When the NHL Playoffs begin on Wednesday, a playoff tradition continues. It only applies to men who root for their beloved teams. During the postseason, we each take one for the team by growing a playoff beard. Something we do just as the players we cheer for will until there is no more hockey.
I’ve never been big on playoff beards. However, every year the Rangers participate, I wind up taking part. However, I normally will shave after each round. This year, I’ve decided to scrap that. Having shaved off my current beard, I am ready to go. I’m in this as long as it takes.
The past two years have been fun and exciting as well as anxiety driven and nerve racking. That’s playoff hockey in a nutshell. This time, I don’t know what to expect. The Rangers aren’t exactly playoff favorites. They did themselves no favors by winning the final game against the Red Wings to draw the trademark rival Penguins. A third straight year the two old Patrick rivals will meet. Can the Rangers make it a hat trick against the hated Pens? It won’t be easy.
I am going in positive. Sure. It’s easy to be negative considering the up and down nature of this team. However, don’t forget how much experience the beloved Blueshirts have. Led by Henrik Lundqvist, anything is possible. With plenty of high character players featuring Mats “Zuke” Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast, Eric Staal, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Keith Yandle, Kevin Klein, Dan Boyle, Dominic Moore, Tanner Glass, Viktor Stalberg and young pup Brady Skjei, there is enough talent and skill to prevail.
It will take a yeoman effort from all 18 skaters and the goalie to defeat a hot Pens club that won 14 of its final 16 to earn home ice. Led by Sidney Crosby, the Pens are a much different team than last Spring. The acquisition of old friend Carl Hagelin has made them a much faster and more difficult fore-checking opponent. Hags has formed great chemistry with Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino. They must be controlled. As for Crosby, he’s back at the pinnacle concluding the season sizzling to finish third in league scoring. He and familiar line mate Chris Kunitz will team with the annoying Patric Hornqvist in an attempt to drive Lundqvist nuts. Please no tantrums like the one during the season.
If I see Matt Cullen score goals, I’m gonna lose my mind. He already got us. It would’ve been nice if he could’ve performed better here. But most players who come here don’t. Look at Nash. He better find the back of the net. If the Rangers plan to advance, they must control Kris Letang. He does everything for Pittsburgh. Mike Sullivan plays him almost every other shift. He doesn’t have much else. Though it looks like Olli Maatta could be back. The Rangers must make Letang work in his end. That means getting pucks deep and cycling and finishing checks. It also means keying on him when the Pens are attacking. Don’t give him any room.
Marc-Andre Fleury returned for practice. With Matt Murray stricken by a concussion, maybe Fleury is ready for Game 1. If not, then Jeff Zatkoff gets the start. For the Pens and Rangers, they have two days off between Games 1 and 2 along with 2 and 3. That time off will allow banged up players to recover. Team captain Ryan McDonagh isn’t expected to be in at the start but hasn’t been ruled out for the series. With a broken right hand, the time table of recovery is anyone’s guess. These guys will play through almost anything. It’s the playoffs. Nobody is 100 percent at this time of year.
So, what do I expect? The unexpected. If that means a Glass goal or a key moment for Skjei, I’ll take it. As for my face, the 4 o’clock shadow will be here before you know it. The nature of the playoff beard. Take one for the team. Let’s Go Rangers!