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Philadelphia Flyers

Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2 Preview: Late Night With the NHL

If you watch as much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as I do, you have to be prepared for some late nights. After all, the postseason, with its potential for games that theoretically can never end is often full of overtime epics that stretch into the early morning hours, and this season’s rendition has been no exception. In fact, the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs had a record 16 overtime games, with the piece de resistence being between Chicago and Phoenix, a series that saw overtime in the first five games.

So, of course, it’s only fitting that the last game of the round, last night’s Game 7 thriller between New Jersey and Florida, which didn’t start until 8:30 p.m. despite being on the east coast so as not to coincide with the end of Game 7 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators, needed more than 60 minutes to be decided. After all, Game 6, too needed more than 60 minutes to be figured out, resulting in Ilya Kovalchuk’s beautiful backhand feed after noticing he had lured in both defenders on a 2-on-2, which Travis Zajac took in front of the net and deposited between the legs of Scott Clemmensen to save New Jersey’s season.

But what was surprising about Game 7 between New Jersey and Florida was not that it needed more than 60 minutes to be decided, but that it needed more than 80. Double overtime isn’t something particularly unheard of, but overtimes have ended surprisingly early this postseason. Only three of the 16 overtime games this season reached a second extra period in the first round and the vast majority of games were done within about 10 minutes. This seems to run contrary to the typical postseason overtime trend of “try to end it quickly and if you can’t settle in and lock down the neutral zone and wait for a break,” not because games aren’t ending fast on the whole but because they aren’t ending immediately and still aren’t running on forever.

No need to worry, though. The Devils and Panthers solved that problem for everyone Thursday night by keeping the sportswriters, TV watchers and schedule-makers up deep into the evening in a holding pattern until somebody scored. As someone who is, shall we say, emotionally connected to one of these teams, it was an experience that was euphoric at its end but excrutiating for the rest of the duration. After all, playoff overtime is a precarious tight-rope walk where every slight shift in weight or brief mental mistake — and those are inevitable — could mean the end of a game or a season. The playoffs are stressful. Game 7 doubly so. Game 7 in overtime triply so. A Game 7 in double overtime? You get the idea. And despite nibbling on my fingers for most of the late evening, it was an immediate and explosive relief when Adam Henrique did this.

The game wouldn’t have gone that far, however, were it not for the absolutely stellar play of Martin Brodeur. As we’ve noted here earlier, Marty has struggled for stretches of this season and started to look his age — an age that will reach 40 next weekend — and while the Panthers did manage a furious third-period rally that tied the game with less than four minutes left, both of those goals were the result of an unbelievable amount of pressure and maybe a little too much contact with Brodeur put on by Florida. After all, people will forget that a third Florida goal early in the third period was waived off as a result of goalie interference, but they may not forget that the Panthers peppered Brodeur with an almost absurd 19 shots in the third … Read more...

You Guys Missed A Hockey Game On Monday

The smart money here says that BockerKnocker’s biggest moment of sports-centric anxiety on Jan. 2 came when the New York Knicks suffered an awful early-season home loss to the immortal Toronto Raptors, a franchise whose claim to fame is Vince Carter winning the 2000 Slam Dunk Competition, those stupid head bands they all wore in the first round of the 2001 playoffs and that Isiah Thomas didn’t completely destroy that franchise for the next decade.

Frankly, you’d think Steven Spielberg could have made their nearly 20-year history more dramatic by now.

It is worth noting however, that the Bockers’ unfortunate loss to Toronto came after what was really the top sporting event of the day, at least for New Yorkers. Sure the Rose Bowl wasn’t bad, and the Fiesta Bowl was entertaining, too, but I enjoy sporting events that don’t end because of spiking a football after the clock hits zero and a kicker missing two game-winning field goals.

We celebrate achievement, not ineptitude.

This is where the 2012 Winter Classic comes in. Even if we want to put aside the awesome and historic atmosphere and history that comes with having an annual outdoor hockey game, though this, admittedly, is hard to do, what we had Monday night was a game that had everything. Excitement, physicality, drama, rivalry, back-and-forth action up and down the ice, picturesque snowfall — anything the NHL could have hoped for it got Monday afternoon when the Rangers rallied from a two-goal deficit to upend the Flyers at Citizens Bank park.

In many ways, the NHL got the game it was hoping for a year ago when the League leveraged every ounce of sex appeal it had in the 2011 Classic at Heinz Field, pitting Pittsburgh and Washington against one another in hopes to showcase the personal rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, arguably the two biggest stars and best players in the game. Mother nature didn’t cooperate that night, bringing unseasonably warm rain that forced the game’s faceoff to be delayed until the evening and created ice conditions that were acceptable but far from ideal.

This time around, despite the a slight two-hour delay in puck drop, we had an ideal setting, an even better game and even a little controversy before and after on both sides. The Flyers mixed things up by robbing us of seeing Ilya Bryzgalov pontificate on the universe mid-game when Bryz himself revealed during a press conference that backup Sergei Bobrovsky would be getting the start. On the side of the Rangers, head coach John Tortorella turned some heads when he intimated that the games dramatic final minute was perhaps orchestrated by the refs and American broadcaster NBC in hopes of pumping up ratings, a suggestion that is both ludicrous and almost certain to earn the coach a hefty fine — though it should be noted he apologized Wednesday.

And just what was so dramatic about that final minute you ask?

So glad you did. See in hockey a defensive player is allowed to hand pass the puck forward if he is in his own zone, but he is not under any circumstances allowed to cover the puck up intentionally with his hands. And if any player other than a goalie does that in his team’s crease, well that results in a penalty shot, the single most dramatic moment in hockey. And what’s the most dramatic way to have the single most dramatic moment in hockey? Probably a potential game-tying penalty shot in the final 30 seconds of the NHL’s biggest regular season event. Unfortunately for the Rangers, with 19.6 seconds left and the Flye… Read more...