Washington Capitals right wing Justin Williams (14) celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning goal in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs in game five of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 2-1 in overtime and lead the series 3-2. Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the wonderful time of the year. The NHL Playoffs have everything, from hard hits to clutch goals and some of the best goaltending seen all year. Sometimes there’s even a Cinderella story. You know those no matter which sport you follow.

Not every team makes the playoffs though. In the NHL, 14 teams (and their fans) are forced to watch from the sidelines. While the rest can be good, there’s usually a feeling of what could have been. The opportunities that slipped through their fingers at key junctures can be haunting. Alas, we move on.

There’s always someone to root for if you’re a passionate fan of the sport. Is it a former player who got traded? A previous coach who has a tendency to get his teams far? Do you enjoy watching stars shine and clutch performers come up big again? Or is it all about loyalty-cheering for a team you’ve always enjoyed watching play?

For me, it’s about cheering for a team I’ve always liked. That would be the New York Rangers. My fandom of the Rangers goes back to 2014. Martin St. Louis demanded a trade to one team. That was those Broadway Blueshirts. The trade netted my absolute favorite team Ryan Callahan.

While a trade that didn’t sit well with some fans, I believe it helped both teams in the long run. The Rangers rode the emotional wave of St. Louis losing his mother to the 2014 Cup finals. The Lightning, meanwhile, received breakout campaigns from young guys during the 2015 playoffs. That culminated in them beating New York and advancing to the 2015 Stanley Cup finals.

Let me make one thing clear here. I’m a Tampa Bay Lightning fan through and through. I bleed Bolts blue and will root for them before anyone else. In saying that, I enjoy watching the sport of hockey as a whole. There’s something about playoff hockey that grabs one by the horns and sucks them in. As much as I attempted to not care, the constant dramatics of hockey in late April drew me in.

Have you felt that way before? Do you feel that way currently? If you’re an avid fan of a team that didn’t make the dance, the answer is likely yes. Even if your team got eliminated early, you might be rooting for someone else to go far. That’s OK. It proves your loyalty lies with the sport first, then your team.

Round One is close to wrapping up, meaning we’ll see a few more teams fans join those of us already on the sidelines. Will they pick another team to cheer on or focus on something else? For me, the choice is easy. How about you?

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