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Stanley Cup Playoffs: One Player on Every Team to Cheer For

Whether it be grizzly veterans, underdog players or the new guy on the block, here's 16 players to cheer for when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.
Joe Thornton

The NHL playoffs can get pretty heated. When Stanley Cup glory is on the line, and every inch of every game can be the difference between victory and crushing defeat, tensions start to flare. 

So, let's take a moment to sit back and enjoy the feel-good stories of the postseason. 

Here's one player from each playoff team this year who you should root for. 

Western Conference

Minnesota Wild - Marc-Andre Fleury

How can you not root for this guy? 

Fleury is arguably the most universally beloved player in the entire NHL, with these playoffs potentially offering him the final shot at contention of his storied career.

It's not as if his legacy will be defined by these playoffs. Flower's Hall of Fame case is pretty much set in stone at this point. One more Cup won't change that. But wouldn't it be nice to watch him go out on top? 

Plus, how sweet would it be for the Vegas Golden Knights to watch the reigning Vezina winner who they flippantly dealt away for nothing (and left him to learn of the trade on his own through Twitter, no less) hoist the Cup while they watch from home? 

St. Louis Blues - Pavel Buchnevich

With so much of the Blues' Cup-winning roster from 2019 still intact, finding real underdogs on this squad was pretty tough. This choice, then, is rooted in pettiness. 

Pavel Buchnevich is a phenomenal hockey player. The type of player who should never have been traded in the first place -- especially not as a casualty of the Rangers' weird offseason obsession with getting tougher. 

Watching Buchnevich bulldoze his way to a brilliant postseason would be a great "you done goofed" to the team that sent him packing for no reason, and might just convince a few GMs moving forward to hold on to their skilled players. 

What a novel idea!

Nashville Predators - Mark Borowiecki 

It's always nice when good things happen to good people. 

Mark Borowiecki is a good person. One of the best in hockey, in fact. His on-ice value in the modern NHL might be dwindling as the league gets faster and younger by the second, but when it comes to "glue guys" -- who are important, too, by the way -- there's no one better. 

Something about Boro flashing his toothless grin while hoisting the Cup just makes me happy. And we can all get behind that, right? 

Dallas Stars - Joe Pavelski 

I know he's already locked in for another year, but Pavelski is still 37 and rapidly running out of runway to win that elusive Stanley Cup. 

And boy, has that Cup ever been elusive. 

Pavelski has gone to two Cup Finals in the past seven years, coming within two wins of championship glory on each occasion only to bow out in defeat. And despite just how long the odds are for the Stars to even make it out of round one, this might be the last shot Pavelski has at ending his career with a ring. 

Colorado Avalanche - Nazem Kadri 

Please, please keep it together this year, Naz. The hockey world wants to root for you. You just need to let them. 

The Avalanche are due. And Kadri hoisting the Cup after all the undeserved flack he took from the Toronto media as a teenager sure would be a great story. 

Calgary Flames - Johnny Gaudreau

The Flames don't really have a designated "old guy without a Cup" on their roster, as most of their players over 30 -- Lucic, Coleman, Lewis, Toffoli, etc. -- have at least one ring of their own. 

So, the only logical choice is for the superstar. 

Johnny Gaudreau has been doubted his entire career. He's been deemed too small, too hard to coach, not good enough to build around, a playoff choke artist, etc, etc.. 

Johnny Hockey has already shut most of his critics up this season with a Hart-worthy performance. The guy is a stud. And the next step is to establish himself among the league's elite by leading the Flames to a Cup. 

That's something I can root for. And you should, too!

Edmonton Oilers - Mike Smith

Listen, Mike Smith is just a wily fella. And I like that. 

The guy is almost 40 and looked to be on his last legs for most of the year before a remarkable late-season surge. Smith has come close before in his lengthy career, too, leading the Coyotes, of all teams, to an improbable run to the Western Conference Finals in 2012. And while he's still under contract for another year, it's unlikely Smith will enter another postseason as his team's entrenched starter from here on out. 

For a guy who bounced around so much in his early days, and has managed to stick as an old man in a young man's sport for so long, Smith riding into the sunset with a ring on his finger would be a nice little story. 

