Game 7

I remember my Game 7 day like it was yesterday.  Friday, June 12, 2009 was one of the most optimistic days of my life.  I was unemployed at the time — a result of a combination of the terrible job market and my own apathy following another year of law school — and I couldn’t have been happier.  My Red Wings were about to do the deed on the Penguins for the second straight year, and we were in for an aggressively emotional parade that was going to feel like a defense of the Motor City, much like the Eminem Chrysler commercial did during the Super Bowl a year and a half later.

What was going to stop us from having this three-month celebration, anyway?  Sure, it was Game 7, and in the past I would have been a nervous wreck over the possibility of losing, but the two teams had shown nothing to suggest a Pittsburgh win on that Friday night.  Aside from dispatching of the Penguins in six games the summer before, Detroit had won its first three home games of the series by a total score of 11-2, with no one-goal games in that stretch.  This was the scene at the end of Game 5.  The Red Wings had shown that they ran the best puck possession system in the league.  If anything, the Penguins were just a junior varsity version of the Red Wings.  That argument held up in 2008, so why not in ’09?
It was a hot and sunny day, and I felt obliged to amp up my strangely calm heart rate with about seven cups of coffee over the course of the afternoon.  I made the obligatory Sour Patch Kids run, my lone superstition applying to Red Wings home playoff games.  I made the mistake of buying them from the package, instead of hitting up a candy shop and getting my magic candies in a stock white bag, but what could that hurt?  We had this thing on lock.
At that time I was lucky enough to live far enough north to get CBC, and I will never forget Don Cherry’s intro to Game 7.  Click the link, and do not go away from it if you have not yet reached the 2:45 mark of the video.  “Nine months of war for one game.”
Then the actual game happened.  The Wings looked flat early, and found themselves trailing 2-0 after 40 minutes thanks to a pair of Max Talbot goals.  It was around that point that I realized this thing was getting away.  Sure, the Penguins lost Crosby earlier in the game, but the Red Wings were doing nothing to convince anyone that they planned on scoring any goals that night, let alone three.  All I remember are a lot of blank stares, trying to get a head start on processing the devastation that was headed my way.  This was it.  My team was going out like suckers.  Not like the defending champions that they were, but like overmatched weenies afraid to push back.
Then the third period unfolded, and the Wings outshot the Pens 8-1.  Jonathan Ericsson cut the deficit in half with just over six minutes to play, and the Wings proceeded to throw everything they could at Pittsburgh.  They decided that if they were going out, they were going out like champions.  The dream for the repeat finally collapsed when Marc-Andre Fleury stoned Nick Lidstrom from point blank range with about a second to play.  What I remember next was a mixture of pain, shock and a quickly developing sense of appreciation for what the Penguins had just done to my team.  They came into a building in which they had been beaten down three times to conclude a series that, for the second straight year, they had never led.  And they won the game without their best player.
Fleury saves. Internal crying commences. It hasn’t stopped yet.

It didn’t seem at that time that the loss was the end of the Red Wings, and until Lidstrom retires it won’t be, but we Detroit fans have spent the past two years hoping desperately for a return to that very spot.  We haven’t come close, and there appears to be a two-week window now in which Lidstrom might lock up that era of glory that ended on a Friday night in June of 2009, and throw away the key.
My advice for Canucks and Bruins fans is this:  relax, remember this moment, and enjoy the lead up and the game.  When it’s over, it’s over.  Even if your team wins, attention will soon turn to offseason moves and trying to defend what you already have.  If you lose, it will be hard to take.  But life will go on, and all the losing team can do is attempt to get right back to where they are today — on the brink.
“It’s the deep breath before the plunge.” – Mithrandir

