Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2012 [Print without images]

Thursday, April 5, 2012
Updated: April 10, 12:56 AM ET
Five best playoff traditions

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

1. Overtime!

Is there anything truly better than overtime in the NHL playoffs in any other sport in the world? I still remember being 15 years old in April 1987 and watching one of the league's longest and exciting overtimes, Game 7 to boot, between the Islanders and Caps. If you have time to watch seven minutes of it, here you go.

I won't spoil the ending for you kids who don't remember it. I grew up a Montreal Canadiens fan in Northern Ontario, so there's no shortage of OT memories there. Game 7, Montreal against Boston, 1979? Yeah, that's for sure the best one for me.

Overtime isn't quite as much fun when you're working on deadline as a hockey writer, though. That's why I cheer against overtime in every playoff game I cover, ha.

But last spring provided one of the more thrilling games I've ever covered, when I was on working Chicago-Vancouver, Game 7. I think we all remember how that one ended.

2. Handshakes after series

They battle like they want to kill each other for two weeks and then they line up and shake hands. I love this part of playoff hockey. It's about respect and honor despite whatever ill-feelings may exist among opposing players in such a charged-up atmosphere. We're losing many of our traditions in life and in sport; let's hope we never lose this one.

3. Playoff beards

My colleague Al Strachan, a retired and legendary hockey columnist and honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, used to always say to me: "So stupid. The players cover their faces up just when the biggest audiences of the year tune in."

He'd also say: "The beard is supposed to provide good fortune but it appears not to work for 15 of 16 teams."

Well, he's got a point. But it's a vested playoff tradition and superstition, nonetheless. To me, the one that always stands out is Scott Niedermayer's greybeard as he's holding up the Stanley Cup in 2007 for Anaheim. I'll also never forget going into the Calgary dressing room just after the Flames lost Game 7 of the 2004 Cup finals in Tampa and seeing how every player had within minutes of that crushing loss shaved off their playoff beards. The Cup dreams were gone, just like their beards.

4. Black aces

You know it's playoff time when you see a bunch of players at optional morning skates that are not playing. These guys are minor-league call-ups who basically hang around their NHL brethren during the playoff run. NHL teams, especially teams whose AHL affiliates have ended their seasons, like to do this to give their young prospects a taste of what it's going to be like when they become regulars and experience playoff hockey. It's also a way to make them part of the family, kind of. Although whenever a see a member of the Black Aces, I see the expression of a player that would dearly love a chance to be in the actual game that night.

5. Octopus in Detroit

The first octopus hit the ice in Detroit for a Red Wings game in 1952, according to most accounts, when a local seafood market owner -- Peter Cusimano -- threw the thing on the ice. The meaning of which was that all eight legs of the octopus represented the eight playoff wins needed in the Original Six era to win a Stanley Cup.

When the Wings began winning more championships in the 1990s, it became quite popular again. I'm just glad I'm not the guy picking that thing up off the ice.