It has been five full seasons since the Buffalo Sabres played this late in to May. And while I am sure there is no need to remind us fans how it ended, the Conference Finals bring us some really great hockey that even with little to no emotional investment it is fun to watch. So here is a casual guide of who to root for to play for the greatest trophy in sports.
In the Eastern Conference Finals we see a rematch 18 years in the making. There are three things that remain from the 1994 ECF series between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers. Martin Brodeur remains, MSG remains, and a hated rivalry remains. These two teams play 20 minutes by train from each other lending to a fierce local rivalry that will undoubtedly include vicious play, confrontation on trains and the street, references to Seinfeld, and jokes about New Jersey. So who are you going to root for?
Reasons to root for the Devils:
- You want to see Marty Brodeur do it one more time.
- You can gripe about Darcy not bringing in Parise (even though we never had a skating chance in hell for Parise).
- There was a Devils game near the All-Star break that was the catalyst for the Sabres having a tremendous run. You want to give back to the Devils for this.
- You hate New York City.
- You hate Gary Bettman and want to see a team he never really liked win another Stanley Cup.
Reasons to root for the Rangers
- Ryan Callahan is the second best player produced from the Buffalo/Rochester area in the NHL right now, bringing some local pride. He also seems like a much nicer guy than the best player from the area.
- You can gripe about Darcy not bringing in Richards (even though we never had a skating chance in hell for Richards).
- You live in New York City and you don’t want to hear another word about the Knicks, because the Knicks are lousy and put out a mediocre product. The Rangers winning might allow you to talk about hockey with all the basketball fans who are already in the off-season.
- You hate New Jersey.
- You either want to be King Hank or want to be with King Hank. He is Jon Hamm handsome.
The Western Conference Finals feature the L.A. Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes. Neither team has won the Stanley Cup. Neither team was expected to go as far as they have this season. The Kings dismantled the top two teams in the West in similar fashion in both series, and are quickly becoming a nationwide favorite for beating the odds and basically playing perfect playoff hockey. The Coyotes have been playing incredible defensive hockey since February and their phenomenal goalie Mike Smith has basically been unbeatable. He is the biggest goal-tending surprise in this years playoffs that doesn’t have the last name Holtby. So who will you root for?
Reasons to root for The Coyotes
- Shane Doane really deserves to lift the cup. He has been stuck in hockey purgatory for so long, and he could seriously use a real reward for sticking it out so long in the desert.
- It is fun to see a scrappy team with no real superstars go as far as they have, and it will be more fun if they can win more.
- The Kings have some familiar faces from the playoffs last year. If you still hate Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the ‘Yotes are your team.
- You live in Arizona and will finally be able to show people that hockey is not a sport that you made up.
- You are one of the people that stand by Gary Bettman for refusing to move one of the least successful sun belt markets or you want to see the city of Winnipeg to collectively wail out in grief over the former Jets actually making it to the Promised Land.
Reasons to root for The Kings
- An underdog story from L.A. is a ridiculous idea in most cases, but this team is an underdog team that has just been skating circles around opponets. Underdog story lines are always fun.
- You want Philadelphia fans to suffer an excruciating amount. If their former golden boys make it to the promised land, the grumbles from Philadelphia will be heard for miles.
- In a way the Kings are kindred spirits to the Sabres, they are one of the earliest expansion teams, but like the Sabres they have no banners hanging from their rafter with the words Stanley Cup Champions.
- Because you live in L.A. and you really don’t care about The Lakers, Kobe, The Clippers, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul or basketball.
- You like seeing risky contracts pay off, and it will allow you to gripe about Darcy not getting the best talent again (but seriously can we stop blaming him for everything that goes wrong in the Sabres organization).
Aside from being able to watch the best sport in the world, played at its top level in the Conference Finals, the best part of these series for us fans with no real emotional investment is that we are just one step closer to next year. And as is the motto of the Buffalo Sports fan, “There is always next year.”