But that’s what makes today so fun.  Everything is on a knife’s edge.  History is hanging in the balance.  It hasn’t happened yet, but it will soon, and we know it will soon.  It is very possible that as fans, your team will never get to this point again.  And even if they do, there’s no telling how you’ll feel about it as compared to this 2011 campaign.  So don’t fret about losing, and don’t pray for a win to come and go as quickly as possible.  Enjoy the game tonight, and go get your Stanley Cup.
Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals is tonight at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT live on NBC, CBC and RDS.
On Wednesday night the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks will stage one game for the Stanley Cup, and will give all hockey fans all we could ask for: a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals.
This is even funnier now.
In this 21st century world of saturated media (I offer as evidence that I have a blog, and you’re reading it!) we seem to have become obsessed with assigning blame to teams or athletes that lose.  The word “choke” is thrown around by hate mongers to describe each and every time someone comes up a little short, even when that loser was the underdog to begin with.  Everyone’s loving Tiger Woods’ life implosion, and he is talked about more now than he was when he was winning at an incredible rate.  America rejoiced the other night when the Miami Heat had to eat the platter of excrement that they prepared for themselves when they talked about winning seven or more championships before they had ever ran a drill together (going out of your way to stick it to an entire franchise on national television didn’t garner any sympathy points either).  And as great as Roger Federer is and was, he got more chatter relating to his decline (which lasted all of 16 months, by the way) than any of his amazingly dominant grand slam runs.

Remember when Federer was “done?”

The list of examples of our obsession with piling on losers rather than celebrating winners goes on and on, but it should not see a single entry from the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs on it.  Up to this point, I believe the playoffs have played out exactly as they should have.  Obviously, there was Ilya Bryzgalov quitting on the Phoenix Coyotes, and the much maligned Sharks doing what they do, but nothing has really happened in these playoffs that loosely resembles a choke.  Even the Capitals did what they always do, which is lose early to a team that nobody foresaw beating them.  And even then, the story was predominantly Washington, not Tampa Bay.
We’ve already laid the foundation for the Roberto Luongo “choke” in Game 7, and everyone rooting against him is ready to invalidate his entire career with any loss Wednesday night.  The jokes are locked and loaded — Monday night saw the term “Roberto LeBrongo” trending worldwide on Twitter (see paragraph 2).

Today is the biggest game of Luongo’s career, again.

But as hockey people, we’ve always held ourselves to a higher standard than fans of the other big sports, so let’s do what we should do, and focus on how wonderful it is that we have this series of moments that is a Game 7 in the season’s final series.  Someone will win, and let’s focus on celebrating them, before turning our attention to next season.  Oh, and our next season will be played in a few months, unlike those other leagues.  So absorbing yourself in Game 7 won’t go without value — you’ll get to carry that backstory into this fall and pick up where you left off.

As far as who will win Game 7, nobody knows.  But Canucks MVP candidate Daniel Sedin thinks he does.  Sedin said that Vancouver will win Game 7, just as they’ve won every home game in the series so far.  Most people are doing what we do these days and calling it a guarantee just to get eyeballs and clicks, but Sedin never used that word.  All he did was say that he believes his team is going to win, and really, there’s nothing to criticize about that.  If he’s right, then maybe he will elevate his and his brother’s status in the eyes of North American hockey fans, who have long been slammed for being “soft.”  But I don’t think Daniel making these comments have anything to do with the aftermath of a Canucks win.  For one, a Canucks win make all talk and former panic irrelevant.  Also, Sedin probably feels more free to go out and make things happen knowing that he quipped the talk early and said that the team will just win the game.  It sounds obvious that he should go out and play freely and create and score goals in the biggest game of his career, but it’s not always that easy to feel free in these games.  The magnitude of big moments has restricted the weak of heart for as long as mankind has existed.  This is Sedin saying “screw it, let’s just play.”

Luongo scared? That’s not true! Come after me, I’m a man! I’m 30!

