Playoff traditions set NHL apart

Sarah Spain takes you through her day pulling double duty as a radio personality and espnW contributor.

Ain't no party like a Stanley Cup party, 'cause a Stanley Cup party don't stop.

OK, they stop. Eventually. But only after the Cup has traveled all over the globe and hundreds of the winning team's fans have touched, kissed, held and drank from it, sharing in the thrill of victory (and a lot of germs, too).

Back in 2010, Patrick Kane's Cup-winning overtime goal prompted a party here in Chicago that lasted all summer. Nearly every morning a new Facebook friend would post a picture with the Cup after joining the players out on the town.

Every year, each player from the winning team gets to take the Cup for a day; to TV shows, golf courses, the tops of mountains, hometown ice rinks, hospitals and, most important, to bars full of fans.

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At the end of each playoff series, teams share an old-fashioned handshake.

If your team wins the Stanley Cup, you're not just a fan; you're a part of the celebration. It's one of the best traditions in all of sport and the very best of hockey's many playoff traditions.

Here are a few more …

The legend of the octopus

The Detroit Red Wings are one of the oldest and most storied franchises in the NHL, having won 11 Stanley Cups. During the 1952 playoffs brothers Pete and Jerry Cusimano threw an octopus onto the ice at Olympia Stadium, the animal's eight arms symbolizing the eight wins the Wings would need to win the Cup. (Back then the playoffs consisted of two best-of-seven series.)

The Red Wings swept the Maple Leafs and Canadiens that year en route to a Stanley Cup win, and the octopus has been a staple in Detroit ever since. These days two big purple octopi hang from the rafters at The Joe during the playoffs to represent the 16 wins now needed to win the Cup.

Handshakes

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Playoff beards have been popular since the late '80s, and fans have even been known to get in on the act.

At the end of every playoff series the two teams line up for a good old-fashioned handshake. No matter how ugly the series got, how many penalty minutes were recorded or how much trash talk was exchanged, the players show respect for each other and for the game by shaking hands.

Hands off

Players may get handsy with each other when a series ends but it's hands off when it comes to any trophy besides Lord Stanley's. Eastern Conference champions will stand next to their Prince of Wales Trophy, but won't lay a finger on it, and Western Conference champs might gaze lovingly at their Clarence S. Campbell Bowl but they won't dare touch it.

The real prize is the Stanley Cup, and for most guys that's the only piece of hardware worth hoisting.

Playoff beards

When the NHL playoffs start, the shaving stops. Each player lets his beard grow until his team is eliminated or wins it all. The New York Islanders are credited with starting the tradition in the early 1980s, when they sported big, bushy beards en route to four straight Stanley Cups.

The transition from man to werewolf is slow for some, almost immediate for others. In the past, youngsters like Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos have sported thin, creepy 'staches and small patches of hair on their cheeks, reminders that while they might be old enough to play pro hockey, they're still not old enough to rent a car. Other guys like Mike Commodore, Maxime Talbot and Scott Hartnell were born to wear beards.

Few playoff traditions are as beloved as the playoff beard. Some fans even choose to grow their face 'fro right along with their favorite teams, sometimes gathering donations for charity along the way.

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