The Playoffs: Who Ya Got?

We're going to have a full season in review coming for the Blue Jackets over the next week, but in the mean time, for those who root for teams did not make the cut, it's time to start considering who you want to root for when the Stanley Cup Playoffs start in force this Wednesday

With that in mind, here's the matchups from both the East and West, with reasons to root for each team from the start of the first round to the hoisting of the cup.

Eastern Conference

#1 Washington Capitals vs #8 New York Rangers

The Matchup: By the slimmest of margins, the New York Rangers put themselves in position for playoff berth by beating New Jersey on Saturday afternoon, then got a big boost from the Tampa Bay Lightning when they eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes that night, clinching their postseason appearance. The reward is for them to face the Washington Capitals in the first round - a team they beat in the post season in 2009. But if the "new look" Rangers really aren't the same team who toppled the Caps, these aren't really the same Washington Capitals either. They've tightened up defensively, and they've gotten better at controlling the game rather than just opening up a firehose on the opposing net and expecting to outscore their opponents.

Why You Should Root For...

Washington: Because they're exciting. Because they're sexy. Because Alexander Ovechkin seems to have finally "gotten it" and is looking to turn into a true champion, and not just a guy who is good in the regular season. Because you've still got a soft spot for Jason Chimera, and because Penguins Capitals 24/7 taught us that Bruce Boudreau has a promising future in comedy if this whole NHL coaching gig doesn't work out. 

New York: Because the Rangers have been in playoff mode for the last month, more or less, and they've basically already ratcheted up their intensity level - and it will be interesting to see if their opponents will be able to do the same. Because it really wouldn't hurt the NHL (or their next TV contract) if another "Original 6" team won the Cup. Because they've apparently voted Sean Avery off the island. Because King Henrik is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, bar none. Because they've persevered despite losing guys like Drury, Callahan, Dubinsky, and Gaborik at different times during the season, and because John Tortorella, win or lose, is one of the most interesting and entertaining coaches to watch on TV. 

#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres

The Matchup: Last year's Eastern Conference champs came within one game of winning the cup, and spent most of this season looking like they'd pick up right where they left off, but injuries and the perennial questions in goal have left them on a big of a skid of late. The Sabres, on the other hand, had to claw their way into the post-season by clinching a berth against this very Flyers team on the third to last day of the season, and they've taken a slow start and used it as motivation to take on all comers behind Ryan Miller.

Why You Should Root For...

Philadelphia: Because there's something great about the team who just missed the prize last season coming back to grab it. Because Chris Pronger is coming back, and if he's healthy, he could be Batman. Because Sergei Bobrovsky put Sideshow Bob on the side of his new mask. Because it's a team where the fans get hats that say "VENGANCE" on them during playoff time. Because they're R.J. Umberger's old club. Because Peter Laviolette already has his name on the cup once, and knows how to do it again. 

Buffalo: Because this is a town that might as well have "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride" as their official slogan, and they probably deserve a chance to finally walk to the altar. Because as much as I dislike their fans, they're loyal to the bone and they've stuck by this team through thick and thin. Because they've given the NHL some of the most iconic playoff matchups in the last 40 years. Because Rick Jeannerete isn't going to be around forever, and you're all wondering just what he's been saving up to say if they won it. Because Ryan Miller is still a Real American Hero. Because Terry Pegula seems like the exact kind of owner you want to see win, and because Lindy Ruff has paid his dues, their dues, and probably five other guys' dues in the meantime. Plus, he might try to climb over the glass and kill Pierre McGuire if he gets pissed off enough, and we'd all love to see that.

#3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens

The Matchup: Hate is a verb, a noun, and possibly a punctuation mark when you ask Bruins fans about the Habs, and vice versa. No two teams have met more often in the playoffs. It leaves a mark that passes from generation to generation that We Hate Those Guys, and there's no sign of that slowing down any time soon. Add the extra gasoline on the fire of the Chara / Paccioretty hit and six fight filled meetings in the regular season, and you've got a big time bomb waiting to go off....and did we mention that since the lockout, a 6 seed upsets the three seed 60% of the time?

Why You Should Root For...

Boston: Because Tim Thomas is the best goalie in the NHL, and he's doing it a year after everyone thought his career might have run aground following a hip injury. Because Zdeno Chara is having a monster year, even by his standards. Because the Bruins just keep finding ways to win under Claude Julien. Because Tuukkamania is running wild, and because you're apparently still in the mood for a bunch of insufferable Boston sports fans after winning a championship. 