Another possible motivation for Daniel to speak out and “guarantee” a Game 7 win is that it will lead people to talk about his statement, and not Luongo’s state of mind.  This is a tactic that has been used by coaches for a while, but it’s not something we’ve seen come from the quiet Swede before.  To me, this is proof of Sedin’s continuing evolution as a hockey player and as a man.  It takes guts to make declarations prior to do-or-die games, despite the obvious reality that these statements do not really matter.  We’ve been asking for heart and grit out of the Sedin twins for a long time.  Here’s a start.  Wednesday can be something of a finish.
Regarding Luongo’s state of mind entering Game 7, there are conflicting schools of thought, and either could prove to be right.  The conventional thinking seems to be that Luongo has been money at home, and therefore should continue to be.  A dissenting opinion is that a man can only be beaten down so many times, and Game 6 solidified that the earlier beatings in Boston were no fluke.  Luongo has been pulled twice now in the finals.  Perhaps the 19-8 overall score line has Luongo shaken in the lead up to what is close to a 50/50 game for all the marbles.
But Luongo has prevailed in this situation before.  Granted, he had an amazing team in front of him for the 2010 Olympic gold medal game, but he also had exponentially more pressure on him.  This Stanley Cup run has been very important to all Vancouver Canuck fans for the last few months.  The Olympics were an all-or-nothing proposition for the host country for four years.  Luongo managed that game well, despite allowing a game-tying goal with under a minute left in regulation.  On top of that, he fared just fine in Game 5 after two shellings, and was superb in Game 7 against Chicago in the ultimate panicked negativity situation around the team.  I wouldn’t expect another yanking of Luongo in Game 7.
A better reason that Luongo and the Canucks won’t bring home the Cup is the man in the other crease.  Tim Thomas has had one of the most outstanding goaltending seasons in recent memory, and he only upped his game for the Stanley Cup finals.  By all accounts, Thomas already has the Conn Smythe Trophy wrapped up.  There’s no reason he shouldn’t, as both teams are 15-9 through 24 postseason games thus far.  If Thomas is the unanimous MVP through 24 games, what could happen in the 25th to turn that on its head?  Nothing, and Thomas should bring home the hardware tomorrow.  The only question is whether he will do it Giguere style.  He, and Bruins nation, hopes not.

Tim Thomas wants no part of a J.S. Giguere dichotomy tonight.

Besides the goaltenders, one key for both teams is to be aggressive and not find themselves trying to counterpunch.  I think both teams will come out assertive, but Boston probably has the bodies to do it a little bit better.  While the Bruins don’t have Nathan Horton up front, they still have Chara, Lucic and the rest of the lumberjacks to bend some wills.  And speaking of Horton, how cool was it to see him at the glass swinging a towel and rooting on his teammates?  

Thank the Lord I’m somewhere that cares.
You think that guy loves finally being on a competitive hockey team after wasting the first six years of his career in South Beach?
But the Canucks won’t let the B’s come into their own building and shove them around.  I expect Vancouver to bang as much as Boston, and that’s another reason I have no problem with Daniel Sedin saying the Canucks will win.  If anything, it should galvanize the team.  Makes you wonder if the right Sedin is looking to become the second european captain to ever win the Stanley Cup (Lidstrom ’08).
I don’t think Boston has to do much differently to win the Stanley Cup in Game 7.  They’ve been in every game this series, dropping all three losses by one goal.  We know Thomas and the rest of the Bruins’ vets are going to show up.  It just comes down to who executes better and gets some breaks.  One positive thing the Bruins have going for them is the power play disparity in the series.  Vancouver, who brought a 28.8% power play success rate into the finals, is sputtering at 6.5% in the finals.  Boston, on the other hand, couldn’t throw in a power play goal leading up to the finals.  But the Bruins have bucked the trend and rolled at a 19.2% clip against the Canucks.
Moving onto strategy, one thing I would do if I was Vancouver is roll out Dan Hamhuis.  I know he’s probably very hurt, and it seems unlikely that the defenseman will play in Game 7.  But if he can skate, he needs to play.  Ryan Kesler has been doing it the whole series.  The only question really is, who gives you more, Hamhuis or rookie Chris Tanev?  That’s a rhetorical question, and therefore I just can’t see how Hamhuis would be held out of this one if he can give the Canucks even 12 minutes of pain-impaired but responsible hockey.  What do they have to worry about, next year, when they might not have a home game to win the ultimate prize?

