By The Neutral, Fear The Fin
Why should you root for the San Jose Sharks? Well that's an easy one.
First of all, they're playing the most reviled team in hockey. Few clubs in recent NHL history have elicited as much widespread disdain, as much instinctual derision as this iteration of the Vancouver Canucks. This is a team so detestable that a country which, in fits of nationalistic and hockey-obsessed fervor has previously thrown itself behind the likes of an Edmonton Oilers team featuring Chris Pronger and a Calgary Flames team with zero redeeming qualities, couldn't muster anything close to enthusiasm for the Canucks' 2011 Stanley Cup bid.
In fact, most Canadians outside British Columbia actively cheered against Vancouver because to root for the disgraceful stickwork of Alexandre Burrows, the embarrassing fish-like flopping of Ryan Kesler and the general hideousness, inside and out, of Maxim Lapierre is to conflagrate one's soul quicker than a wasted Canucks fan (I'm sorry, I mean an unaffiliated anarchist from Kelowna) sets a cop car ablaze. Sure, Kesler's ESPN photo shoot was pretty funny, Roberto Luongo is better at Twitter than he is between the pipes and Dan Hamhuis has received accolades for his humanitarian work in Haiti. Ignore all of that. I'm pretty sure Hamhuis ate far more children than he helped anyway.
The Sharks have the chance to put a swift end to all of this nonsense before it even actually begins. For the second straight postseason, they can send the Canucks home and the citizens of Vancouver to their Alain Vigneault effigies after the first round. But the way in which the Sharks will accomplish that is as much a reason to cheer for them as hoping to see an organization that nearly christened Nickelback its official pre-game music enter another early offseason.
Most likely, the Sharks will beat the Canucks with significant help from Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both of whom but especially the latter, have been targeted in patently ridiculous fashion by the uninformed hockey media (the majority of whom are fast asleep before the puck even drops on the west coast) for their perceived playoff no-shows. Marleau in particular is routinely cast as a backchecking-allergic floater who's unnaturally streaky and never comes through in the postseason. Sure, Marleau is consistently trusted by his coaches to play the toughest defensive minutes available, is no streakier than any other NHL scorer and scored more playoff goals between Gary Bettman's second and third lockouts than all but four players.
But lesson one in the Adrian Dater School of Hockey Journalism is to never let facts get in the way of a good narrative. Marleau could score three hat tricks en route to a series sweep over Vancouver this spring and Jeremy Roenick alongside the rest of NBC's illustrious panel of intermission troglodytes would devote most of their time to analyzing the state of disembowelment Marleau now finds himself in.
Anyone who hates tired and unfounded narratives should root for Marleau and Thornton to lift the Stanley Cup this June, putting to bed the media's playoff choker routine and forcing them to come up with a new anti-Sharks narrative. Maybe this time they'll claim that Joe Pavelski is actually a feral cat.
Beyond the Patty and Jumbo factors, this is just an undeniably likeable group of players. Brent Burns loves hockey so much he not only looked like Tom Hanks in Castaway after a four-month lockout but was more than willing to switch from defense to forward midway through the season, then dominated at his newfound position. Logan Couture has quietly developed into a premier two-way forward while his brother has quietly developed into a social media superstar whose Twitter account needs to be thoroughly perused in order to be believed.
Scott Gomez and Raffi Torres recently connected for the most Hispanic goal in NHL history and bring some much-needed diversity to a predominantly white sports league. Even San Jose's worst player, Adam Burish, hates Chris Pronger unlike those aforementioned bandwagon-jumping Canadians and once did this in a hockey game.
As you can see, the reasons to root for the Sharks are as abundant as they are compelling. Also who else are you going to root for, the f***ing Blues?