The Tampa Bay Lightning are out of the playoffs. For some of you, that might mean the end of watching hockey until October and I wouldn’t blame you for it. But I’m still watching this ridiculous sport because it’s a way of passing the time at night before the morning inevitably arrives again sending me out to do what must be done so I can pay the bills and then spend another evening sitting on the couch watching a thing that hates me and does everything it can to ruin my life.
Begrudgingly and with bitterness in my heart, I watched the rest of the first round. I watched game sevens. I watched overtimes. I reveled in the failure of rivals and jeered contemptuously when other rivals succeeded. I took some solace in the absurd slew of upsets with all four division winners failing to make it out of the first round.
Back when expectations for the Lightning were low, this was the most fun time of the year. And this year in particular would have been one of the most fun ever. But instead, this is like living in a Salvador Dali painting. Surreal, wonderful, beautiful, but also terrible and disgusting and I hate it.
So from this extremely unhealthy perspective, here is my rooting guide for the second round of the playoffs.
Boston Bruins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Let’s get this one out of the way first. I’ve never been a fan of the whole “root for the team that eliminated your team so your team doesn’t look so bad.” But in this case, it might make some sense. With all the changes to the Jackets roster at the trade deadline, I could buy the idea that they’re a much better team now than they were for most of the season. And if that’s the case, it might make the first round sweep look slightly less awful in retrospect.
But the reality here is that I’m never rooting for Boston. I’m tired of the Red Sox. I’m tired of the Patriots. And I’m tired of the Bruins. Just go away already. I’m sure your city is fine but I’m done with your teams. So go Jackets I guess. Woo.
Who you got for Bruins vs. Jackets?
This poll is closed
New York Islanders vs. Carolina Hurricanes
No matter what happens here, neutral fans can’t lose. The narratives are going to be outrageous and a bunch of people are going to show their asses. And in that way, we’ll all win.
This is analytics vs. anti-analytics. This is A Bunch of Jerks vs. Doing It The Right Way. This is a series built for hot takes and we’re getting them either way.
If the Hurricanes advance, great. They’re the better team. They deserve success. They’ve been good for years and not gotten the rewards. Maybe a deep playoff run for them would be a proof of concept for investing in quantitative analysis [and an actual goaltender] and other teams will start taking a more well-structured approach in that area.
If the Isles advance, hoo boy. That’ll be fun. Grit! Analytics shmanalytics! Lou Lamoriello’s still got it! The Leafs picked the wrong person! John Tavares was part of the problem! Everything is going to be so bad but also so entertaining.
Personally, I’ll be rooting for the Jerks. But if Robin Lehner continues to play out of his mind and the Isles win, the takes will be spectacular.
Bunch of Jerks or No Tavares Team?
This poll is closed
Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues
Moving over to the west, the narratives aren’t quite as juicy. The Blues beating the Jets in the first round might seem like an upset but it really wasn’t. St. Louis has been much better than Winnipeg over the final months of the season and they showed it in that series.
The Blues have been one of the best teams in the NHL since January and they deserve to be in the Conference Final. I’ll be rooting for them but Dallas has plenty to like too. Former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop has been the key to their success lately. They also have a bunch of fun players starting with John Klingberg on the blue line. Although, I’d prefer not to have front office people saying their players are “fucking horseshit” rewarded with playoff success.
Green or Blue?
This poll is closed
Ben Bishop’s new team
That other team that never wins the Cup
Colorado Avalanche vs. San Jose Sharks
The Avs are fun. Nathan MacKinnon is especially fun. They’re a young team entering their prime. They have Ottawa’s fourth overall pick this year. They’re going continue to be a factor in the Western Conference for years.
But I don’t see how a neutral fan wouldn’t be rooting for the Sharks here. Joe Thornton and Erik Karlsson alone is enough to make them a perfect bandwagon team. The only down side is that the further they advance, the more likely Karlsson is to re-sign. An Erik Karlsson free agency frenzy would be fun, but given that the Lightning don’t have a realistic chance to win that sweepstakes, I’m willing to sacrifice that to see the Sharks continue on toward finally reaching the prize that has evaded them for so long.
Which do you care about more?
This poll is closed
One of Duchene’s former teams
Joe Pavelski’s revenge squad
In the East, I’m rooting mostly for chaos. None of the remaining teams have put together a consistent case to say they belong in the Conference Final. The Bruins and Canes probably have the best argument but I’m certainly not rooting for the Bruins so, go chaos.
In the West, I think two teams are clearly better than their opponents. The Sharks and Blues would both be worthy Conference Finalists and a series between them would ensure that at least one deserving team makes it to the Cup final.
Just because the Lightning are out and my heart is hard and black doesn’t mean I can’t still wallow in the absurdity of the NHL playoffs. The rest of the first round was as fun as it could be under the circumstances and the second round is set up well for neutral fans.
No matter what happens, fans of other teams will soon be joining us in the pit of despair. And if we’re lucky, it’ll be the fans of teams we don’t like.