Montreal: Because there's something brilliant about the Habs winning a cup (nearly) every decade. Because the passion and devotion of the fans of the Bleu Blanc Et Rouge is fantastic, even when it's terrifying. Because Carey Price seems to have finally figured out how to be a starting goalie in the NHL, and if there's hope for him, maybe there's hope for Steve Mason. Because the Habs have dealt with almost as many major injuries as the Rangers. Because Hal Gill knows how to win championships. Because P.K. Subban will be entertaining, unless he gets himself killed. Because you want to see the Cup go back to Canada, but you really, really hate British Columbia.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #5 Tampa Bay Lightning

The Matchup: What do you get when the team who just won't die meets the team who resurrected themselves from being the punchline of the NHL? The Penguins came just shy of being a 50 win squad this year, despite missing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for much of the season, starting the year without Jordan Staal, and having totally reworked their defense after giving up Sergei Gonchar and Alex Goligoski. The Lightning, on the other hand, finally seemed to click after Steve Yzerman sat down at the big chair, getting Simon Gagne to provide one of the key pieces their offense had needed, plugging in Dwayne Roloson to solidify their goaltending, and might just be the best squad they've put on the ice since they last hoisted the Stanley Cup.

Why You Should Root For...

Pittsburgh: Because you liked the whole "magic burrito" thing. Because there's something to be said for a team that lost their best players and tore off 24 wins anyway. Because 24/7 gave you an appreciation for Marc-Andre Fleury's potty mouth. Because it'd be nice to have a post-lockout repeat champion that isn't Detroit. Because an Bylsma might be a robot. Because you believe in the "Lose the Winter Classic, get to the Stanley Cup Finals" theory. Because the Church Brew Works is awesome. Because if you're a Jackets' fan, you may be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. 

Tampa Bay: Because you've seen Stamkos, and his darling kicky hairstyle. Because Guy Boucher may not have revolutionized the NHL, but he has done a good job with the pieces he was given. Because their offensive firepower has finally been matched to a goaltender of equal talent. Because the Lightning have split their games with the Pens this year, so we're likely looking at a pretty even matchup. Because if you hear another "yinzer" talking about how great the Pens are, you'll shove a fork into your eardrums. Because Steve Downie has turned himself around from a danger to himself and others to a valued NHL player. Because while you don't subscribe to the "sun belt expansion" theory, it really wouldn't hurt to see a team in the South win the cup again, and because frankly. their fans endured enough crap that this really would be a nice payoff to the pain.

Western Conference:

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks

The Matchup: Chicago has knocked Vancouver out of the playoffs for the past two seasons, and both times you could make an argument that Vancouver was the better club on paper. This year, Vancouver may just be the best club in their franchise's history, but you have to think that some spinchters tightened up in the Pacific Northwest when Antti Miettinen scored on Sunday.

Why You Should Root For...

Vancouver: Because Manny Malhotra is the kind of guy you'd really like to see get a ring, and the Canucks are a classy organization that would give him one should they win (not to mention putting his name onto the cup.) Because you thought the Swedish Twins commercial was hilarious. Because you aren't willing to wait for the 100th anniversary of the Vancouver Millionaires. Because frankly, they're damned good, and it would almost be refreshing to see the best team on paper actually win a championship in a major sport this year. Because the Green Men are awesome, even if the imitations are often lackluster. Because you would really like to see the Cup go back to Canada, but you hate Quebec.

 Chicago: Because some part of you likes the team coming back to win again despite everyone saying that it would be impossible after they "gutted" the team in free agency. Because you want to see a repeat champion that isn't Detroit or Pittsburgh. Because Duncan Keith is actually pretty awesome. Because part of your plan for Columbus to improve next season is to hope Patrick Kane is forced to retire in the offseason due to liver failure. Because the tears of Vancouver fans are delicious, and when it comes down to it, you hate Sweden. 

#2 San Jose Sharks vs #7 Los Angeles Kings

The Matchup: Surprisingly, this is the first time we've ever had an interstate series between these two California teams. (OK, so it's really more of a short flight series, unless you REALLY like 7 hour bus rides, but still.) The Sharks are another "almost, but never enough" team, while the Kings have been on the doorstep of greatness, but never managed to make that last push. Both teams were on top of the Pacific division at times this season, and the Kings really had to show some guts to keep pushing after losing Anze Kopitar late in the season. 

Why You Should Root For...

