It's hard to believe that just a year ago the Bruins were about to embark on what would prove to be one of the most memorable championship series in team/Boston/NHL history, but here we are: a year removed, with two teams that nobody would have predicted playing for the right to become the lowest-seeded team to win a Stanley Cup (and also just the third team with an American captain to do so).
Storylines abound: Marty Brodeur's first trip to the Finals since Woodstock, Anze Koptiar's beard, the Los Angeles media's general incompetence when it comes to covering anyone but the Lakers, and on and on.
Save for the fact that future Bruins pivot Zach Parise counts himself among their ranks, there isn't much to like about the New Jersey Devils as the puck gets ready to drop on the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.
I sent an email out to the entire masthead a week ago asking anyone to come up with five reasons to root for the Devils. The overwhelming reply was "just write about the Kings."
So here we are. All apologies to the guy sitting behind me at work who wore a dark red shirt because "Devils, baby!", but I'm not rooting for New Jersey. Part of that is the New England in me - any team from New Jersey (even if it pretends to be from another state) automatically sucks - and part of it is, well, this:
1) The Kings' Inverted Power Play - Look, anyone who roots for a team in a hockey game doesn't usually spend the 6-16 minutes per game that that team averages short expecting a goal. But when the Kings go down a man, they come to life. What Dustin Brown has been able to do while short-handed is in no way surprising: he's just the type of player that Brad Marchand was in last year's Final, (although I don't expect Parise to get speed-bagged in this series) and his nose for the net belies his wily demeanor. Say what you will about his toeing the line with his play, he competes on every shift and has made the Kings' penalty kill what it is in a playoffs in which their power play has looked a lot like it belongs to a team that we're all familiar with.
2) Jonathan Quick - I didn't go to UMass; I don't have a ton of friends who went to UMass. But I like college hockey as much as the next guy, so sure, I'll root for a Hockey East goalie. In addition, a .946 save percentage over six weeks of hockey (sure, they've only played 14 games in that time, but whatever) is clinically insane. Yes, he's .006 percent better than Tim Thomas' record-best effort in the playoffs was last year. No, I wouldn't be heartbroken if that number held up.
3) The Bruins - You know, that team that went 4-0 against New Jersey this year? Yeah, them. I'm not going to get high and mighty and say that the Bruins have the right to be in the Finals again because they swept the Prince of Wales Trophy holders during the regular season, but it'd certainly have made an interesting Conference Championship by the banks of the Charles, wouldn't it have?
4) The Flyers - I don't care that Jeff Carter and Mike Richards play for the Kings. I do care about the family and friends I have that will claim that Philadelphia is somehow superior to everyone else because two of their former players (both of whom the team disgraced on their way out) won a Stanley Cup. You know what? That's the best they're going to get until they get that albatross of a contract they gave their goaltender off their shoulders, so I say let them. Let the Flyers fans be happy for once. Even if it's a bandwagon-y kind of happy normally reserved for Caps' fans.
5) Bill Simmons - Apparently he went to some Kings games recently and wrote about it. I say "apparently" because I nether pay enough attention to what he writes nor spend enough time reading his stuff to know for sure. That's not a knock on him; if the Celtics win the NBA Championship (and they won't), Simmons will be the first guy I read, after Bob Ryan. He just doesn't know hockey. We knew that before the "Patrick Beverly" incident. But if the Kings win, he's going to feel like he's obligated to write about it, probably a couple of times. And that would be a terrible thing to do to the fans of the game.
I know, this makes it seem like I'm rooting for the Devils. On the contrary, Simmons is exactly the kind of guy that Los Angeles media would bring on their program to talk about the Kings' win (despite contractual barriers preventing such a thing from happening) and the end result would be YouTube gold at worst, and detrimental to Simmons' career to the point that he just went and hid in a cave for months at best.
6) Greg Wyshynski - I love Wysh. Great guy, knows his hockey, knows his beer, runs one of the best hockey sites in the world. Had the pleasure of sitting next to him last year when I covered the Finals in Boston. That was awesome. He was humble, knowledgeable, fun to talk to, just generally made the entire experience better (and bigger) than it already would have been.
But we do all understand what would happen to Twitter and to Puck Daddy for the next (at least) four months if the Devils won the Cup, right? It would be remarkably overwhelming. It'd just be Wysh and Bourne and Leahy fanboying all over the place with Lambert maybe kind-of sort-of trying to talk them off their high horse, which wouldn't work anyway. Not to mention the amount of beer and cigars that would be consumed in the immediate aftermath of the victory would be enough to put Marchand, Kane or anyone else's binges to shame and enough to seriously jeopardize the health of one of the world's favorite hockey writers.
Wysh, we love you. And that's why we're rooting against you.