The 2017 Stanley Cup final begins tonight between first time finalists the Nashville Predators and the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins (Game 1, 8 pm on NBC). But just because the Islanders didn’t get a chance to compete for the Cup doesn’t mean there’s no reason to check out completely (although, judging by traffic numbers since the end of the season, most readers have done just that already).
Here are a few reasons to root for the Penguins or Predators (or neither) during the finals.
The First Timers
Nashville is making it’s debut in the Stanley Cup final and it’s looks like it’s been party time for weeks out there. The city (and its many celebrities of all stripes) have embraced the Predators in a really genuine, unique way. It’s been fun to watch and if they win the whole damn thing, it’ll be very cool to see just how crazy the city will go.
The Former Islanders
You probably already forgot that former Islanders captain Mark Streit was traded to the Penguins at the deadline in a wild series of deals that sent him from Philadelphia to Tampa Bay to Pittsburgh with everyone picking up a part of the tab. At 39, he hasn’t played a lot during these playoffs (only three games, even with the Penguins’ many injuries on defense), but he’s still one of my favorite Islanders of recent years and seeing him win the Cup, even with a hated rival, would be a joy.
I know nobody forgot (or will forget, for a least a little while longer), that P.A. Parenteau signed up for a second tour with the Islanders last summer, only to be put on waivers and snatched up by New Jersey, where he scored 13 goals and 14 assists in 54 games. Later sent to Nashville at the deadline, Parenteau, like his former teammate Streit, has spent most of the playoffs as a scratch. But what a crazy way for Parenteau to cap off a crazy calendar year than to end up hoisting the Cup with the Predators. Win or lose, it doesn’t sound like he’d give the Islanders a third crack.
Yes, Predators coach Peter Laviolette should have gotten more than two seasons as head coach for the Islanders. Despite their significant improvements under him, they’re the only one of the four NHL teams he’s coached to not reach the Cup final. The man clearly knows what he’s doing, which is more than we can say for the guy who gave him his first NHL job all those years ago.
Hey, remember Harry Zolnierczyk’s 60 games as a Sound Tiger and two as an Islander in the 2014-15 season? Yeah, me neither.
The Local Guy
Island Park native Anthony Bitetto had quite a rooting section for him at Barclays Center when the Islanders hosted the Predators back on March 27. Not only is his entire hometown pulling for him, but so is Islanders assistant coach (for now) Greg Cronin, who coached him at Northeastern.
The Bitettos have a large extended family, and many are hardcore hockey fans. Cronin said he can’t imagine what Island Park is like right now, because it seems as if half the town turns out to watch Bitetto play when the Predators come east. “When he played in Long Island the last two years, I think he had 100 Italians running around the stands,” Cronin said. “He was trying to take care of them all afterward.”
[puts on tin foil hat] Hm. No mention of Islanders fandom in the story. Must mean he grew up a... nah. You know what? Let’s just let it go.
The PK-JT Bromance
If you’re not rooting for P.K. Subban at this point in his career, I don’t know what to tell you. The man is relentlessly entertaining in a way no hockey player is now or maybe ever has been.
Plus, any time I have an excuse to include this video, I will take it. These dudes are tight.
The (sad) Thrill of Victory and the (joyous) Agony of Defeat
The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the 1998 Red Wings to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Get used to that sentence because you’re going to be hearing it a lot over the next two weeks.
Whether you hate them or not (and I’m assuming most of us do), that kind of greatness doesn’t come around often and deserves a certain amount of respect, however grudging it may be. And let’s face it, if the Penguins do win it again, it will be a remarkable accomplishment considering their roster is just a couple of Hall of Famers short of that stacked ‘98 Red Wings squad. I’ve been expecting them to run out of gas every game, and they just won’t die. It’s both impressive and incredibly irritating.
No one would blame an Islanders fan for rooting against the Penguins. Especially when they have a chance to add one more series to a streak of consecutive playoff victories.
(And no, a third Cup of this era doesn’t make them a dynasty.)
The Finish Line
Okay, fine. How about rooting for neither team but instead using the final games of the season to soak in the last live hockey before a long, long offseason? You can even hope for a sweep for the same reason. The sooner things wrap up, the sooner we can get to focusing on the expansion draft, the entry draft, free agency, prospect camps, work outs and, eventually, training camp.
Then we start all over again.