Our first match-up in the eastern conference pits the one seed Washington Caps against the Montreal Canadians. Even though this was a mismatch on paper, the Canadians were able to steal game one and, frankly, should have won game two as well. For all those who like rooting for the underdog, this is not the series for you. We want the one seed to advance, for the simple reason that we want to watch them again next round. No one feels sorry for the Canadians, they have had their fair share of Stanley Cup titles in the past. With that being the case, we should all just want this talent rich Caps team to keep playing. Everyone knows Alex Ovechkin, but they have a number of other talented, young players by his side, including Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. These are all people we, as fans, want to see keep skating. Forget rooting for the upset; this isn't March Madness.
(In fact, I wish March Madness had less upsets. As the gasping and 'I don't believe its' start, let me clarify. I enjoy the upsets in the first couple rounds, but at some point, don't we want to see the best teams play each other? I would have much rather seen a championship game of Kentucky vs. Ohio State, or something of that ilk, than the game we got this year. Butler could have still made the final four; that would have been fine. But for the title, give me two loaded teams doing battle. It is just more fun to watch. Hockey is like that every round. I want the talent loaded teams to keep playing.)
The Devils - Flyers series is a piece of cake to pick sides for. The Devils are awful to watch, and awful to root for. We're taking the Flyers by default. And secretly, doesn't everyone kind of hate Martin Brodeur? I enjoyed when he got benched during the Olympics.
In the 3-6 game, Buffalo is facing Boston. Even though nearly all Boston area sports teams are indefensible and irritating, the Bruins do not really fit that bill. However, we, as Americans, have to pull for Ryan Miller, Buffalo's goalie. He carried our nation into the Olympic gold medal hockey game earlier this year. Residual patriotism states that we must root for the Sabres for at least one round.
The last pairing in the east has the defending champion Penguins playing the Ottawa Senators. Now before I share my rooting interest, let me state I am a slightly band wagon-y, slightly retired Senators fan. A couple years back, I used to love all their players and root for them to win. They were 'my' hockey team. However, many of those players are now gone. Dany Heatley, Martin Havlat, Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara, etc. etc. These were all my guys. Now, the only old Sen remaining is Daniel Alfreddson. With that being the case, I have not really kept my allegiance. In fact, I still pull for those other guys. My fantasy hockey team this year had nearly a dozen former Senators on it at one time or another throughout the year. (I finished in second place; not bad for someone who does not watch a single regular season game.) Since I have moved on from my Ottawa crush, I feel as though we must follow the talent, as with the Capitals. How, as a hockey fan, can you want Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to get eliminated? It just wouldn't be right. And with the ultimate Capitals - Penguins match-up possibly looming, we have to pull for these two teams even harder.
The western conference isn't as much fun for me. There are more teams that I am rooting against than teams I actually want to win. The Sharks are playing the Avalanche in round one. San Jose is a loaded team every year who never puts it together come playoff time. They are choke artists. This year, yet again, they have loads of talent, and had a tremendous regular season. Yet, as a Sharks fan, you can't feel comfortable about their championship prospects. Since I have no ties to this Colorado team, I feel like we should root for the Sharks, just because we feel bad for them. Let's hope they can put it together for once, and not make complete fools out of themselves for the nth straight year.
Another talent-rich team this season is the Chicago Blackhawks. They face off against the Predators. To be honest, without looking it up, I cannot think of a player on the Predators. In fact, I don't know if I have ever seen them play. Also, Chicago has Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews: two very young, very talented players, who are fun to watch and root for. This round of play is no exception. (I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Predators are from Nashville, but don't hold me to that; it is just a guess.)
Los Angeles is playing Vancouver in the North American battle that everyone is talking about. The LA Kings are trying to regain popularity with a crop of young, up-and-coming stars. The Canucks are playing for the nation of Canada (since Montreal and Ottawa will probably be eliminated) and are anchored by Roberto Luongo, one of the best goalies in the league. This year, they even have offensive stars, a real treat for long suffering Canucks fans, who are used to a grind-it-out pace, with everyone hoping Luongo wins the game for them. The Sedin twins have changed that. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are on a mission to bring Vancouver into the new generation of hockey. Henrik took a nice first step by winning the scoring title this season. (Yep, he beat Ovechkin and Crosby. Who knew? ... Well me, I drafted him last November on my fantasy team. ... No, I'm not bragging, just boasting. ... Yes, there is a difference.) In the end, let's give Canada at least one team in the second round. We took everything else from them.
Our last series of the first round sees the Phoenix Coyotes playing the Detroit Red Wings. Let me wrap this up rather quickly. The Red Wings are old, they win all the time, no one likes them. Does that cover it? Go Coyotes!
As for the coming rounds, I just hope for some great match-ups to occur. I want to see the Penguins play the Capitals either round two or in the conference finals. (NHL re-seeds teams each round during the playoffs, so match-ups are not yet set.) It would also be interesting to see San Jose face Chicago at some point in the west, just from a talent stand point. We'll have to wait and see what happens.