San Jose: Because you've forgiven Dany Heatley. Because Joe Thornton is the kind of player who deserves to get out from under the "choker" label. Because they finally went out and got a goalie who can win in the post-season. Because Patrick Marleau might be one of the best stories in the NHL this season that nobody is talking about. Because they'd bring the cup to another city that has never won it. Because Todd McClelland looks like a musketeer. Because LA should be the last team in California to win the cup as part of their karmic debt for 1993. 

Los Angeles: Because you think LA has paid off the karmic debt from 1993. Because Luc Robitalle is doing a lot of the same things for the Kings that Yzerman is doing in LA - right down to redesigning the jerseys. Because you really think purple and gold are complimentary and attractive colors. Because a team battling back from losing their superstar is a great story, and you don't want to root for the Pens. Because you're a fan of Wil Wheaton, and he's a Kings guy from way back...

#3 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes

The Matchup: It's a repeat of last year's first round, but this time it's Detroit with the home ice advantage (not that it bothered them that much last season). The Red Wings may be without the services of Henrik Zetterburg, but they're also the poster childern for a team that turns it up to a totally different level in the post-season. The Coyotes, on the other hand, just keep swallowing all their uncertainty in the future and using it to fuel success - and though the regular season isn't always an indicator, they did go 2-0-2 against the Wings this season. If this series doesn't go 7 games, I'd be shocked. 

Why You Should Root For...

Detroit: Because you're addicted to coney dogs. Because you have to admit that the Red Wings do a lot of things right, and deserve the success they've worked so hard to earn. Because you don't hate the team so much as you hate their fans (did we mention Stockholm Syndrome?). Because if Nick Lidstrom might actually retire, it'd be appropriate for him to go out on a winning note. Because they're building a statue of Robocop, and you want to see it dressed up in a hockey jersey.

Phoenix: Because you love to root for the underdog, and the Coyotes are the ultimate underdog this season. Because you still <3 Rusty Klesla. Because Dave Tippett is one hell of a coach, and deserves a Stanley Cup to go with the Jack Adams he probably won't win. Because you like sticking it to Winnipeg. Because if you're a fan in Ohio, you know exactly what having a team taken away does to a city. Because they are the team who invented the whiteout. Because Ilya Bryzgalov should get the chance to prove that he's more than a Stanley Cup winning backup. Because the fans in Phoenix have swallowed a lot of rage and pain for the last two years, and have been the punching bag for pretty much everyone in Canada with an axe to grind against Gary Bettman since the team arrived, and one way or another, it'd be a glorious piece of validation that could never, ever be taken away from them no matter what else happens. Oh, and because they're probably going to throw more snakes.

#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Nashville Predators

The matchup: I'm trying to think of a joke for this matchup and all I can think of is "White bread vs. Corn bread." On the one hand, the Ducks are a lot like the Rangers - they've been in "Playoff mode" for the past month, and they've turned up the pressure on every team they've faced. On the other, the Predators have taken over the "smothering, stifling defense" title away from the New Jersey Devils, and Pekka Rinne seems like he's a lasting star for the Predators after several years of revolving goaltending heroes that suddenly fade a year later. (See: Vokoun, Tomas; Mason, Chris; Ellis, Dan; etx.)

Why You Should Root For...

Anaheim: Because Corey Perry might actually deserve the Hart Trophy, and probably won't win it. Because Ray Emery's comeback is a great story. Because Emilio Estevez is better than Charlie Sheen. Because you think the Jackets should have drafted Cam Fowler. Because Teemu Selanne might stick around another year if they win. Because the only thing capable of covering Ryan Getzlaf's bald spot properly is one of those "Stanley Cup CHAMPION" hats. Because Bobby Ryan finally stepped out of Sidney Crosby's shadow. Because if they win, Randy Carlyle might smile.

Nashville: Because it would be a team from the Central Division winning that isn't Detroit or Chicago. Because you love slapshots that tear through nets. Because you understand what it's like to see a team make it to the post-season and then immediately crumble in the most spectacular way possible. Because you secretly hope that someday Barry Trotz will come out of the locker room in a Darth Vader helmet. Because Sergei Kostitsyn getting his head on straight is one of the other great stories that nobody is really talking about. Because Steve Sullivan came back from having his back turned into a pretzel. Because Mike Fisher would REALLY like to stop being Mr. Carrie Underwood. Because catfish is still kinda disgusting to hide under your shirt, but at least it isn't an octopus.

So, there you go. 16 teams and reasons a-plenty to get behind them (or to decide to go against them, depending on how you look at it).

As for whom, personally, I'm throwing my support behind? I'm pretty behind the Coyotes in the West, but I'm also seriously leaning towards the "any team that has never won the cup before" option, depending on who gets out of the first round...

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