Last night, as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings wrapped up a second thrilling overtime period and were heading into a third, my wife, who is usually in bed by slightly before midnight and holds an opinion about televised ice hockey that can best be described as "tolerant," got up from the couch and announced "OK- It's after midnight. I'm going to bed." She took a couple of steps towards the bathroom, turned back and added, "the second this game is over."
It was pretty extraordinary.
Hockey hasn't crossed over to the casual fan since the ice bowl, and it did it again last night.
So now, after the most thrilling Stanley Cup Final overtime game since before the lockout, I'm wondering if we have a classic on our hands, one of those Stanley Cup playoff series that people talk about. Like the Rangers and Canucks in 1994, the Flyers and Oilers in 1987, or the Flames and Lightning in 2004. (OK- I'm not sure if people actually do still talk about the Flames and Lightning in 2004, but they should, it was a great Final series.) We're not there yet. I'll admit, there have been some boring ass games in this series. The Pens getting shut out in game one and game two make for boring hockey while it's happening, but what made for boring hockey back then makes for a compelling drama as a potential comeback takes shape.
If there are any Boston sports fans out there, you might remember that when the Yankees took game three of the 2004 ALCS by a score of 19-8 for a 3-0 series lead, that wasn't really great baseball either. But if you stuck around for the end of that series, you were treated to a pretty terrific finish.
The reason I'm wondering if this will be a great series is, since game three, like in all great Stanley Cup final series, I have found myself switching allegiances from game to game, period to period, even shift to shift sometimes. And I hate the fucking Penguins. Granted, the Red Wings appear to be the better team, I am on record in this blog as suggesting that the Pens might not even win a single game, and Detroit blows away the Penguins in shots on goal and puck possession.
Still, here we are going into game six in Pittsburgh, the Wings were a mere 30 seonds from a Stanley Cup and they couldn't close the deal.
The Penguins are a younger team and their building is going to be as amped up as they've been since Mario came back from retirement.
It will be very interesting to see how the Penguins respond to the boost of a triple OT win, and the raucous crowd, and even more interesting to see how the Wings handle the pressure. It is very possible that Detroit just comes out, cool as cucumbers, controls the puck, and walks away with the cup in a 1-0 victory (or maybe 2-1 with an empty netter.)
And I have to say, I have always been a critic of Sidney Crosby, not because he isn't great, I have always begrudgingly admitted his skill and tenacity, but because he was overhyped and over promoted before he had ever done anything in the playoffs. Well, in this series, he has done something. A lot of things. He won me over last night with great playmaking under pressure, and more impressively, tremendous backchecking, which in itself led to offensive chances.
But now, for the neutral hockey fan, nothing but good can come out of the rest of this series. If the Red Wings win, we see the cup awarded to yes, a hard working excellent hockey team, but moreover to a front office that has put an excellent, competitive contender out on the ice for over a decade. If past Detroit cups were the story of Yzerman, Federov, Chelios, Hasek or Hull, this cup is all about Ken Holland.
So if Detroit wins on Wednesday (my birthday, by the way) we celebrate a general manager and an excellent franchise, and if Pittsburgh wins, we celebrate an upcoming game seven of the Stanley Cup Final, which is a reason to celebrate in and of itself.
And then, after game seven is over, we'll go ahead and celebrate that general manager and excellent franchise.
I mean, c'mon, does anybody think Detroit is losing this thing?
If they even come close, we'll have a classic on our hands.