When the St. Louis Blues take the ice, all fans like to think of the opponent as the enemy. When the NHL Playoffs begin, that is about as true as it can be without there being actual combat and we love it.
The St. Louis Blues have gotten all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019 because they were willing to get physical, fight for space and go that extra step. Alright, enough of the cliches, the Blues were the better team on most of those nights. I do say most because no team makes it to this point without a little good fortune.
That aside, what is astounding in the playoffs is how much we hate the opponent and their fans and we all love to do it. It might say something poor about human nature, but when it comes to sports, some of our primal instincts come together. It unites us but turns us against our fellow man just because of who they choose to support or play for.
Think about some of the biggest rivalries in sports. Many of them got even more heated in the playoffs.
As much as Blues and Blackhawks fans love to hate one another, the playoffs amplify it. Sure, Blues fans would always have disliked guys like Belfour, Chelios, Roenick or Goulet, simply because you had to play them more than most other teams in the playoffs. It would never have reached the levels it did without those late 1980’s-early 1990’s playoff series.
St. Louis took down the Blackhawks in five games in 1988. Chicago repaid the favor in 1989 and broke Blues hearts in 1990 when St. Louis had two 100 point scorers.
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We all remember the sweep of the Blackhawks in 1993, whether you were alive or not. The image of Ed Belfour losing his head and smashing his goal stick on the net was priceless, because we all wanted him to suffer. It was sweet revenge and the sweep was icing on the top.
No matter how hockey changes, the rivalry that is born of the playoffs will always be the same. There is something about having to see the same guys over and over during a potential seven game series that just makes you inherently dislike them.
I never cared for the Minnesota North Stars, but I never really hated them. So, what should have been the big deal playing the newly christened Dallas Stars in 1994? That quickly changed as Mike Modano and Andy Moog became bitter enemies and you wanted someone to give them the stinky facewash the entire game. Unfortunately, that did not end well as the Blues got swept.
The same was true of the next season. Unless you are a diehard hockey fan, how much did anyone know about the Vancouver Canucks in 1995? We know so much more today with all the internet access, but the casual fan might have known Pavel Bure.
The Blues had greats like Hull, Shanahan, Duchesne, Tikkanen and MacInnis. They had no business losing to a team led by a skinny Russian forward and a goaltender who was a throwback to the early days what with Kirk McLean playing the old standup style.
Nevertheless, the Canucks took the series in seven. They were filled with former Blues like Geoff Courtnall, Sergio Momesso and Jeff Brown, but those guys got no cheers. They were all huge reasons the Blues lost, so we turned cheers of the past to boos very quickly.
Blues fans would always dislike Steve Yzerman. Would we hate him the way we do if he had not broke our hearts with that double-OT goal in 1996?
It is not just players either. Fanbases learn to loathe one another very quickly too.
Even before the advent of social media, you could still get hints of what the other fans thought of you. Usually, Blues fans were behaved enough that other fans had to fall back on the “How many Cups have you won?” argument. The other mainstay was calling St. Louis a cow town or saying nobody could find it on the map etc.
Now, we have so many extra ways to needle fans. Twitter and Facebook are usually ablaze with trolls during any playoff series.
Who in San Jose really gives a second thought to the Blues or St. Louis at any point in the regular season? Suddenly, when the playoffs roll around, you find all sorts of Sharks fans giving the Blues the business and vice versa.
What makes it interesting is nobody takes off their rose colored glasses. I received a message from a Sharks fan that called me gutless and having no class because I took umbrage at the Sharks players and coach calling anyone else dirty.
A non-existent crosscheck by Vladimir Tarasenko to Timo Meier‘s face was brought up. I saw a blatant shove with a closed glove, but do not remember a crosscheck. Call it a punch if you want, but the ref was right there and Tarasenko went to the bench not the box.
Still, though this fan was upset and voiced his opinion, deep down, we all have a sort of twisted fun with it. We all get upset and say terrible things like wanting to take runs at the opposing goaltender but being mortally offended the moment anyone touches our player.
The fan that messaged clearly saw dirty things by the Blues player. I did not.
I saw Evander Kane attempting to take out player’s knees. I’m sure this fan did not see that.
Nobody is right. Nobody is wrong. We are incapable of seeing it from their perspective because we see the other side as the enemy. It’s like Game of Thrones except we feel like we are involved in the battle, so whatever our side does is fine even if the other side sees it as despicable.
I’m sure you could write thesis papers on the oddity in human nature that sports provides. The NHL Playoffs seem to amplify it even more.
It is probably true for all sports, but hockey just seems to breed a different type of passion. I have no doubt that Nashville Predators fans are all decent people, but ask any Blues fan and you will hear/read all sorts of disparaging remarks, ranging from trash to things that are much worse.
Hockey playoffs can make loving family members not even want to speak to one another. Maybe it is because it is because the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports.
Maybe it’s just an outlet for something that is always under the surface. It is simply an oddly uniting experience to see the other side as a true enemy. That chance to see the opponent repeatedly over a short span brings out a sort of blood lust.
Whatever the case, we are going to keep on hating. Not because we are bad people, but because a part of us loves to hate the other team.
The Stanley Cup truly brings out that us vs. them mentality. Maybe it’s not right, but to borrow George C. Scott’s words as General Patton, “God, help me, I love it so.”