Guess who’s feeling better Wednesday morning

Another question for Vancouver is who will replace winger Mason Raymond, who fractured a vertebra in Game 6.  By all reports, Raymond’s injury is a vicious one, and I hope he can get through his time of pain.  He is listed as out for at least four months.  It seems that CCHA product Jeff Tambellini would be the most likely replacement, although coach Vigneault has not indicated his Game 7 roster at this moment.
With all of this said, let’s realize again that these two teams have given us everything that we ask for as sports fans.  Both teams have given it everything in taking it to the final game, all while playing as collectively hurt as they’ve been in their hockey careers.  Wednesday will be the 107th game for each team this season, and it will be that magical seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals.
In many ways, we’ve become spoiled with these Game 7s in the Cup finals.  This will be the sixth Game 7 in the finals since the turn of the millennium.  The home team won the first four, before the Penguins prevailed in Joe Louis Arena in 2009 in the single most painful loss of my adult sports life.  But these games are a treat.  Just ask anyone who watched hockey from 1966 to 2000, only to see three such spectacles in those 35 seasons.  And so the moral of the story is this: enjoy the hell out of this Game 7 between the two most deserving teams in the league, and don’t pile on the loser; instead, celebrate the winner.  Not much more to say, good luck to all parties, and let’s have a great game.  Can’t wait to look ahead to the offseason.
In a game that will give goalie coaches fodder for years to come, Tim Thomas was able to keep the puck out of his net in Boston’s 1-0 home win in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Tampa goalie Dwayne Roloson was brilliant both before and after allowing the game’s only goal, but his 37 saves on 38 shots weren’t quite enough for the Lightning to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since winning it in 2004.  The game winning goal was scored, as predicted by Tram’s Table yesterday, by Nathan Horton.

Some things that went against the natural flow of the series showed up in the stat sheet.  For one, Tampa Bay gave the puck away more than Boston did, by an 11-7 clip.  Second, and I know a lot of people disregard this stat, but Boston won the faceoff battle 35-26.  There’s no way of knowing what might have happened offensively for the Lightning had the faceoff stats been reversed, but I’m sure most of you are already groaning.  Third, Boston actually outshot Tampa Bay by a wide margin — 38-24.  I said yesterday that I thought Thomas would have to make six more saves than Roloson, but that was wholly untrue, because Boston hunkered down and played a very focused all-rink game that most people thought they were capable of all along.  Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, there were no penalties called in the entire game.  If that premise would have been offered to each team before the game, Boston would have jumped at the idea and probably figured they could win by more than one goal, while Tampa Bay would have refused the offer as quickly as if they had been asked to volunteer to get beaten with a night stick.  The Lightning have made a killing on the power play, and without the luxury of any last night, they were unable to assert themselves as the more offensively dominant team, and in turn unable to score at all.  Credit to the referees for letting them play, as the game seems to have gotten a very strong rating in the realm of public entertainment and satisfaction.

But as much as we all loved the talent, passion and desire to ascend that the Lightning showed us, all eyes must now turn to the Bruins and Canucks, who will open their seven-game series for sports’ greatest trophy on Wednesday, June 1 in Vancouver.  The Canucks have played all season with that big “40” at center ice, denoting that this is the franchise’s 40th season in the NHL.

