THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: Stanley Cup Final Game 1: RELAX, FOR FRAK’S SAKE!

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06/01/2010 8:12 AM - By Chad Huebner

Well, here we are. I mean, I’ve been here before covering the Stanley Cup Final for the last five seasons, but obviously, this one means a hell of a lot more to me. Did I plan this? Of course not. This wasn’t the accumulation of five years’ worth of watching and writing hockey. But I did want this to happen, at least before I died.

I used to be a Chicago Bulls’ fan back when they were winning all those championships, so I have some experience with this kind of playoff series. But at least there, at least after the first time the Bulls won a championship, I had a certain amount of confidence every time they made it to the championship round. So since this is the first time I’ve watched the ‘Hawks make the Final, I have a certain amount of trepidation, even though nearly everyone favors them. My semi-insecurity probably stems from all those years watching the ‘Hawks when they were losers, and that even now, I may not be expecting much. Remember: even though I picked the ‘Hawks to make it this far, I had them ultimately lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The mere fact that they’re playing another team from Pennsylvania changes things only a little bit.

In other words, they better score the first goal. That’ll go a long way to easing everyone’s nerves. So let the nerve-wracking excitement begin.

I’ll tell you one thing; I’ve never heard the United Center noisier than when they did the National Anthem for this game.

1ST PERIOD


Looks like Seabs got a little bit shaken up when a Philly Flyer fell on him as both were going for the puck behind Niemi’s net. His loss would mean a bit more than the ‘Hawks not having the services of Andrew Ladd tonight. Put it this way: if losing Ladd would mean that much to the ‘Hawks, then they’d be in serious trouble.

I’m always a fan of aggressive play, but not when it gets overly aggressive. Ben Eager, who once upon a time was part of the Flyers’ organ-I-zation, wanted to throw his muscle around I guess, and got called for a crosscheck penalty. Here we go with an early ‘Hawks’ PK for the 1,050th time these playoffs. Every puck clear elicits a loud cheer and Niemi makes all the necessary saves. No worries here.

Big Buff and Pronger are already mixing it up. That should be good to watch the entire series. Frak that, an entire season’s worth.

Well, so much for that “first goal” theory. Brian Campbell makes a bad turnover in the ‘Hawks’ zone and the Flyers pounce on it and bounce it past Niemi. Then again, the ‘Hawks should be quite used to playing from behind at home.

And they’re also used to tying the game! Marian Hossa may not be scoring the goals everyone likes to see, but he’s setting up a ton of them these playoffs. His deft pass to Troy Brouwer in the high slot was a thing of beauty. Oh, so was Troy’s slapper.

Eddie Olcyzk says he thinks Flyers’ goalie, Michael Leighton, is having a tough go with things, “fighting the puck.” Last time I heard a ‘Hawks’ opponents’ goalie do that, it was “LUUUU!” of the Canucks, so that’s a good sign. Leighton played for the ‘Hawks primarily as a backup goalie five years ago, and no, I don’t remember much about his play.

‘Hawks getting some pressure on Leighton, but that momentum comes to a temporary halt as Kaner is called for slashing. Glad I have enough beer. ‘Hawks spend most of the time in the Flyers’ end. Davey Bolland steals the puck from Braydon Coburn-breakaway!-settles the puck down, shoots five hole that hits Leighton’s stick and YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!! ANOTHER ‘HAWKS’ SHORTIE!!!!!!!!

(Little side story: I went to a local zoo before this game, sporting ‘Hawks colors. One of the zoo workers asked me what I thought the final score of this game would be. I said 3-1, a tough game. Well, at this pace, we might reach that point four minutes before the close of this period.)

“LEEEEIGGGHHHHH-TONNNNNN! LEEEEIGGGHHHHH-TONNNNNN! LEEEEIGGGHHHHH-TONNNNNN!”

Getting sick with these penalties, ‘Hawks! But unlike Game 1 between the ‘Hawks and Sharks where sending the wrong guy favored the ‘Hawks, it might hurt them, as Hjarlmasson committed the penalty, but Campbell was sent to the box.

Correction does hurt the ‘Hawks. Scott Hartnell ties the game on a Niemi rebound. Hope this doesn’t come back to haunt the ‘Hawks at the end.

Niemi’s simply getting bombarded. Flyers had 15 shots with a minute to go in the period, they nearly had that many from the minute to the 30 seconds mark, and now the ‘Hawks trail again. We’re not even out of the first period and this game is already a rollercoaster.

But the period comes to a close, and that last goal is a bit of a buzz kill for such an emotional start. Too many shots allowed (17?!); the D has to tighten up considerably.

2ND PERIOD

Coaster going up, up UP!!!!!!!! ‘Hawks getting quite a few odd-man situations, this one pays off; Sharpie, the former Flyer, ties it again. Final score. . . 6-5? 7-6?

Flyers whistled for a ton of offside plays. Seems like both teams aren’t settled down yet. Might not happen til Game 2.

