Sports fans have been treated to some pretty amazing games in 2008. We had the Giants defeating the evil Patriots in a classic Super Bowl, and we also had Kansas defeat Memphis in a compelling NCAA final. And for anyone who watched last night, they know that Game 5 between Pittsburgh and Detroit was one for the ages. It also reaffirmed that an overtime hockey game is the most thrilling and intense sports action a fan can ask for. Lets break down some of the highlights from a spectacular night of hockey.
- Swole didn't get to see much of the first 2 periods because I was busy watching UGA eliminate Georgia Tech in a college baseball regional, but I was shocked to see the Penguins leading the Wings 2-1. For such a young team to put forth an effort in a game they could have mailed in is a great sign for the future. There is no doubt that Crosby and co. are going to win a title, and very soon.
- As the third period began, it looked like the Wings were playing about three levels above the Penguins in their quest to tie and win the game. They began the period by outshooting the Penguins 12-0, completely controlled the tempo of the game, and for long stretches didn't even allow the Penguins to get across the center line, let alone the Wings zone. I began saying to myself "This is the perfect hockey period." The Wings could do no wrong and were playing the best hockey i've ever seen in my life. It seemed over when they went ahead 3-2, but somehow the Penguins tied it up in the last minute and forced overtime. And even though I am from Michigan and rooting for the Wings because they are the hometown team, a large part of me was happy to see the Penguins tie the game, because I didn't want to see this spectacular game, and the season end so quickly.
- Overtime began the same way the 3rd period ended, with the Wings absolutely dominating the play. The only reason the game wasn't over in the first 5 minutes of OT was because of Marc-Andre Fleury. While he has always been a good goalie and certainly worthy of his Number 1 selection when drafted, last night he turned in a performance only rivaled by legends of the game like Ken Dryden, Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur. The Wings were simply blasting him with shots and yet he held strong and kept the Penguins season alive. It reminded me a ton of when JS Giguere did the same long ago in the Detroit, keeping his team alive in overtime despite a Red Wings barrage simply by the force of his will and determination. Fleury turned in the greatest performance in an epic match, and has earned my respect big time.
- As the game stretched into 2 and 3 overtimes, it came back to me how great overtime hockey is in the playoffs. Between the combination of sheer excitement level, fear and anxiety, and lack of commercials, I would say that an overtime playoff game is the best sporting event in sports. Every time the Penguins passed the Wings blue line, I would gasp. When Ruutu hit the post, I nearly dropped a lung. And every time the Wings carried it into Pittsburgh's end, I would rise up in anticipation of the Stanley Cup winning goal. And because there were no commercial breaks in which to catch my breath, the excitement and anticipation was unparalleled in anything i had seen for years. You can argue other sports are more exciting in general, but there is no event that combines such a withering pace of action with the immediate finality of an overtime playoff game, which is why I love it.
- When the 2nd OT period ended, I told Young Knuckleballer that this seemed like one of those games that the Wings would completely dominate and yet lose. I turned prophetic in the 3rd OT, when a Jiri Hudler high stick led to Peter Sykora's game winning goal. I was drained and exhausted from the event, but as time has gone on I became almost excited that the Penguins won, despite rooting for the Wings. Not only did I get to see an amazing game filled with drama and excitement, but I will get to see at least one more game between the 2 best teams in the NHL. After the strike a couple years ago, I vowed never to watch another pro hockey game as long as Gary Bettman was commisioner. Between non-existent TV appearances and general apathy I had succeeded in my promise for years. But like a moth to the flame it was inevitable i would return, and I'm so glad i did. I love other sports like football and soccer, but nothing could compare to last night. And while this series will soon be over and I'll have to see Bettman give the trophy to one of the teams, I'll be happy with my decision to watch the Stanley Cup Finals. As he brings out the best trophy in pro sports, I'll give him the middle finger and mumble some curse words, then salute the winners, and finally cherish the memories of a sublime Game 5 and the NHL's return to my heart.