There's something about a team everyone says doesn't have a chance that makes you hope they prove the experts wrong. I think there's something about it that makes a team believe in itself, too. If everyone says they don't have a chance, the guys on a team tend to pull together and say, "What the hell, it's us against the world."
Those are the teams you can love. They're the teams you can root for in the playoffs, even if you hate them in the regular season. I don't love the Nashville Predators ordinarily, but watching them stand up to the mighty 'Hawks last night was fun. Watching the eighth-seed Avs take the lead on the powerful Sharks for the second game in a row was impressive.
I'm sure part of it stems from the feeling that it's somewhat unfair for the strong teams to be so strong in the first place. Most of them...the 'Hawks, Caps and Pens, for example...are strong because they sucked for years and claimed franchise players in the draft. Others, like the Sharks, are so doomed in the playoffs it's like a train wreck; we can't turn away from their continued failure. And others, like the Wings, we just get sick of. We liked them once, but now we're tired of their success and we want to see them finished.
For us poor Habs fans, rooting for the underdog generally stems from our love of fairy tales, and the situation with our own team. That's what we get these days. Our team isn't the powerhouse it was years ago. Now, it just barely scrapes into the playoffs and it's almost always the underdog. So we have sympathy for the others in our class. We support the working team and shun the elite. It's no different from trade unions versus bosses. We want heroes. Tough, underdog goalies and failed big-money superstars make our day. We want teams who tell OUR story and make us relevant.
Most of all, if one underdog can win, so can another. It gives us hope to root for them. That's why we look back at '71 and ask, "Hey, if that team could do it, why can't this one?" Why can't it, indeed. The stories of underdogs prove anything, and everything, is possible. Those stories are what keep us coming back, and they're what make us believe.
There's nothing on paper that says the Canadiens, or the Senators or Flyers or Predators or Avalanche should win their playoff series. But off paper, on the ice, there's heart and luck and skill and grit that says they might. That's why we love underdogs. They give us a chance to believe and hope in a way that cheering for a favourite, with the automatically assumed sense of entitlement, doesn't give us. We appreciate the miracle wins. We love the hero goalies and the clutch goal scorers more than those who expect those things.
So far this playoff season, it's the year of the underdog and I love it. Who let the dogs out? Parity, hope and good luck let them out and I hope they run free for a long while yet.