Sports for Dummies: The joy of a busted bracket, rooting for underdogs

Ashley Potts

My first round Stanley Cup Playoff bracket can be described a number of ways: atrocious, painfully wrong, a dumpster fire, etc. Put simply, I was incorrect.

Of the eight first-round matchups, I got three winners correct. All the rest of my boxes went grey, up to and including my pick to win the whole thing (R.I.P. Pittsburgh Penguins). Most people would be incredibly upset by this turnout, but I was thrilled.

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I’m not crazy, and I don’t think I’m alone in my excitement at the way the postseason has played out so far. And I’m also sure I’m not the only one with a bracket busted beyond repair. 

This year’s playoffs started out like any other. A lot of the top-seeded teams were expected. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames, Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators won their respective divisions.

The playoffs were familiar territory to many of the teams in the first round — the Capitals were the defending champs and the Pittsburgh Penguins made the playoffs for the thirteenth season in a row. Nashville entered the playoffs last year with the best record in the league and Tampa nearly made it to the finals last year before falling to the eventual champion Capitals in the third round. 

The other end of the playing field was much more interesting. It was a full on battle for the final Wild Card spots, and nothing was guaranteed until the last week of the regular season.

The Carolina Hurricanes — otherwise known as the Bunch of Jerks after their regular season game celebrations that captivated some and annoyed others — made the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. The Colorado Avalanche made the playoffs by securing the final Wild Card spot for the second year in a row. This came after a long rebuilding process and a devastating 48 point year — the 2016-17 season in which they recorded the worst record in the league and the worst record in franchise history.

Taking all of this into account, I made a bracket. And while I wanted to go with my loyalties, I also read the fine print saying the winner gets a large paycheck. So I went with what seemed most likely.

I picked Tampa, Washington and Nashville to win easy. I let loyalty get the best of me and counted Calgary out, but I figured that was blind hope for the Avalanche. The rest of my bracket featured typical favorites: Boston, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Las Vegas. I picked the Penguins to win the whole thing, partly because they’re my dad’s second favorite team but partly because of their six conference championships and five Stanley Cups, all in pretty recent history. They won their last Cup in 2016-17, so it seemed fair to pick them to do it again.

Did I mention how wrong I was?

What ensued in the first round was not what anyone expected. It was the first time in North American sports history that all of the division winners didn’t advance to the second round. All four Wild Card teams scratched and clawed (too soon Coyotes?) their way into the second round, despite the odds.

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The Columbus Blue Jackets came out of literal nowhere and swept (SWEPT) Tampa in the first round. This was the first time in NHL Playoff history that the President’s Cup winner was swept in the first round and the first time the President’s Cup winner was eliminated in the first round since 2012. Not to mention it was the first time Columbus had won a playoff series EVER.

The Avalanche beat top-seeded Calgary after falling to them in all three of their regular season meetings. Colorado advanced to the second round of playoffs for the first time since 2008. Carolina took the reigning champs to a thrilling game seven, which they won in double overtime, ensuring there will be a new team lifting the cup this year. Dallas took down Nashville in six games, two of which went into overtime.

The first round saw 10 games go into overtime, two of those needing a second overtime to decide a winner. Hockey Twitter has absolutely blown up with fans sharing their nail biting, stressed-out-but-excited experiences. 

That was the beauty of being wrong. The majority of hockey fans were wrong, but it was exciting for the underdog to come out on top time and time again. It’s something we all secretly root for.

Whether we root for the underdogs out of a sick pleasure that comes from watching the big guy fall, or because it’s easier for us to relate to or purely for entertainment’s sake, there is science backing our desire for the little guy to win. But we rarely get so much of it in such a short amount of time. 

I guess this is how other people feel about March Madness. My March Madness bracket was also a dumpster fire, but that had less to do with true unexpected outcomes and more to do with me not following college basketball very closely. 

Thankfully, I’ve been given another chance at bragging rights and (maybe) prize money with a second round bracket. This time, I chose to wholeheartedly root for more of the same: more unexpected outcomes, more overtime thrillers, more historical moments and more underdogs. And maybe there’s some blind faith in there too (#GoAvsGo).

Hopefully the Wild Card teams keep going and don’t let me down.

Ashley Potts can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ashleypotts09.