The Stanley Cup Finals are set, but for the first time since 2019, the Tampa Bay Lightning will not be a part of them. Instead, we will get the little brothers to the south, the Florida Panthers, against the obnoxious rich kid that has been handed everything since day one, the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
One of them is going to win the Stanley Cup, but should Tampa fans have a preference for which team wins?
Tampa Bay Lightning: Here Kitty Kitty
Often times as fans, our opinions of other teams are largely shaped by the people who support those teams. In baseball, for example, there is a reason most fans of the Tampa Bay Rays loathe the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox while staying mostly neutral about the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles.
Likewise, in the NFL, most Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans can’t stand the Dallas Cowboys while staying relatively cordial with the Carolina Panthers.
So it’s with this in mind, since the Maple Leafs eliminated the Lightning in round one, most Tampa fans were pulling for the Florida Panthers through the first two rounds. Even if you don’t care about the Panthers or even dislike the team, there are very few Tampa fans that would have preferred Boston or Toronto to make the Eastern Conference Finals ahead of Florida.
But now that two of Tampa’s biggest rivals were dispatched by Florida, should the lovefest keep going?
In reality, no.
You should never want another team in your division to be the one to raise the banner.
And as an actual team, the Panthers are a fairly dirty bunch, and there is no love lost from the previous two playoff series in 2021 and 2022.
All That Glitters Is Gold
The alternative for your 2023 Stanley Cup champion is the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
For the people of Las Vegas, they have gone from having zero professional sports as recently as 2016 to soon having an NHL, NFL, and MLB franchise.
And, much like we have all had to deal with here in Tampa, there is a snobbish like attitude the hockey elites have toward the southern markets. There is very little chance people in Toronto or Boston view Las Vegas as a hockey town, much the same way they thumb their nose at Tampa.
But if you want the truth, Tampa Bay Lightning fans should pull for the Florida Panthers over Vegas.
All Golden Knight fans have ever known is success. They were handed a top-tier team out of the gate that has now made three trips to the Western Conference Finals, with two trips to two Stanley Cup Finals, all in its first six seasons of existence.
They didn’t have to go through the pain of playing in the Expo Hall or having an expansion draft full of guys who couldn’t tie their own skates.
People who have actually rooted for the Panthers prior to this season have dealt with all the same critiques and nonsense Tampa fans have, just without the success:
- Opposing fans flooding the arena with regularity
- Inept ownership (we don’t talk about what happened prior to Jeff Vinik)
- Having to discover the sport despite few outlets growing up to actually play it
Plus, Matthew Tkachuk is becoming a star in the league, and the NHL needs more stars.
This isn’t to say you should be happy if the Florida Panthers win the Stanley Cup, but it is the best possible outcome if it couldn’t be the Tampa Bay Lightning.