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OTBH: Heart in Mouth

On being a (once-and-future) fan of hockey during the playoffs.

Your 1929 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins
Your 1929 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the playoffs amplify every single emotion -- the highs are so much higher, while the lows that much lower. As fans, it's next to impossible to have any sort of rational response to a goal scored for or against your team. Moments that in the course of the regular season might have you letting out a short expletive under your breath are suddenly enough to make you leap out of your seat, threatening to throw your tv/computer/entire team out the nearest window.

In the category of ‘everything old is new again,' I can assure you that those feelings -- the ones intensified, magnified by post-season excitement -- are nothing new. As you might suspect, such emotions are as olde tymey as it gets. Every fanbase in every era has experienced the agony and the ecstasy of the post-season; every fanbase has longed desperately to see their team awarded the best trophy in all of professional sports. Those who have seen it already -- well, we want to see it again and again and again. Those who haven't? They crave a feeling that they can only begin to imagine.

Boston fans (old and new) are lucky, in some regards; they didn't have to wait all that long for a taste of post-season glory. It only took four years -- from the 1924-1924 season until the 1928-1929 season -- for the Bruins to secure their first Stanley Cup. The numbers were clearly in their favor, clearly; in a league of 10 teams where 6 make the post-season, one's shot at Lord Stanley's Cup is greater than it is in the days of 16-team playoffs.

Despite the more advantageous numerical breakdown, a team still had to actually beat other teams in order to make it through the playoffs -- and that's just what the future Cup winning squad of 1929 did. Led by familiar names like Shore, Clapper, and Thompson, the Bruins won their division that year, securing a bye in the first round. Their eventual semi-final opponents, the Montreal Canadiens, brought with them a ton of talent, experience, the services of Vezina-winner George Hainsworth. That talent was no match for the Bruins, as it turns out, and the Canadiens were downed in short order -- the Bruins won all three games they played, and it was off to the final they went.

Home ice against the Rangers was seen by many to be an advantage, but the contest was still predicted to be a tough one. The Bruins were two wins away from their first ever Stanley Cup, and no one -- the team, the beat reporters, the fans -- was ready to take anything for granted. In front of a packed house, the Bruins fought their way to a 2-0 victory, and the series swung to New York for a potentially decisive game 2.

And then there was simply this; one game. Everything hanging in the balance. A team a mere one win away from the Stanley Cup. The Bruins went into it determined and hopeful, the fans gloriously nervous. So much pent up energy and emotion by everyone involved -- I can only imagine what the CBC montage would have been like. Stupendous, as always, I would guess.

And then, the best end for Boston and its fans, the best newspaper report to wake up to in the world::

March 29 -- the Boston Bruins gained undisputed claim to the world hockey title tonight by beating the New York Rangers, 2 to 1, in the second and final game of the Stanley Cup series at Madison Square Garden.

It was almost unbelievable, for supporters of Boston's team. The Bruins won every game, every game that they played en route to their first Stanley Cup. Granted, they had a bye into the semi-finals. Granted, the series were only best of three. But still, the idea that a team could lose not one game on it's way to a championship was astonishing; the feat wouldn't be replicated in hockey until 1952.

Fans responded. They loved it. Bruins players attending a CAHL game at the Arena were hounded by ecstatic autograph seekers -- to the point where Eddie Shore had to be escorted by a policeman to a car, for his own safety. The emotions that rise to the surface after a beloved team wins -- especially if they've never won before -- well. I'm sure most of us can sympathize.

Strong emotions, after all, are a huge component of being a sports fan. They're part of the long legacy of being a fan of NHL hockey, in particular. Feeling every victory as if it were your own, and feeling each defeat like knife in your sternum. Hating your rival team, booing rival players and heckling opposing fans -- this is all part of the experience and the intensity of playoff hockey. At the end of the day, though, fans of opposing teams are bound to one another by those strong emotions. We all breathlessly wait to see if our team's goalie can make one more save, or if the other squad's powerplay will overwhelm our pk. We all close our eyes because we can't watch -- and not one of us can look away.

The fans of the 1929 Bruins had more in common with the fans of the 1929 Rangers than they had differences. We all share more similarities with our fellow hockey fans -- the ones who aren't douchebags who injure innocent people or play on a city's fragile mental and emotional state -- than we have opposing viewpoints. That moment before the puck drops in a playoff game, when everything seems possible and nothing's certain, that moment when your heart's in your mouth and the nausea you feel is probably not from the amount of beer you've consumed -- it's part of who we are, as fans. It's our shared experience with one another, and with that long line of hockey fans who've come before us.

All those emotions, man. It's awful. It's amazing. Whether it's 1929 or today, whether you're a Bruins fan or Canucks fan or Habs fan or Panthers fan, I think we can all agree -- there's nothing worse, and there's nothing, nothing better.