It's always hard to watch the playoffs as a Buffalonian if the Sabres aren't in them. It's even harder if all of the Sabres' division rivals are in it; not only that, but they were all matched up against each other. It's hard to root for anyone in games when you strongly dislike both teams that are playing.
Yet that's not always the case - if the 2013 NHL playoffs have taught us anything, its that there are certain teams in our division that we dislike more than others.
Buffalo is supposed to hate Toronto. They are the closest team geographically, their fans pack our arena when we play them, and we always hear stories about angry run-ins with their fans. Many a Sabres fan has said that the Maple Leafs fans were their least favorite in the entire league.
However, this postseason I couldn't help but root for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sure, part of that sentiment may just be that it's easier to root against the Boston Bruins. They've given the Sabres fans far more reasons to dislike them in recent history. Whether it be the recent playoff series, the Milan Lucic hit, or just a general frustration with how they play (and how some fans wished the Sabres would play) the Bruins have developed into one of the Sabres biggest rivals.
Toronto hasn't done that. They haven't really even been good enough to hate, until this season. It's hard to have much of a rivalry when one team totally dominates the other for so long, and the other team is just never as good. That's why the New England Patriots don't consider the Bills much of a rival.
Toronto was likable this series because they reminded us of us. They are the underdogs, the team that has fallen on tough times finally getting its big shot. They were the Sabres in 2006, with a chance to take down the mighty Senators when no one thought they could. Everyone loves an underdog.
So when the Leafs blew their three goal lead in the final ten minutes, it felt like I was watching the Sabres. It hurt, seeing it all crumble. I felt for a team that I'm supposed to hate in a way that I never thought I would coming into the playoffs. Not only did I feel bad for them, I was upset that they lost. I guess that's what happens when the Eastern Conference playoff is filled with teams I don't like, you find the lesser of the evils. However this was something more, something I've never felt watching another team that wasn't mine. That's what the NHL playoffs can do to you.
That all being said, I fully expect all those feelings to be gone once the Sabres and Leafs match up for the first time next season. Until then Leafs Nation, you have my condolences. Enjoy your summer, even if its a bit shorter than you've gotten used to the past nine years.