Wednesday, May 12, 2010

History Will Be Made

There is nothing like a Game 7 in hockey.  The drama, the intensity, the sudden shifts in momentum are unmatched in any other sport.  Now forge one in America's most hockey-crazed town, where the fans' passion for the sport and the team is approaching a level once reserved only for American football's most successful franchise.  Make it such that the home team is the defender of the most iconic of sports trophies, the Stanley Cup.  Pit as the opponent the sport's most successful franchise, whose name has been engraved on that Cup twenty-four times.  For good measure make the storied-franchise the underdog and then play the game in the defender's building, the oldest in the League, a place where one of the game's immortals, now the home team's owner, made his name.  A building where the visiting team was the first to ever play the host, a game the visitors won 2-1 on October 11, 1967.  Play it on an ice sheet that will never host another contest if the home team loses again this time.

And here we are, May 12, 2010.  Not bad for drama.  Games that aren't part of the Stanley Cup Finals don't get bigger than this.  The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens.  One team is an expansion franchise from 1967 with an odd mascot that didn't begin to record its hockey identity until the 1990s.  The other is one of the Original Six, defines the word venerable and reeks with tradition and gravitas, the preeminent team in the sport and the country where it is king.  The Penguins won their first Stanley Cup in 1991.  The Canadiens won their last in 1993.  The Penguins have been to the Finals the past two years.  The Canadiens haven't even made the Conference Finals since their Cup run in '93.

The subplots are equally sublime.  Sidney Crosby, possibly the most-recognized Canadian on the planet, captains the Penguins.  Less than three months ago he scored the winning goal in the Olympic gold medal game between Canada and the U.S.  On Canadian soil.  He is booed mercilessly in Montreal.  The Montreal blueliner in charge of keeping Crosby off the scoresheet is Hal Gill.  Gill, an American, was an integral part of the Penguins Cup-winning team last year, his name engraved just a few spots away from Crosby's on Lord Stanley's hardware.

The backstops add even more to the storyline.  Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, the first pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, is from Sorel, Quebec less than sixty miles from Montreal.  He's 25 and has helped the Penguins to consecutive Cup Finals, winning last year.  If he can get them to a third he will be the first goalie to do that in 25 years.  In Montreal he is the enemy.  Instead, Habs fans support Jaroslav Halak a native of  Bratislava, Slovakia,  who was taken 271st in that same 2003 draft--270 picks after Fleury.  Tonight will be only his fourteenth career playoff start.

It's impossible to know whether one of these four will be the central figure in tonight's drama.  It's unclear whether Gill will even play after suffering an injury in Game 5.  Will Crosby, who has been overshadowed by Mike Cammalleri and his series-leading six goals, find his goal scoring touch and push the Penguins along in their title defense?  Or will Halak, the best goalie in the playoffs thus far, lead the Canadiens to another improbable upset, the day before his 25th birthday.

It's tied at three games each.  Tonight is Game 7.  Tonight we will have an answer.  Tonight the NHL's playoff tag line finally fits.  History will be made.  Enjoy it.  It rarely is ever better than this.


Jake said...

Good article to help build the drama. How about adding that if Montreal wins, the Eastern Conference representative in the Finals will be the worst ever, because Montreal, Philadelphia and Boston are all terrible teams that have hit hot streaks in the playoffs.

I do have one main issue: Pittsburgh is NOT America's most hockey-crazed city, not even close. The original six fan bases in NY, Boston, Chicago and especially Detroit are all ahead of Pittsburgh.

johnfhennessey said...

Nice try Hammer, Jake is correct, Detroit, Boston, Montreal seem to be more crazed than Pitt, but I like your style. Good luck tonight. Boston needs some luck as well!

TGNY said...

From a Ranger fan with sour grapes in his teeth - GREAT preamble to what should be a sick game 7. I'll be tuned in MOLSON CANADIAN in hand.
Thoroughly enjoying the blog. I hope I get to read about the upset.

Happy Chappy said...

Sick indeed. SOrry for you and your Pens, though. Habs just got it done! Unbelievable game. Halak was the man. The pens outshot the Habs by nearly 2 to 1; Halak's save percentage was nearly 95%. You can argue with his season performance, but he's stepped up when it counted. First Ovechkin and the Caps ... now this. A lot of folks argued about how the Caps just collapsed. Can't say the same for the Pens, but holy s@#$. If the Habs take the Cup (and that's a big "if" given what's coming next), this just might be Canada's year. First the Gold in Vancouver (after a none-too-easy run for Babcock leading up to the fantastic final game against the US) and then possibly the Cup going Montreal. Doesn't get any better for Canada than that. They might be perpetually hung over for the remainder of the year.

Again, lots more hockey to play and I agree with Jake that the real teams to beat are in the Western finals with the Sharks and Black Hawks. But who thought they could come back to knock off the NHL point-leading Caps. Montreal's slogan should be, "we believe" (cause no one else certainly did or maybe even still does).