Fourth straight ‘Hawks penalty. Shades of Game 1 between the ‘Hawks and Sharks in the last round. Maybe the refs need to settle down, too? Hossa hit in the mouth with a stick. . . NO CALL?! WTF?! SERIOUSLY, WTF?!

(Memo to NHL: Umm, the ‘Hawks should be your most popular franchise right now, don’t you want them to win the Cup? Well, be like the NBA and influence things! C’mon, man up!)

Flyers don’t need a PP to break the tie. They also don’t need turnovers to control the puck. This is disturbing, only because Niemi hasn’t given up this many goals in a long time. Flyers have twice as many shots on goal (23-11) to this point. Just concerned by his mental state at this point.

Versteeg has what ails Niemi: a big prescription of GOOOOOALLLLLLLLLL!!!!

Okay, the score will be 9-8 now? 11-10? Good thing shots from beyond the blue line don’t count for two.

And yes, I’m wondering if things would have been any different had Ladd been able to play. 

Bolland continues to be a pest to the opposition’s best players. He just hooked Mike Richards like he was taking him offstage in a cartoon, and of course the ref was looking away. I thought Richards would’ve put up a bit of a fuss, but he goes to his bench. Bolland is the Pestmaster. . . not a bad movie title.

That Hossa to Brouwer play is HOTTTTT!!!!!!!!!! Keep those guys on the same line from now until the end of time!

I thought Leighton looked a little shell-shocked, even though he hasn’t faced nearly as many shots as Niemi. Then a few moments after that thought, out goes Leighton, in comes Brian Boucher, who was the Flyers’ #1 guy for the latter part of the regular season until Game 4 of the Conference Semis against the Boston Bruins. He might actually be better than Leighton, which is saying something for what Leighton has done until now.

Not as satisfying as seeing the goalie pulled in a blowout playoff loss, but it will do.

It doesn’t mean that the ‘Hawks have this one in the bag, and to painfully remind all of this fact, the Flyers show tremendous composure with the puck in the ‘Hawks’ zone, and it’s a tie game once again. Well, these are the highest-scoring playoffs in 14 years, after all. . .

At least the ‘Hawks have evened things up after two. Now they need to continue to tighten up the D and SETTLE THE FRAK DOWN! Okay, maybe yelling that isn’t a good way to soothe someone’s nerves, but you get the idea. I feel half of the Flyers goals could have been prevented had the ‘Hawks controlled the puck better out of their zone. Now I’m wondering if Niemi’s got a touch of shellshock.

3RD PERIOD

Remind me why it’s good to be a dedicated hockey fan? It can’t be because it makes your health better.

Encouraging stat: Flyers only 2-2 when score’s tied after two periods, ‘Hawks are 3-0. Says something the ‘Hawks are unbeatable when the game is at its most unstable.

No whistles the first seven minutes of the period. Pure up and down action. Enjoying every minute of this. Oh, so that’s why I love this game!

Puck strikes Niemi’s mask, strap breaks and mask comes off and it’s. . . Matt Damon?! The guy just received a lifetime achievement award, what can’t he do these days?

LADD WHO?! Tomas Kopecky, the man who took his place, sweeps the puck past Boucher at the last second. We lead again. . . umm, yay? I better not get my hopes up that much.

Crowd acting like a bunch of heat-crazed, wild dogs, though. Yes, this is the frakking Stanley Cup and this is some frakking crazy stuff going on right now! AWHOOOOO!!! ARF ARF! GRRRRR! GRRRR! Arblegrablefarble! (More unintelligible gibberish from this point.)

Niemi’s sporting a new helmet because his original one fell off again. Hope those goalie superstitions don’t kick in at this point. Pierre McGuire points out goalies weren’t wearing masks the last time the ‘Hawks won a Cup. I can’t even fathom a goalie going maskless in this day and age.

Flyers on the attack with over six minutes to go, but Niemi is solid at this point. Clearly the new helmet is not bringing bad mojo.

Commercial break, and the original helmet is back! Ahhh, all is well. . .

The frak am I saying? He’s given up five goals this game and there’s way too much time left. All is definitely not well! All is very shaky!

Slight correction: Niemi defiantly snaps the puck in mid-air. Doc Emrick can finally go with a “Niemi says noooo!” call. 2:04 left, time to pull Boucher?

Boucher gone with over 41 seconds. Everyone’s standing. I’m standing. Just sat down to type this. Puck goes out in ‘Hawks zone but no delay of game. Timeout. KEEP SETTLING DOWN!

6. . .5. . .4. . .3. . .2 . . .1. . .

YESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No empty netter, but no loss. First Stanley Cup win since 1973. Kopecky, the man not expected to play tonight, gets the game winner. Will there be a goalie controversy for the Flyers for Game 2?

All I know is that nothing comes easy for the ‘Hawks in the postseason, which makes it more worthwhile when they win. And I can relax. . . for now.

Remember; e-mail me at chadhuebner1972@yahoo.com for anything on your mind, hopefully hockey related. Best responses and/or questions will be answered publicly.




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