It is well documented that Vancouver has never won the Stanley Cup, but it is interesting that when the Canucks dropped the puck on their inaugural season in the fall of 1970, it was the Boston Bruins who were the defending Cup champions.  Boston won the Cup again in 1972, but have since failed to hoist the ultimate prize.  The Bruins won the eastern conference, or “eastern division” or “Wales conference” as it was formerly known, five times from 1974 to 1990.  In those five Stanley Cup finals series, Boston was swept twice and won a total of only five games (meaning they averaged a 4-1 series loss).  The B’s never forced a Game 7 in that stretch, and thus haven’t played a game for the Stanley Cup since that last victory in 1972.  In case you were wondering, Boston hasn’t won the eastern conference since 1990, and in fact hadn’t even reached the conference finals since 1992.  That is all now, of course, history.

But in order for the Bruins to get a chance to finally play a game for the Stanley Cup, they will have to play with a heightened awareness and attention to detail.  I am not stating the obvious simply because this is now the final round, but instead because this is the first time in these playoffs that Boston is playing against an opponent that is, quite frankly, better than they are.  The Canucks seem to finally be rolling, as they have won each series in one fewer game than the last.  If that trend were to continue, the Canucks would sweep the Bruins in four games, but I find that to be an unlikely outcome.

The biggest difference between the way these two teams have gotten here is the power play numbers.  While Vancouver’s edge over Boston in killing off penalties has been negligible this postseason (80.8% to 79.4%), the gap in power play percentage is frightening if you’re a Bruins fan.  Vancouver has played with the man advantage 60 times this postseason; Boston has had 61 power plays.  But the Canucks have poured in 17 goals in those 60 chances, for a jaw-dropping 28.3% success rate.  Boston, meanwhile, has only managed to tally 5 PPGs in 61 chances, which is an anemic 8.2%.  Come to think of it, that’s only 1.67 power play goals per series, and two of their three series have gone seven games!  I don’t think Vancouver will score on 28.3% of their power plays in the finals, but there’s no real reason to think that the number shouldn’t be around 20%, which is what both teams have allowed this postseason.  So to me, the key to whether or not Boston can push this series to a deciding seventh game (or win it before that) is whether Boston can slow down Vancouver’s power play while also improving on their own unsuccessful man advantages.  To put some numbers on this problem, if Boston cut Vancouver’s PP% by a third while also doubling its own PP%, the Canucks would still hold an 18.9% to 16.4% advantage, and I’m not sure there are too many people who feel that Boston has some sort of even strength advantage over the Canucks.  This is why beyond just the special teams adjustments, Boston absolutely must play with an attention to detail throughout this series so that they don’t give games away, because against this opponent, they cannot afford to do so.
For the first time in two years, the Detroit Red Wings took the hockey game to the San Jose Sharks.  They did it not just for a period, a la Game 5, but for an entire 60 minute game.
If Tuesday night’s Game 6 was the first Red Wings game a person coming out of a three-year coma had watched, that person would have no idea that the Red Wings had finally met their match in the San Jose Sharks.  That person would be ignorant of the fact that Detroit could no longer possess the puck whenever they wanted, or that the Red Wings were backstopped by a goaltender that until two weeks ago was pegged as overrated and not good enough to provide an aging Red Wings squad with a realistic hope of a final Stanley Cup before the old guys move on.  That person would also have no idea how the team in red had fallen behind three games to zero at the hands of the team in white.
But all of these things that the comatose patient had missed were the reality even coming into Game 6.  Then, like the aging fighter that nobody’s sure can move or punch like he used to, the Red Wings opened up an exhibition of total hockey on its recent nemesis.  Detroit kept talking about increasing its puck possession throughout the series, but it seemed like they were failing to see the obvious — that they couldn’t out possess the Sharks because they didn’t have the personnel anymore.  Or rather, that they couldn’t because the Sharks’ personnel had grown and developed into a team that was just better at it than Detroit was.  Now, that truth will be questioned heading into Thursday’s Game 7 in San Jose.
In order to pull off the comprehensive outclassing of a very good team, Detroit needed great games from more than just its core of star players.  The Red Wings needed every dressed player to perform at his highest level, and that’s pretty close to what they got.  Every player showed an attention to detail and intensity, which is the only combination that can yield a 45-25 outshooting of the San Jose Sharks.  Other than Dan Cleary having a tough time getting the puck to settle down on the sweet spot of his stick, all of Detroit’s top 9 forwards threatened Sharks goalie Antti Niemi.
Two things stood out to me in this game.  First, Detroit did a great job rationing defensive minutes knowing that they would have to win another game 48 hours later if they wanted to continue to try to win the Stanley Cup.

