And so it’s come to this. After spending far too much time not just looking at male facial hair every Monday for the last eight weeks (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but also analyzing it intensely, this is likely our final beard update for the 2011 playoffs. We should probably do something glorious and spectacular for a grand finale.

Or we could just pump out a generic list of 2011′s best playoff beards. Sure, that sounds good.

This is of course a topic of wide-ranging debate, and with all the tangled webs we’ve watched blossom into full-grown beehives over the last two months, trying to narrow this list down to just the top five was quite the challenge.

You’re probably familiar with the simple and obvious criteria for beard consideration by now, but just to review:

  • Beards that existed during the regular season are permitted, but the player needs to have demonstrated significant enhancement since the start of the playoffs.
  • Grooming the beard is not allowed. The beard must grow naturally, and any player deemed to have doctored his beard will be disqualified.
  • Although the length of time a player sticks around the playoffs clearly helps the beard growing effort, players who are eliminated in the first round are still given consideration. In fact, a sizable beard after just one round is far more impressive.
  • One final note: throughout the weekly updates we tried to keep the dates in the before/after pictures as close as possible. We don’t care about that now, and we’ll go as far back as necessary to demonstrate how much these men morphed from human to werewolf.

Let’s do this!

The top five beards of the 2011 playoffs

1. Shea Weber

May 9 - Jan. 23

The foundation was there in the form of some thinly scattered stubble back in late January, but we had no idea it would grow into such a bold beast, getting Weber confused with King Leonidas from 300.

2. Paul Mara

April 26 - Dec. 10

This baby was bubbling below the surface all season. Maybe there’s just something about Montreal that makes facial hair grow, because after being acquired by the Canadiens in mid-February Mara went from a wimpy all-day five o’clock shadow, to a behemoth that made Captain Highliner whimper.

3. Raffi Torres

June 4 - March 3

Torres showed the most versatility of the playoffs. He started out sporting the hipster look with a thin line at the chin, and then quickly transitioned to a bushy growth that’s advanced so far upwards it’ll soon meet his eyebrows.

4. Johnny Boychuk

June 1 - Feb. 26

Perhaps the most underrated beard of the playoffs, Boychuk rivals Torres in face coverage. It was a dogfight between Boychuk and his teammate Zdeno Chara for the fourth position. But Boychuk earned the edge solely because of his ability to produce a look that’s intensely fused with testosterone at a much younger age (Boychuk is 27, and Chara is 34).

5. Zdeno Chara

June 4 - March 17

Chara at least looks like a brutish defenceman, with his beard enough to make the average man cower at its mere sight. Now he just needs to figure out how to actually play like a brutish defenceman during the first 11 seconds of overtime.

Honourable mentions: Brandon Dubinsky, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Kesler, Ben Eager, Ryan Malone, Ryane Clowe