It's been a long hockey season. Since the beginning of October, pro hockey teams have played 82 games. Players have hit the ice just about every day in both games and practice.
Now things get interesting.
This week marks the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, one of the most exciting sports tournaments of the year. Sixteen teams make the Playoffs, eight from the Eastern Conference and eight from the Western Conference. In each round of the Playoffs, two teams play a best-of-seven-series, meaning that the first team to win four games advances to the next round. Eventually, the winner of the Eastern Conference plays the winner of the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Playoffs are so much fun to watch because every team is very competitive. Each team was good enough to make the Playoffs, so they match up to play some very even games. Every player involved in the Playoffs is trying his very hardest. At this point in the season, hockey players are getting tired. They have to play against sore muscles in addition to the other team. It takes a lot of courage and determination to succeed in the Playoffs.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs have several traditions that carry on from year to year. Many players are superstitious and don't shave their beards as long as their teams keep winning. By the time the finals roll around, these "playoff beards" are big and scruffy. You can always tell when a hockey team is in the Playoffs because all of the players have beards! Another great tradition is the hand-shake line. At the end of each series, the players line up and shake hands with the players on the other team. They congratulate each other because everybody played hard. Even if the teams are rivals, they always show good sportsmanship at the end of the series.
For the next two months, get ready to follow some of the most exciting hockey games of the year. Every player will be trying his hardest and skating his fastest. Everybody has the same goal: to win the Stanley Cup.
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