With April comes the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the NHL and the famed “Playoff Beard.” The playoff beard is one of the most popular superstitions in all of sports. The player stops shaving his beard when his team enters the playoffs and does not shave until his team is eliminated or wins the Stanley Cup. It is believed that the tradition was started in the 1980s by the four-time Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders, whose team members refrained from shaving during postseason play. This was done so that the team’s luck would not be disrupted during a series. In recent years other sports and other players have claimed the playoff beard tradition, but it is and always will be a hockey tradition.
In honor of this the Washington Capitals are staging a Beard-a-thon to raise money for charity and are encouraging fans to participate in one of hockey’s most visible traditions — the playoff beard. Fans may elect to grow a beard themselves or make a financial donation in support of a Capitals player or a fan who has elected to grow a playoff beard. All proceeds will benefit Washington Capitals Charities.
Participants in the Capitals’ Beard-a-thon can invite family members, friends and business associates to pledge money for their playoff beard. Some of the participants in the Beard-a-thon are Comcast SportsNet anchors Brent Harris, Chick Hernandez, Michael Jenkins, Chris Miller and Russ Thaler. WJFK 106.7 FM’s John “Cakes” Auville from the Junkies, Chad Dukes from the Big O and Dukes Show and nationally syndicated personality Mike O’Meara from the Mike O’Meara Show will also participate in the Beard-a-thon. Money will be donated to Washington Capitals Charities for everyday that a fan maintains his beard. Fans who do not wish to or are unable to grow a playoff beard can participate by pledging a donation to your favorite Caps player. For more information or to enroll in the Capitals’ Beard-a-thon, log onto www.beardathon.com/capitals.
The fan who raises the most money will win an authentic lettered jersey signed by the player of their choice and will be recognized at a Washington Capitals home game during the 2009-10 season, second place will win a team-signed stick, while third place will win an Alex Ovechkin signed puck. All donations for the Capitals’ Beard-a-thon are tax deductible.
Rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, who is 3-0-1 with a .914 save percentage will be in net in Atlanta when the Caps take on the Thrashers on Tuesday night. This move makes sense because #1 goalie Jose Theodore has had two bad outings in Phillips Arena this season (and the team wasn’t very good in front of him either) plus Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wants to get Varlamov another game before next week’s playoffs as it looks like #40 will be the back-up goalie in the first round of the playoffs (although Brent Johnson is skating and improving from his hip surgery).
The Caps are 0-2 in Atlanta this year and with the New Jersey Devils home against Toronto on Tuesday night Washington likely needs to win to maintain its two point lead over the Devils for second place in the Eastern Conference. If Washington plays like it did in the first 40 minutes of Sunday’s game at the Verizon Center it will lose and if they put forth an effort like they did in the final 20 minutes they will blow Atlanta out.
Caps and hockey fans should check out the TSN end of season NHL awards preview at http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=273944. The panel likes Ovechkin to repeat as Hart Trophy winner (NHL MVP) and Mike Green to win the Norris Trophy (NHL’s best defensemen). I thought this piece was interesting but this part by former Cap Keith Jones really drew my attention:
Jones: The only defenceman for the Washington Capitals is Green and and he should win the Norris because he has no help on the blueline. Milan Jurcina is the second highest scoring defenceman on the Capitals with 14 points and the Bruins gave him away. Tom Poti is the third highest scoring defenceman with 13 points. Green is +24 on a team without a goaltender.
I’m not sure how many Caps games Jones has watched this season but the “team without a goaltender” line is not accurate. Jose Theodore has been among the top goaltenders in the league since December 23rd (as long as he doesn’t try to shoot for any open nets!). While I think the Caps defense is likely their weak spot, Scott Cullen of TSN ranks the crew 7th overall in the NHL (http://www.tsn.ca/columnists/scott_cullen/?id=273658). Jonesy’s statements disappointed me but then again this is the guy who was called up to be an extra skater in the playoffs and sat behind me on the plane on the way back from Pittsburgh in 1992, yet years later in his book we find out he was rooting against the Caps because he didn’t want to have to keep skating hard in practice each day. The Caps blew a 3-1 series lead that year and the hockey gods paid Jonesy back big time by putting him on teams that lost three 3-1 playoff series leads in his career.
Bad game by the Montreal Canadiens tonight as they blew a 2-1 lead and were beaten by the Ottawa Senators, 3-2, at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The 7th place Canadiens had a chance to move up in the Eastern Conference standings but remain at 92 points with just three games to go. The Florida Panthers and New York Rangers both have 89 points and have three games remaining as well. The Habs are at New York, at Boston, and then home against Pittsburgh and if they don’t watch it could find themselves on the golf course next week. Oh by the way, the Montreal Gazette has already picked the Caps as the team they want their beloved Habs to face in the playoffs as evidenced by the following post:
“The ideal matchup [for Montreal] would be against the Washington Capitals and that’s the team the Canadiens would have played if the season ended after last night’s game.
The Caps have a potent 1-2-3 punch with forwards Alexander (The Great) Ovechkin and Alexander Semin and defenceman Mike Green. But this is the time of year when defence comes to the fore and the Caps have suspect goaltending in the person of former Canadien José Theodore and a shaky defence corps.”
Comment: I would gladly take a Washington-Montreal series although there is one thing I would not like about it – we’d have to put up with the Montreal media in the press box in DC. If a Habs-Caps series does come to fruition you can bet that these quotes will be up on the Washington locker room wall.
Big game in Vancouver on Tuesday night as the Canucks take on the Flames in a matchup that could decide the Northwest Division title. Calgary is battling the Kings at home Monday night (currently winning, 3-1, early in the 3rd period thanks to a blast by Jarome Iginla) and should they win they will be two points ahead with three games to go. The Flames are 2-1-2 against Vancouver this season. Both clubs have already clinched playoff spots but the division winner will be the third seed behind San Jose and Detroit. The loser likely gets the fourth seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.
Speaking of the Red Wings, forward Marian Hossa has been a team killer the last two days. He all but ended the playoff hopes of the Minnesota Wild on Sunday with his 38th goal of the season with just 51 seconds left on NBC on Sunday (nice pass by Tomas Holmstrom and bad coverage by Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky that allowed the two on one break) and then he added two more tallies to hit the 40 goal mark in a 4-1 win over Buffalo that have crippled the Sabres playoff hopes.
The Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues are battling it out to make the Western Conference playoffs. They both have 86 points but the Blues have the schedule advantage playing at Phoenix, Columbus, and then at Colorado while the Predators host Chicago, then play back to back in Detroit and Minnesota. If the Preds make the playoffs this will be the fifth straight time that GM David Poile and Coach Barry Trotz will have made the post season. What is more impressive about that would be the fact that they had to gut their team after the 2007-08 season due to ownership issues. Poile has always been a shrewd GM and Trotz a superb coach (in fact, he is the only Nashville coach in team history and is second in NHL head coaching tenure behind Lindy Ruff of the Sabres). Both teams could get in if Anaheim falters but that is not likely since the Ducks are home to Dallas and then the Coyotes plus they are up two points on both teams.
One final tidbit, if you are interested in a different kind of Caps playoff gear please check out Rob Yunich’s Storming the Crease website (www.stormingthecrease.com). Rob has some neat tee shirts available including some that are sure to get under the skin of Penguins fans.