Friday, April 27, 2012

Let It Blossom. Let It Grow.

Eric Clapton had one of the finer beards in rock n' roll history, and it must have taken a while for him to grow it to an appropriate and yet tasteful length, but I will give him this. He must have had a higher tolerance for itchiness on his face than I do. This isn't to say that I'm unfamiliar with facial hair itchiness. After all, I've grown several beards at this point in my life and each time I've somehow found the courage to go on letting my face get shaggy. Usually though, I've got some control over how long or when the thing keeps going. A playoff beard is entirely different matter altogether. As I noted last time, I'm letting my whiskers go until New Jersey wins its fourth championship or packs up for the summer, and while it is giving me hours every day of facial irritation, if what happened last night keeps happening, it will keep growing for a while.

And I'm fine with that.

I'm willing to let this thing get as shaggy as humanly possible if it winds up lasting until June, and considering how much salt is starting to show up with the pepper in my facial hair, that's awfully courageous of me. That white hair popping up in some slight patches around my chin is a little more pronounced that I'd like it to be, but I have a slight idea as to where its coming from, and were it not for New Jersey's apparent penchant for getting into overtime with its season on the line in both Game 6 and Game 7, maybe the stress wouldn't be graying me quite so much. After all, I'm only 26, and probably too young to have facial hair that looks so old, but if I'm growing a beard for the sake of the Devils' season and the Devils are causing it to go gray, perhaps it's one of those symbiotic relationships that makes life beautiful.

Or the gray hair is a sign that I should stop so foolishly growing a beard that will have no rational impact on whether or not the Devils can beat the Flyers in the second round. Whatever.

See, Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur seems to have the right idea. He may be turning 40 next weekend, but he's been shaving so the color of his hair doesn't make him appear older than he is -- perhaps another sign that growing a playoff beard is kind of silly. If anyone should know it's someone with three Stanley Cups and someone who, despite his age, still had a virtuoso performance between the pipes in Game 7 last night, stopping 43 of 45 shots in the double overtime thriller. Then again, Marty's age might have eventually shown were it not for the heroics of Adam Henrique, whose double-overtime winner sent the Devils on to the second round for the first time in five years and sent the Panthers home. It may just be a sign that New Jersey needed a little youth to go with its experience. Brodeur has plenty of experience of course. With Game 7 ending after midnight, it ended on the 20th anniversary of his first ever Stanley Cup Playoff game appearance. On that day, Henrique, last night's hero, was two whole years old. Then again, I'm guessing Marty won't really care about the age difference if Henrique keeps doing things like this.

But for those of us young or old, games like that may put our lives at risk after a while. There isn't necessarily something wrong with being a group of cardiac kids if the ultimate get is realized. After all, the 1993 Montreal Canadiens won 10 overtime games -- and three in the Final alone -- en route to a remarkably unlikely Stanley Cup title that spring. If you don't know you're eventually going to wind up at the top, however, there is only so many heart attacks -- or gnawed fingers -- a fan can endure.

Thursday was the second time the Devils put their season in such a precarious position in a span of three nights, and as long as I've been watching, it's the first time I can recall the Devils playing back-to-back elimination games going into overtime. Making the situation even more nervewracking was the already-present knowledge that in both cases, New Jersey had a two-goal lead that slipped away during a furious Florida rally that forced the extra time. In Game 6 a pair of fluky goals had managed to even the ledger while Game 7 saw the Panthers bombard Brodeur both with shots and bodies during the final 20 minutes until Marcel Goc, who was a beast all night in both the circle and on the scoresheet, leveled the score with less than four minutes to go.

I suppose it was that kind of tension-ratcheted activity that made the euphoria all the sweeter when I jumped off the couch shortly before 1 a.m. this morning to celebrate Henrique's game-winner, just as I did two nights earlier when Travis Zajac turned the same trick in overtime of Game 6.

So yeah. There were some palpitations. And that, I suppose, is kind of scary. But I guess I'm ok with the anxiety and the chest pains and the nerviness and the intense soreness in my thighs from sitting on the edge of the couch for four straight hours and, maybe, even the stress-induced gray hairs sprouting up in my 2012 Playoff Beard.

Because in the end, if I get to keep having these tense, anxiety-ridden moments, it means the Devils are still kicking. And for me, as I look back on these memories years from now, that is clearly the most important thing. And if they're still going, and more of those gray hairs are coming in, it must mean that the beard is still growing.

For all the discomfort that comes with it, both on my face and in my nerves, I'm happy to let it grow.

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