Ice Time
Nicklas Lidstrom
Brian Rafalski
Niklas Kronwall
Brad Stuart
Ruslan Salei
Jonathan Ericsson
The temptation was there to let Lidstrom play 25 minutes, and let Rafalski and Kronwall skate around 23, and basically just try to survive the few times when Salei and Ericsson had to spell the top four.  But that wasn’t the plan, and it seemed clear that something had gotten through to at least Ericsson, as he looked like a shell of his former irresponsible, unprepared, heart-attack inducing self.  Salei also stepped up and made smart, safe passes that developed the puck possession game that Detroit was so clearly committed to playing Tuesday night.  Kronwall and Stuart laid some lumber, as usual, and Kronwall even moved up to fire the shot that was tipped in by Henrik Zetterberg to tie the game at 1.  The worry in coming back from a 0-3 series deficit is usually that too much energy will be expended in getting to a Game 7, but the superb play of Detroit’s bottom four defensemen should help to alleviate that worry, as Lidstrom and Rafalski were able to play beneath typical ice time numbers for top line defensemen in must win games.
The second thing that stood out to me was how everybody, not just stars or role players, got involved in a positive way.  Prior to the game, I wrote that it was time for Henrik Zetterberg to take over a game the way Lidstrom and Datsyuk had in the two prior games.  And Zetterberg did answer the bell.  He got one of the two best chances to open Detroit’s scoring when Datsyuk fed him a short pass in the left slot with Niemi sprawling across the crease.  Zetterberg was unlucky to have his goal-seeking shot slam right into the shaft of Sharks D man Jason Demers.  But Hank played a game reminiscent of earlier in the season, when he was being talked about as an MVP candidate for carrying the Red Wings through Datsyuk’s injuries.  And with under ten minutes left in the game and the Red Wings trailing 1-0, Zetterberg tipped in a rising laser from the stick of Kronwall to tie the score.
The play was set up by the creativity and pass of Valtteri Filppula, who I blasted a few days ago when I said that he plays like he doesn’t understand that he isn’t Pavel Datsyuk.  Well, it’s a good thing Filppula didn’t stop believing, because he played a complete hockey game and actually looked like a legitimate junior varsity version of Datsyuk.  And it all finally paid off for Filppula when the man he seems to emulate found him with a cross-ice backhand saucer pass that Filppula buried for a 2-1 lead less than two minutes after setting up the tying goal.
The list didn’t stop after Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Howard, the defensemen, or even after Filppula though.  Every Red Wing made an impact.  Todd Bertuzzi played another spirited game in which he carried that ultra-annoyed, scornful scowl on his face that has been there since Devin Setoguchi swept Bertuzzi’s leg out from under him in Game 4.  It’s funny, when Chicago won three games in a row to force a Game 7 with Vancouver in the last round, everybody was talking about what a mistake it was for Raffi Torres to put a cheap shot on Brent Seabrook.  But nobody seems to recall Setoguchi lighting a fire under Bertuzzi that seems to have united this Red Wings team and reminded them how much they don’t want to lose to a bunch of guys that consistently play the leg sweeping, butt ending, sucker punching game.  And yes, I used the term “sucker punching” in reference to an opponent of Todd Bertuzzi — get over it.  If you’re not living in the past, you realize this analysis is spot on in 2011.  But really I have nothing to worry about, since Sharks fans don’t read about hockey.
The list didn’t stop after Bertuzzi’s name either though.  Jiri Hudler, who I also dug at Tuesday afternoon, skated brilliantly and chipped in with some offensive threat without ever giving up a terrible turnover or forgetting to mark a man defensively.  The Michigan State Spartans, Abdelkader and Miller, chipped in with some fourth line minutes, and Mike Modano played a solid game in place of the injured Johan Franzen.
Lastly, Darren Helm played another gem of an NHL playoff game.  There was a moment in the first period when I realized that this might be a different kind of Sharks / Red Wings game.  Helm was chasing a loose puck in the corner of his offensive zone, and knew he would be checked into the boards.  Helm stuck his fists out as he was being bodychecked, and essentially held an extended standing bench press pose for a second, took the puck and passed it out without any other part of his body ever touching board or glass.  It was a move that only the Incredible Hulk could have made, and yet it wasn’t so much as noticed by the television announcers.  Well, you were noticed by me, Darren.
Helm added the empty net goal with just over a minute remaining to ice the game and send the Red Wings faithful into one more rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing,” which you can relive here.
Game 7 is Thursday at 9:07 p.m. in San Jose.  U.S. television coverage is on Versus.

