It’s a tradition that’s almost as old as hockey itself.
Your favorite team gets eliminated from the playoffs, so now what?
Well, you look around at the remaining teams to find ex-players from your team to root for.
In the case of the Flyers, who exited after one round against Pittsburgh, the choice was easy:
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of the Vegas Golden Knights.
As just about any Flyer fan can tell you, Bellemare was about as popular player in these parts as a 32-year-old fourth-liner can be.
One of only a handful of native Frenchmen playing in the NHL, Bellemare signed in Philadelphia as a free agent and immediately impressed people with his savvy play and tireless work ethic.
The Flyers even made him an assistant captain and gave him a nice contract.
But when it was time to put together a list of protected players for the Las Vegas expansion draft, Bellemare wasn’t on it.
Bellemare understood. Hockey is a game but it’s also a business. So he left here with a smile and embraced the challenge in Nevada.
Fast forward a year and Bellemare must be still grinning.
The Knights have stunned everyone by winning their division, then eliminating the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks in the first two rounds.
Now Bellemare finds himself in the unlikely spot of playing in the Western Conference finals against the Winnipeg Jets.
You can bet plenty of fans around here are rooting both for Bellemare and the Cinderella Knights to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Bellemare will always have a place in his heart for Philly. And Philly fans will always have a place in their hearts for him.
“It (the Flyers) is a good organization,’’ Bellemare told reporters recently. “They take care of their players. What happened to me is just part of the business.
“They had no choice and if they would have protected me it would have been ludicrous. I’ve got to be honest with you. I’m 32. They have young guys. How long am I going to be in this league? How long are they going to be in the league? They made a choice. It’s Vegas.”
Vegas GM George McPhee, late of the Washington Capitals, had scouted the Flyers prior to the expansion draft and knew Bellemare would fit in perfectly as a penalty killer and all-around defensive stopper.
“For me, it was a great opportunity,’’ Bellemare said. “I come to a new franchise, staple myself into it, have an opportunity to talk to the young guys and have them understand my way to think and my way to work.
“Maybe if I touch one of those kids, he helps another kid later on. That’s all you can do. At the end of the day when your career is over, it’s like what have you done with your situation? I think it was a great opportunity for me.”
So it’s clear that the Flyers hated to part ways with Bellemare but it was a business decision.
Turns out, they did Bellemare a favor. They also gave Flyers’ fans someone to cheer for as the Stanley Cup playoffs wind their way to a conclusion.
Third round predictions
The second-round picks wound up 2-2, with two winners in the West and two losers in the East.
Here’s the way we see it in the conference finals:
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals: Tampa has been knocking on the Stanley Cup door the past four years and this year the Lightning just might walk through. While Washington looked impressive in eliminating Pittsburgh, Tampa really looked good downing Boston. If Stamkos has a big series, this one could be over early. Lightning in six games.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Vegas Golden Knights: As much as Vegas is the popular pick with fans, the Knights’ run might be coming to an end. The Jets have a lot of firepower, their goaltending was superb in the series win over Nashville and besides, Canada hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 25 years, so maybe the Jets are destiny’s darlings. Jets in seven.
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