RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sidney Crosby has done some remarkable things this spring.
He has scored a league-high 14 goals in 16 playoff games and, until Evgeni Malkin's four-point rampage in the Penguins' 7-4 victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final against Carolina Thursday, was the NHL's No. 1 scorer. (He now trails Malkin, 28-26.)
Crosby also has scored the first goal in six games, tying an NHL record set by Hall of Famer Bobby Hull in 1962 and matched by only Edmonton's Fernando Pisani in 2006.
But perhaps the most noteworthy thing he has accomplished in this postseason is to sprout facial hair that is starting to look a little like -- well, almost a little like -- an actual playoff beard.
Nothing remotely resembling those grown by teammates such as Bill Guerin, Pascal Dupuis, Max Talbot and Hal Gill, among others, but decidedly more formidable than the one he offered up in 2008. Which is to say, this one is visible to the naked eye.
In the right light, anyway.
"It doesn't look pretty, but there's a little more hair," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "He's pretty greasy. Just patches."
Fleury is something of an authority on that, since he long ago abandoned efforts to grow a beard -- "I have like four hairs that grow," he said. "Then they're just long hairs, and look kind of dumb." -- and settled for a modest goatee.
Talbot's description: "It's like a Zorro-type of moustache."
An informal survey in the locker room identified Crosby as owner of the worst playoff beard, but there were some dishonorable mentions. Fleury, of course. And winger Ruslan Fedotenko, who attributes his inability to grow a beard to being caught in fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster when he was a boy.
There even were a couple of surprising choices.
"I can give Sid [a pass because] he's young," Gill said. "[Matt Cooke's] is pretty weak. He has no excuse."
Ultimately, though, it really does seem to be the thought that counts. Playoff beards have become a tradition in the NHL, and further strengthen the bond between teammates at the most demanding time of the season.
"I don't care how ugly or how hairy or how greasy I am," Talbot said. "It's the playoffs. You have a reason to do it.
"[Crosby] doesn't look his best with it, but he still does it. It's great."
Guerin picked up a nice assist on the Penguins' second goal in their 6-2 victory in Game 3 at the RBC Center Saturday, when he threw a pass from the left side toward the front of the net, allowing an onrushing Crosby to deflect it past Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward and break a 1-1 tie.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, whose playing career was based more on sweat than skill, was asked yesterday if he had shown Guerin how to make that type of pass.
"I didn't teach him that," Bylsma said, laughing. "I would have taught him to dump it in."
Since last fall -- and possibly earlier -- the Penguins hoped to have Boston University defenseman Brian Strait under contract shortly after the 2008-09 college season ended.
The thinking has been that Strait, their third-round choice in the 2006 entry draft, is ready to move into pro hockey, that spending another season with the Terriers will do nothing for his development.
So far, however, Strait has not committed to leaving college and, because placing him on their minor league team in Wilkes-Barre is no longer an option since the Baby Penguins' season is over, the Penguins aren't pushing for him to turn pro.
"We think it's best for his career, but he's still deciding with his family whether to go back for his senior year," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. "It's really a matter of him making a decision, which we'll respect either way.
"We've told him that we believe he's ready for the next level, to turn pro, that that's what's best for his career."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .