The playoff beard. An NHL tradition that started in the early 1980s when the New York Islanders threw away their razors in a display of team unity before winning four straight Stanley Cup titles. There have been similar spinoffs on the concept, like the Calgary Flames’ mohawks of 2008, but the classic playoff beard never goes out of style. This spring, hockey players and fans alike will live by one rule: no shaving until their team has been eliminated from the playoffs, or until they raise the Stanley Cup over their heads in triumph.
Islanders’ defenseman Denis Potvin, father of the playoff beard.
This month, the Penguins even launched the Beard-a-thon, a charity drive for fans to show their love for the game while raising money for the Mario Lemieux Foundation. While every Pens fan should get involved in this great cause, be warned – growing a proper playoff beard is a serious undertaking.
Tom Selleck: pioneer of the man suit – the seamless combination of facial and body hair. A man so cool, he gets reception on his home phone while out at sea.
For every Max Talbot fu-manchu and Pascal Dupuis George Michaelsian 5 o’clock shadow, there is a handful of players who simply lack the Dihydrotestosterone to cultivate decent facial hair. Legends like Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky went baby faced during their Cup runs, and there were rumors last season that Sidney Crosby had to get a little help from Just for Men to color in his peach fuzz.
Mario took up cigars when he quit smoking Martin Broudeur.
What’s worse, some players eschew the traditional Chuck Norris-style full beard for more creative permutations, usually with disastrous results. See: Jaromir Jagr. Jaromir was too young to sport a playoff beard during his Penguins career, so he compensated by growing out his silky, devil-may-care mullet extra long.
In Soviet Czechoslovakia, hair wear you.
However, as Jagr got older and gradually declined with the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, he experimented with several playoff beard manifestations, culminating in one of the worst incarnations the sport has ever seen: the reverse rat tail.
“Pardon me, Mr. Jagr, but you have something on your face.”
Pulling No Punches encourages you to grow your own playoff beard and donate generously to The Lemieux Foundation. But please, don’t break the sacred rules of playoff beard growing. Leave the MACH3 in the drawer for the entire playoff run. No maintenance grooming. And no reverse rat tails, please.
It’s almost a miracle that the puck will drop in Pittsburgh instead of Philadelphia on Wednesday night. Two weeks ago, the Pens were more concerned with making the playoffs instead of attaining home ice advantage. Many fans downplayed its importance. Make no mistake – playing the first two games of a series at home is a big deal.
Compare the nervous body language of the Penguins two years ago in Ottawa versus the scintillating atmosphere at Mellon Arena in the moments leading up to Gary Roberts’ Game 1 goal last season. After Roberts manhandled a Senators’ defenseman behind the net, then wheeled into the slot to put home his now legendary turnaround backhander, Mellon Arena exploded.
As a sea of white rally towels whipped feverishly around the Igloo, all the nerves and butterflies vanished. Just one minute into the first game, the series was already over. The Penguins were feeding off of the electric crowd, and there was no looking back. The same story was repeated when the Rangers and Flyers came to town in the following series’.
It was only when the Penguins had to travel to Detroit for Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals that they looked tight, jittery, and consequently, sloppy with the puck. This time, it was the Detroit crowd that was in a frenzy, and every Penguins fan watching on tv had the same feeling in their gut that the Penguins felt on the ice: panic.
Remember, most of the Penguins’ stars are under the age of 23. They get nervous, just like you and me.
Look buddy, you get nervous about giving a PowerPoint presentation. It’s reasonable to imagine professional hockey players still feel some butterflies.
Bottom line: Penguins and Flyers are very evenly matched. More importantly, the players genuinely distain one another. In sports, hatred is the great equalizer. The teams finished the season with the same amount of points (99), and scored nearly the same amount of goals . Both teams have scoring depth from their top three lines and goaltenders that can be either infuriating or rock-solid depending on what side of the bed they get up on that morning.
Home ice advantage could swing the series. The Philly crowd is sure to be downright malicious to Sid, and will unmercifully hound Marc-Andre with choruses of “Flue-ry, Flue-ry” when he lets in the eventual goal.
But if the Penguins can take a 2-0 series lead at Mellon Arena before heading across the state, the bark of the Philly fans will be hollow.
Pundits have projected that the series will come down to special teams (Philly’s efficient power play finished 6th in the NHL) or how well the Flyers can contain the two-headed monster of Malkin and Crosby (the defensively excellent Mike Richards can only shadow one of the Pens’ superstars, not both). But in the end, this series will ultimately depend on which team can most effectively harness the tangible energy of their home crowd, as well as the heightened emotions involved in the first round’s most physical match up.
Or maybe it will come down to which team grows the coolest beards.
Let’s hope not.