- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

PITTSBURGH | Entering Monday’s win-or-else Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals’ motive was to stave off elimination and also prevent a teamwide shave.

At least 14 Caps players have grown a full beard or a more manageable goatee.

The tradition/superstition of growing a playoff beard was started by the New York Islanders teams of the early 1980s. For many current Caps players, this is the longest they’ve gone without cleaning up.

“It’s pretty simple - the playoffs is the most intense time of the season, and it’s when you earn your wings, your name and score important goals,” said veteran Sergei Fedorov, a three-time Stanley Cup winner. “You don’t have time or you don’t care how you look as long as you win and play hard. It’s a small price to pay in order to focus only on the game.”

Said captain Chris Clark: “It’s tradition, and it’s fun. You just get lazy because you’re concentrating just on hockey. Those Islanders teams just let it grow and didn’t worry about it until they were done playing.”

Advancing to the second round has meant most of the players have 26-day shadows, which makes for some interesting sights.

“It’s a little different ballgame,” said defenseman Tom Poti, who’s in the playoffs’ second round for the first time. “It’s definitely something I’m not used to. I catch myself looking in the mirror and say, ‘Whoa. What’s that?’ ”

One fan has a Web site - playoffbeard.com - dedicated in part to the tradition. He announces a winner at the end of each postseason; last year’s honoree was Detroit veteran Kris Draper.

Most of the Caps players said their faces itch and they’re sweating more on the ice. Clark is one guy who’s used to having a playoff beard. With the Calgary Flames in 2004, he played in all 26 playoff games before shaving after a Game 7 loss to Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup Finals.

“I crossed the itchy part after about a week and a half,” he said. “I just let it go, and the longer we go, the redder it will get. … I don’t do anything with it. Some of the guys over there want to manicure their beards and look all special, but I keep it natural.”

By “over there,” Clark may have been referring to the defensemen across the locker room. Shaone Morrisonn said he’s using conditioner to ease the itch.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Clark responded.

Said Morrisonn: “I throw a little conditioner on there to soften it up, but I don’t think it’s working. It’s pretty greasy.”

Some of the younger Caps players have opted against a beard. When forward Matt Bradley was 21, he made the second round with San Jose, and his first crack wasn’t a success.

“We went to seven games, but back then, I couldn’t really grow a beard, so there wasn’t much to it,” he said.

For the married players, their wives have accepted the practice - but that doesn’t mean they’re fans of it.

“I don’t think she likes it too much,” Poti said. “She’s not a big fan of it, but she’s happy we’re still able to grow it.”

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