If you weren’t pulling for the Canadiens, you kind of have to be now.
Montreal-Tampa is a Bruins fan’s nightmare Stanley Cup Final. It’s the worst-case scenario. Longest rival and arguably most hated franchise by Bostonians vs. the Bruins’ ultimate modern-day foil. B’s fans were probably too busy envisioning the Bruins in the Final that they never considered what the worst-case scenario would be. It’s this.
But (understandably) unwilling as B’s fans were to enjoy Montreal’s fun, underdog, feel-good run this postseason, the Canadiens should have their support in this Cup Final matchup.
I get not wanting to root for Montreal, but this is more about rooting against the Lightning.
Boston fans have probably considered the B’s to somewhat be the class of the Eastern Conference over the last decade or so. That’s unfortunately incorrect: The Penguins have three titles since 2009, but more recently the Lightning have been both dominant (like the Bruins at times) and (unlike the Bruins) successful. They’ve got one Cup since Boston won in 2011. A second would make the Bruins the third-most impressive team in their conference during this era.
Have the Canadiens embarrassed the Bruins recently? When was the last time? The Winter Classic in 2016? Who freaking cares?
The Lightning, meanwhile, have eliminated the Bruins in five games in each of their last two playoff meetings. I’d call them gentlemen’s sweeps, but they were anything but gentlemanly. We all remember that 7-1 drubbing in Game 3 during bubble play.
And oh yeah, they did it en route to winning the Cup last year. Bruins fans would really rather Tampa win back-to-back Cups than have Montreal win one? You can hate either team after they win, but a Habs win you could at least attribute to a funny year, a wild run and a whole lot of flukiness -- mainly the division and playoff structure -- plus playing teams without their star players.
If Tampa wins, for as badly as fans will cry about them circumventing the salary cap (Tampa put Nikita Kucherov and others on long-term IR for the regular season, spending those cap dollars elsewhere, then brought Kucherov back for the playoffs, to which the salary cap does not apply -- a legal action, everyone), they’ll know deep down that Tampa was the best team. You can cry “fluke,” but it will only go so far.
They’ve been the best team. They’ve been clearly better than the Bruins, who we should be coming to realize we’ve overestimated at points. The Lightning can solidify themselves as being in another class by winning a second Cup.
Another reason? The Lightning are going to be a threat whether they win or not. If cross-border restrictions are lifted, the Habs could rejoin the Atlantic next year and be looked at as the third or fourth team in the division. If they win the Cup, though, they can’t be ignored. Don Sweeney will spend this offseason not only having to account for the buzzsaw that is the Lightning, but also the defending Cup champion, who also happen to be the team’s biggest rival. A repeat of last offseason (let guys go, hope for the best!) would be out of the question.
Some Bruins fans have genuinely enjoyed this Canadiens run. Others just can’t go there. You can get why, but rooting for the Canadiens this postseason was never an anti-Bruins thing. Rooting for the Lightning right now would be.