Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Will Tonight Be The End Of The Run For My Playoff Beard?

I woke up with an overwhelmingly large out-of-control beard this morning. In 24 hours, it's entirely possible that there will be nothing left. I have mentioned on more than one occasion here my tattered history with sports beards and considering this is just the second time I have grown one out for the New Jersey Devils it is by far the most successful venture yet. The only other attempt was nipped in the bud by a five-game loss in the first round to Philadelphia and my "Mets to .500" beard in 2009 was even less impressive. It is somewhat strange that this is the superstitious tack I've chosen considering I really hate having a beard but here we are.

To be honest, I cannot wait to shave. The hair on my face is bushy, often uncomfortable and not even close to soft even if varying opinions tell me it actually looks pretty good. Despite that I yearn eagerly for the moment that my cheeks will be free and clear and I can lay them on my pillow comfortably with no rough follicles in the way, and I just may get that chance tonight.

But good lord, I hope not.

In my life of watching sports -- and I have watched a lot of sports -- I have seen my favorite team reach the championship round of its sport 13 times including the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. Some of those experiences have been far more satisfying than others, but I have never, ever, ever witnessed a championship that is likely to have a final score this misleading or that has been this frustrating to watch. Of all my memories of John Starks clanging a three-pointer in Game 6, Armando Benitez being unable to strike out Paul O'Neill, Keith Hamilton being flagged for a phantom defensive holding call or the Devils being unable to close out a Cup Final with Game 6 at home, this has been the series that has delivered the most squeal-inducing head-hanging moments.

When the history of this series is written after it has ended in four or five games -- the odds don't really give a good chance of it lasting longer than that -- people will see that the Kings won their first-ever Stanley Cup in a 4-0 series sweep or a dominant 4-1 performance to cap a remarkable romp through the postseason. But as a Devils fan, to know that people will think your team faded meekly through the night after a remarkable postseason run of its own is disappointing considering it wasn't a dominant romp at all.

Gone will be the recollection that both Game 1 and Game 2 in New Jersey were lost in overtime and hung on the knife edge. People won't remember that Anze Kopitar's Game 1-winner was the result of a botched defensive play after the Devils had dominated territorial play throughout the third period and OT. Mark Fayne's whiff of a wide open net, David Clarkson's two wide shots and Zach Parise's correctly disallowed goal after his own miss of a sure score that interrupted a netmouth scramble which could have easily led to the go ahead tally will be forgotten. The Devils' dominance in Game 2 and Ilya Kovalchuk's shot that clanged off the cross bar with 18 seconds left in regulation will be lost to history. That the Devils controlled most of the play and had the better chances in Game 3 before Alec Martinez scored a momentum-shifting goal that should never have happened because the puck should have been blown dead underneath Brodeur's leg pad will be a complete mystery.

All of this will disappear from the collective consciousness within a few moments of the Kings lifting the Stanley Cup for the first time, and while it's hard to say that Los Angeles doesn't deserve to win with the effort they've put in, this is a series that rightfully could be 2-1 or even 3-0 New Jersey at the very same moment, and that is a frustration that can not be cured.

That isn't to say the series is over, of course. A rally from 3-0 down has happened before multiple times in hockey and the Devils have some connections to that kind of a comeback. Adam Henrique's Windsor Spitfires completed the ultimate return from the dead en route to a Memorial Cup in 2010. Parise's father J.P. and Devils broadcaster Chico Resch were both members of the Islanders, when they turned the trick in 1975. Yes, that rally from a 3-0 deficit is possible, but the sheer truth in numbers can cause you to lose hope quickly. When the Philadelphia Flyers completed an historic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit against Boston in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, it was just the third time an NHL team had done it.

The last time a team did it in a Stanley Cup Final, the television broadcasts were in black and white, 24 of the League's current 30 teams didn't exist and Hitler was not only still in power, but winning the war.

A comeback is possible, but these are long odds to be sure, and even though the Mets are doing well, there is little that can distract me from the disappointment of how this series has turned out. Granted, it doesn't help when the night before Game 4 the Mets blow three leads and commit two errors in extra innings with first place on the line in a most quintessentially Metsian defeat.

Still, I'm going to sit on the couch tonight, watch and bite my fingers and think that the comeback can happen because I am a fan and that dangerous predilection leaves us all so predisposed to irrational belief and implausible hope. The chances of that of that hope being fulfilled are just about nil and the resulting anxiety that will be caused by the extra week of watching this series that a comeback would require is likely to do more harm to my heart than good. But at 8 p.m. I will still be hoping against hope with a clean-shaven face as my only solace when hunt for a Stanley Cup inevitably goes south.

It will be nice to finally not have this beard anymore. But I would love to keep that razor in the medicine cabinet for just a few more days.

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