Los Angeles Kings - Dustin Brown

Sure, Dustin Brown already has two Stanley Cups under his belt. But there's just something about a farewell tour that gets me all misty-eyed. 

With Brown having already announced that the 2022 playoffs will be his last, this is literally the final possible opportunity for the former Kings captain to add to his legacy with the only team he's ever known. 

Eastern Conference

Carolina Hurricanes - Ethan Bear

If the Hurricanes go all the way this year -- and they certainly have the tools to do so -- Ethan Bear, who hails from the Ochapowace First Nation in Saskatchewan, would become one of a select few Indigenous players in NHL history to hoist the Stanley Cup. 

That rules. And I hope it happens. 

New York Rangers - Justin Braun 

It's a classic case of "old guy without a cup". 

Justin Braun is 34 years old with almost 800 games across 12 big-league seasons under his belt. 

And yet, the veteran's trophy case is bare. 

Braun has flirted with a Cup before, all the way back in 2016 as a member of the San Jose Sharks squad that took the Pittsburgh Penguins to six games in the Stanley Cup Final before bowing out in defeat. 

That has to sting, and Braun has never come that close to hockey's ultimate prize since. 

Who knows how many opportunities he has left. Let's get Braun a Cup. 

Washington Capitals - Alexander Ovechkin

Two Time Stanley Cup Winner Alexander Ovechkin™

Need I say more? 

Pittsburgh Penguins - Brian Boyle 

Brian Boyle has spent his entire career defying the odds. The guy overcame cancer, for Pete's sake. The adversity this man has fought back from is incredible. And factor in how him even being at this point is pretty incredible given that he entered training camp this year without an NHL contract, and you have a perfect underdog candidate. 

As one of the nicest guys in the league, Boyle has always been easy to root for. But as a fearless competitor who refuses to let the door slam shut on his career no matter how hard the Hockey Gods try, he's become something of a folk hero. 

If Boyle hoists the Cup this year, there won't be a dry eye in the house. I know I'll be crying. 

Florida Panthers - Joe Thornton 

I mean, was there ever any doubt? 

Sure, it would be nice to see Claude Giroux finally lift the Cup above his head, but the former Flyers captain has more than a few years of quality performance left in the tank to reach that summit. 

Jumbo Joe is a borderline senior citizen, with this season likely being the last of his incredible career. 

He needs to win. He just has to. Joe Thornton deserves a Stanley Cup on his resume. And after coming so close on more than a few occasions over the years, this is arguably the best chance he's ever had. 

Bar owners in Sunshine, Florida are praying for a Jumbo Joe Victory Tour more than anyone, too. 

Boston Bruins - Taylor Hall 

Taylor Hall spent the entire first decade of his career being a good player on terrible teams that were led by management groups whose sheer incompetence threatened to flush the prime years of his career down the toilet. 

Now, Hall is in a new phase. A wily veteran by hockey standards, he finally finds himself in a winning culture that seems capable of achieving consistent success. 

Not to mention, if Hall did win the Cup this year, it would really stick in the craw of Oilers fans. And that is a cause we can all get behind. 

Tampa Bay Lightning - Corey Perry

It's tough to find underdogs on the back-to-back champs, especially given how their roster has stayed largely intact from year to year. 

Perry is the closest we're going to get to a heartwarming story on this juggernaut. It pains me to write this, but it's true. 

Perry already has a Cup on his resume. But with that 2008 victory being almost 15 years ago, and Perry's Montreal Canadiens getting bounced in the Final last year, it would be nice for the vet to reach the top of the mountain once again. 

I guess. 

Toronto Maple Leafs - Jason Spezza

"This is very important to me," Jason Spezza told reporters after the final game of the Maple Leafs' season last Friday. 

"I've played my whole life trying to win a Stanley Cup"

Spezza has everything you could hope for in an underdog. He's a certified Nice Guy™, has put forth a Hall of Fame career, and has spent the past three seasons signing league-minimum deals for the sole purpose of bringing the Cup back to his beleaguered hometown team. 

If the Leafs do the impossible this season, John Tavares is sure to hand the Cup directly the Spezza. 

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