As the playoffs approach many decisions must be made, many questions answered. Coaches will fine-tune their line ups. Who will start in net? Who will take the key defensive zone draw with the game on the line? NBC will argue internally about whether every national telecast can be a Penguins game.
Fans, too have their decisions to make. Most revolve around superstitions. Which sweater will be lucky tonight? Should we switch seats? What if getting up to go to the bathroom changes the momentum in a negative way? If I do go to the bathroom and the Caps score while I am in there, do I have to stay?
Yes, we fans practice our private sorcery, our superstitions that we just know will affect the outcome of a game or series. I am 99% convinced the only reason Washington went on to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998 is because I ate a Royal Farms chicken salad sub before nearly every game. The big daddy superstition, though, the king query that twists some fans up like pretzels each Spring is this: To beard or not to beard, that is the question.
The annual tradition of NHL players growing playoff beards is believed to have begun with the Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s. No matter its origins, the tradition has developed a mythology of its own. Part superstition, part fashion (or lack thereof) statement, playoff beards symbolize team unity and mark how deep your team has advanced in the playoff bracket.
My friends and I, no strangers to fan superstitions, agonize over the question each spring. Of course, each beard comes with its own subsets of questions and protocols. When is the last shave before the games start? Is trimming allowed? Is a goatee enough beard? Pertinent questions all.
For years our beards didn’t work. We’d blame ourselves. Somebody shouldn’t have trimmed. Someone had a job interview and had to eradicate the scruff. Maybe my peach fuzz just wasn’t strong enough. It couldn’t possibly be Henrik Lundqvist standing tall for the Rangers or Mario Lemieux torturing us. Surely, the beards were to blame.
Then, in 2018, most of us skipped the beards and we all know the storybook postseason that followed. Was it our beard abstainment that broke Washington’s Cup-less curse? Probably not. But no one can say for sure. In 2019, a decision had to be made. Forego the beard again, or, because switching traditions worked in 2018, should we switch away from our “new” tradition and once again grow beards?
It is always an exercise in psyching yourself up and psyching yourself out. Logic has no place here. Obviously, whatever we decided didn’t work in 2019 or 2020. It’s almost as if growing our playoff beards had nothing to do with it. Almost.
So, whatever your traditions and superstitions, get them ready. Grab your lucky sweater, buy your lucky beer, make your lucky seating arrangements, toss away your razor. The postseason is about to begin. We fans must prepare to do our part.
By Bryan Hailey