Playoff Hockey - Don't Take it For Granted

USA TODAY Sports

14 Teams have already packed their gear and headed home, 16 teams and their fan bases are left to wonder when their seasons will end.

So here we are.

Playoff games started last night and the Bruins drop the puck against the Leafs at 7:00PM tonight. It's nothing short of the best championship race in sports. We're a bit spoiled here in Boston, as the Bruins currently hold the record for the longest post-season streak in North American major professional sports history. Maybe it doesn't feel like it because there were a lot of one and done years in there. The Bruins' current postseason streak sits at six seasons; it wasn't so long ago that they missed the dance in in 2006-2007.

Every spring I'm reminded how thankful I am to plunk down MORE of my money to sit in the same seats for anywhere from 4-16 additional games and avoiding really planning life for more than a series at a time.

This is what we do as hockey fans. None of us want to commit to anything from April to June.

We shouldn't get complacent. It won't always be this way; even proud franchises go through droughts. Even 22 straight appearances in the playoffs don't guarantee championships. The Red Wings are into their 22nd appearance with 4 cups in that time to show for it -- and they barely made it in this year.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are as good as it gets. Other sports don't have the 8 seed come out of nowhere to win a championship, do they?

Earlier this month I was flipping around through Center Ice like most hockey fans on their team's off nights. Landing on the Islanders vs. Flyers game being played at the Coliseum. I heard something I didn't think I would hear out of that building. It was loud. There were LOTS of people there. And they were all chanting "We Want Playoffs"

As Bruins fans, we're a couple years removed from "We Want The Cup" chant. I remember chanting it so hard I strained my voice for nearly two months. But here were these folks, fans of a team that won four straight Stanley Cups how many years ago - begging the hockey gods (come on you know they exist) for another chance to to play for the Cup. It was so awesome to hear. Even if you don't care about the Islanders, if you love hockey you know how it feels to be that close after being away for that long.

I emailed my pal the next morning, he's had his Islanders tickets as long as I've had my Bruins tickets.

I shed a little tear last night. Good for you guys - keep it going pal. I just don't want us to play each other in the first round

He replied:

That was a really nice feeling last night. "We Want Playoffs" sure is better than "We Want Fishsticks" I also like the "Last Place Flyers" chant. That one hit home.

So it's fun this year to see the Islanders and Leafs joining the party again after a long absence. I think we'll all have our eye on Columbus (#lumbus!) for next season as well since they just missed it. At the end of the day - it's better for the sport for a variety of teams make the playoffs. The NHL's best marketing tool is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

One of my first games was a playoff game, I had bought the tickets for a boyfriend and told him to take a friend. I knew enough to know it was a special thing and that the tickets should go to someone who understood that. He took me because he told me I'd be addicted the minute I set foot in a playoff game. He was absolutely right - I haven't missed a home playoff game since.

Playoff hockey makes people fans for life. That time of year, the atmosphere even feels different out on the streets of the city you're in. When I wake up in the morning it's easy to get out of bed despite having stayed up to watch a west coast playoff game the night before, because it's game day. We never know how long our teams will be in it, and we have to savor ever moment. I've walked into the building convinced it would be the last night of the season - sometimes I'm wrong and it feels amazing (game two against the Habs in 2011, anyone?) and sometimes I'm right and it feels like I got punched in the mouth. Just like that - it's over till October. Its time to focus on other things, like quality time with folks whom you've ignored for 6-9 months, being outside, spending money on non hockey related expenses. And even then, with all that life to catch up on, you spend most of that time feeling like something is missing.

So the chase starts tonight - could be a week, could be two months - but that's part of the fun, isn't it? Enjoy the ride, it's not a guaranteed trip every spring. Live every playoffs like they're your last.

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