Hockey players have an annual tradition where they grow out their beards when the playoffs roll around. No one is quite sure when the "playoff beard" first sprouted roots, but it's as entrenched in the game of hockey as sudden death overtimes and the two pad stack.
Certain diehard fans take their admiration of their favorite players to the next level by mimicking their whisker growth. And by the looks of the unshaven faces on many of the fans in the Nashville Arena on Friday night, those media reports of hockey being dead in Nashville are greatly overblown.
Unfortunately, unless you're one chromosome away from a Sasquatch, if you're a Predators fan, a "playoff beard" is stretching the definition of a beard. It's more like playoff stubble before the Preds' annual first round playoff defeat.
A day later and still a couple dollars short of the second round, the finality of Patrick Marleau's series deciding goal is starting to finally set in. When Joe Thornton found him wide open in front of the net despite being surrounded by three Predators, Gillette's stock went through the roof in Music City.
It's inevitable to immediately dismiss this season as yet another failure as a team that was tops in the NHL a month ago with such lofty expectations that whispers of a parade down Broadway were already making their round gets bounced in a meager five games. But, this team did continue its progression forward this season and proved yet again that Nashville is turning into a hockey powerhouse despite its playoff stumbles and alleged attendance woes.
But still, the bottom line for a team looking to make this step from also ran to big dog is its success in the playoffs and there's little joy in that department. In fact, when you put this series under a microscope, you could argue that this season was a large step backwards for this franchise.
Last season, this same Predators team lost in the first round to the same Sharks team by the same 4 games to 1 margin. Being completely manhandled in the series, the Preds made a conscious effort to build a team with the singular purpose of defeating the Sharks.
They added size in the middle with the additions of Jason Arnott, Josef Vasicek and later Peter Forsberg. They also brought in some size, grit and experience on the blue-line in Vitaly Vishnevski.
Despite this mantra in the off-season, the Preds still couldn't even manage to win two games in the playoffs against the Sharks.
In the series, when our defensemen were consistently being manhandled, Vishnevski sat. The size through the middle didn't pan out either as Vasicek was sent packing back to Carolina and Jason Arnott was surprisingly quiet in the series.
Bringing in Peter Forsberg was supposed to be the missing ingredient to this masterpiece. And while he certainly delivered as advertised in the playoffs, he epitomized the Predators struggles in the playoffs as he finished his season, and perhaps his career, in the penalty box.
For a second season in a row, injuries mounted up and excuses continued to flow like water from a tap. The Preds have made the playoffs three times and still haven't won a playoff road game. At some point the blame has to roll uphill.
Having Upshall on the ice in lieu of Forsberg certainly couldn't have produced a worse result. Curse that 20/20 hindsight rule.
So, it's with heavy hearts and fresh-shaven chins that PredNation enters the post-season. It's a Summer that will certainly be one of the most interesting in Predators franchise history.
Something isn't working. Change is coming. Just how much and how drastic, that's the real question.
So, it's time to dust off my trusty razor. The annual ritual of removing the playoff stubble is about to commence.
I can't say that I will miss the scratchy, itchy thing. But, I will miss everything that it represents.
As long as the playoff beard is on your face, your team is still alive. Despite all of the discomfort of the playoff stubble I look forward to the day when we graduate from the scratchy stubble to the full-on Grizzly Adams.
What do you say Preds? Let's put Gillette out of business next Spring.