The series between Vancouver and Chicago was so analyzed by every facet of the media that I didn’t feel like focusing on regurgitating everyone’s takes on who was going to win Game 7.  I watched the game and wanted to enjoy it, and I did.

But after Alex Burrows potted the series ender to atone for his missed penalty shot, I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve seen a very similar story before.  Fourteen months ago, almost to the day, Vancouver was the site of what was being billed as the biggest, most needed win in Canadian hockey history.  The Canadian team slept through its pool play in the 2010 Olympics, but found its way into the gold medal game that everybody in the country said they had to win.  They were clearly a better team than the USA, albeit not by a whole lot, and they found themselves up by 1 late in regulation.  Last night, Vancouver was without a doubt the better team, and put as much pressure on Chicago as anyone has been able to do in two seasons.  Last year, Jonathan Toews scored a pretty goal to open scoring for Team Canada.  Last night, Jonathan Toews scored a shorthanded goal that would have instantly become part of a “History Will Be Made” commercial had Chicago won the game.  It also “opened the scoring” for Chicago; it was the goal that tied the game at 1 with just under two minutes to play.  Toews’ goal last night was a late one on Roberto Luongo to send the game to overtime and the crowd into anxiety.  Luongo allowed a similar goal last year, one to Zach Parise that brought the USA even at 2 with just 24.4 seconds to play.  That goal sent the entire nation into panic mode.  Both games saw Luongo do what was necessary to win, despite being crushed in the media for a week or so.  And both games saw the home team score overtime winners to unleash the unbridled joy of the supporters, both inside the Rogers Centre and watching on television around the nation.

All I can say is, credit to the Chicago Blackhawks for forcing overtime in Game 7 against the Presidents’ Trophy winners after losing so many key players from last year, and also falling behind 0-3 in this series.  Toews’ goal is one that should live on for a long time, despite the Hawks ultimately falling.  As for the Canucks, it was hard not to feel like we were witnessing something beautiful, what with the passion of the fans and the team being pushed to the utter brink before finally getting the Chicago monkey off their backs and moving on in their quest for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.  Their next series against Nashville shouldn’t be a whole lot easier, but it will be interesting to see whether last night’s atonement will give the team a new sense of freedom, or if the later we get the more the pressure will build for the team that was favored coming in.

The score is only 1-0, but Philadelphia outshot Buffalo 16-2 in the first period.  Ryan Miller has been great, but his team looks completely impotent and overmatched.  This is the kind of game we would have expected back in January, when Philly was leading the east and Buffalo looked nowhere near the playoffs. There are still 40 minutes left, and games tend to have ebbs and flows, but Buffalo is getting blown out as bad as any team down a goal ever has.

Let’s see how the second plays out…