The Fair-Weather Fan’s Guide to the NHL Playoffs

You did it! The hockey team from the city closest to you made the playoffs, and you, for one, are thrilled as heck. That’s because it’s once again time for your favorite NHL tradition: actually watching hockey games.

Folks, I’m not judging you, believe me. I love hockey, but I also love other sports, and I have a job, and I have a social life (two of those three things are true). I consider myself a fairly avid Pittsburgh Penguins fan, and I have only watched about a dozen games this season. We all have busy lives, and the hockey season is long. So, for those of you who are even less dedicated to the sport than I am, and who may have forgotten how things go, or for those of you who are just tuning in for the first time, here’s a primer in preparation for the NHL postseason.

Who to Root For

The Penguins, you idiot.

No, Seriously!

Fine! If you’re unattached, or if the team you’re attached to failed to land among this year’s playoff hopefuls, let’s chat. If you already have a team, move along, pal. The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have combined to take the last four championships, so throw them out. The Penguins, Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, and Tampa Bay Lightning have all won championships in the 21st century, as did the Dallas Stars in 1999, so let’s go ahead and toss them out as well. The only other remaining teams that have previously won the Stanley Cup are the New York Rangers (1994) and the Philadelphia Flyers (1975), and while I’m refraining from homerism in this section, I cannot in good conscience encourage you to root for either of them, so we’ll be tossing out all prior Stanley Cup Champions.

Of the seven remaining teams, three of the four have never appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals, let alone won the championship, so let’s start with them. The San Jose Sharks have struck out since their inception in 1991, and they’ve also had lots of other playoff heartbreak, having made the postseason 16 times and having won their division in six of those seasons. After a 2014 season in which they blew a 3-0 series lead to the rival Kings, General Manager Doug Wilson compared the Sharks’ playoff run to “Charlie Brown trying to kick a football.” You want to feel for them, you really do, but they wear entirely too much teal. I can’t do it. I’m sorry. The Minnesota Wild are the league’s newest team (excepting franchise movement), so it’s hard to feel especially sorry for them. That leaves us with the Nashville Predators, the official Team To Root For In The 2016 NHL Playoffs. Your favorite players are superstar goalie Pekka Rinne, defensemen Roman Jose, Shea Weber, and 23-year-old former Blue Jacket Ryan Johansen. Good news, too: their first game isn’t until Friday, so you have plenty of time for an Amazon drone to deliver all the requisite gear to your doorstep.


In all other team sports, punching guys is illegal and highly frowned upon. In hockey, punching folks on the other team is against the rules in the same way driving a single mile per hour over the posted speed limit is against the rules. You’re technically not supposed to do it, but if you do? Eh, whatever. Hockey officials become boxing referees on skates once the gloves are dropped, stepping in only when one man has clearly bested the other, or once the pair of combatants have mutually decided they’re done. The fighters will receive a raucous cheer from the home crowd, high-fives and fist-bumps from their teammates, and a chance to spend five minutes watching the game from the best seats in the house.


Overtime during the NHL regular season is five minutes of sudden-death, three-on-three hockey, and is among the most entertaining features of the sport. If the game is tied at the end of regulation, both teams earn a point on their record. (That’s a good thing; we’re not talking driver’s licenses.) With just one more point on the line, the stakes aren’t that high, and while shootouts are fun, they’re not hockey. Overtime in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is an entirely different animal. If you could synthesize playoff overtime hockey into pill form, that pill would be an illegal hyper-drug that you’d have to buy from the Yakuza. It would be the pill from Limitless, except you’d never know if it was going to last for five minutes or five hours. Every April, May, and June, hospitals nationwide save millions on equipment maintenance, as simply turning on a playoff hockey game is more than enough to bring the dying back to full health and alertness.


Even though hockey is far and away the country’s most popular sport, no NHL team from Canada has won the Stanley Cup in 23 years, when the Montreal Canadiens captured their 24th and final championship in 1993. This is a source of great shame for Canada, who take solace in the fact that the American political climate is currently dominated by an orange reality show star wearing cotton candy on his head. That streak is guaranteed to continue at least one more season; none of the seven teams from the Great White North have made the playoffs. If you know a Canadian, it is your patriotic duty to mock them for their country’s hockey failures. If you don’t, the orange man will sue you.


Travis Sarandos is a baseball writer who also writes about hockey sometimes, apparently. You should follow him on Twitter.