe right, have some fun and look forward to the draft.
Peter Ferrell covers the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, with a side of jersey and logo (over)analysis, for The Hockey Writers.