Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Penguins Change the Story on the Fly

I spent most of the last ten minutes of the third period last night going over storylines in my head. They seemed to come one after another:

...The way the Wings kept going at the Pens instead of sitting on their one-goal lead was impressive. Detroit's ability to gain the blue line and get the puck deep without giving up possession killed off precious seconds over and over. At times they fired the puck back out to defensemen in the neutral zone and then started the process all over again. It was a clinic in hustle and desire. They dumped the puck in rarely. They certainly didn't sit back and let Crosby and Co. come after them shift after shift. They were playing as if they needed another goal. But I never thought they did.

...Conditioning seemed to be a key factor. There was that shot of Malkin on the bench looking like the long playoff season was too much for him. It didn't look like he had any compete left in him, and surely that was a sign that the Pens were done.

...I was feeling happy for Chris Osgood. Here was a vet who had stood on top of the hockey world previously, earning only begrudging respect. Now he had re-emerged from the edge of oblivion to be a Stanley Cup-winning goalie again. I retain good feelings toward him simply for being part of the team that brought the Islanders back from oblivion, even if it was never his choice to be there.

...Then the superstitious part of me frowned at NBC for daring to show the Cup being unpacked in the third period of a one-goal game. The joyous cries of "We want the Cup!" from the denizens of Detroit were only slightly more excusable. But a celebration still seemed inevitable.

....I looked forward to my wife watching the Cup being awarded. Last week she had argued that it can't be called the Stanley Cup Final until it's guaranteed that someone wins the Cup that night. Otherwise, it's not final.

And then the whole story changed. All of the things I had thought worthy of writing about were now just the setup.

But the play itself didn't change much. Detroit remained the picture of tenacity. Pittsburgh held on the best they could. Marc-Andre Fleury did his best Kelly Hrudey impersonation. And while Pittsburgh eventually got back to some back and forth, not capitalizing on the first two power plays awarded in overtime was a heavy weight to carry. Detroit would get their chance. Some opportunistic Red Wing would attach his name to a dramatic power-play Cup-winning goal.

Somewhere between Maxime Talbot and Petr Sykora, all of these details stopped mattering. They stopped mattering because this was one of those games that locks us in. We're afraid to look away from the screen for even a moment for fear of missing the moment. It was one of those games that we use to explain to non hockey fans what they're missing.

And I realized it's probably even more enjoyable when you have no strong rooting interest. Who needs all that tension? The drama of the intense competition and the consequences stands on its own.

Admittedly, for me, it was a little bit of a letdown not to see a team celebrate a championship on its home ice after all that. I don't feel any relief over the Pens staying alive.

But the fact that we might get to see that type of show two more times? I'm all for that.

My wife? She fell asleep a few minutes into the second overtime.

But that's okay—we haven't really reached the Final yet.

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