Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hockey Assassins and the Greatest Night of My Life...

Dear Mikael Samuelsson,
I'm sorry for all of the times I've yelled at you on TV. I'm sorry for all of the times I complained about you playing point on the power play. I'm sorry for all of the times I made fun of your shooting abilities. All is forgiven tonight.
PS. I really hate apologizing, so consider yourself twice blessed on this particular evening.

Tonight I fulfilled my lifelong dream and FINALLY attended a playoff game. It was, of course, everything I'd ever dreamed of, and then some. Even though the boys nearly gave me a heart attack by going to OT, things worked out in the end, and I went home happy.

It was a fairly typical game in the sense that the Wings, for the 95th straight time, didn't bother to show up for the beginning of the game. I seriously think that somebody should secretly tell them that the game starts half and hour earlier than it really does so that they'll be ready to go at gametime. For a bunch of such seasoned veterans, they sure have a lot of trouble getting their heads into the game early on. On the other hand, this should frighten opposing fans. I would imagine that if I were a Chicago or Hurricanes/Pens fan, I would have nightmares that involved the Wings actually bringing their A-game for a change. It would be a massacre. Puck Daddy called them "unflappable hockey assassins" today. I like that a lot.

I almost cried when the Hawks scored first. I had horrible visions of my childhood dream turning into an epic failure and never being able to attend a playoff game again for fear of jinxing the boys. At the same time, I knew the Wings weren't out of the game yet. A one-goal lead against any team in the NHL doesn't mean much, but against the Wings, it's equivalent to the random syllables that come out of PYG's mouth when he tries to form sentences--that is to say, completely devoid of meaning.

Danny Cleary once again came through with a big goal. I think playing against the team that drafted him has somehow stirred a memory of when he was a hot whiz-kid prospect in juniors and how much fun it was to score boatloads of goals. Or maybe one of the Hawks went to Newfoundland and spit on it. Either way, it's really fun to watch.

Nick Lidstrom was, as always, incredible. I really feel bad about how rarely I give him credit. Especially since I have his empty beer bottle on a shelf in my room, making us practically BFFs. Overlooking Nick seems to be pretty common. All you need to do is look at how long it took him to win his first Norris. It's hard to believe that Mike Green, he of the epic playoff under-performance, is most likely going to steal his trophy this year. At one point during the game, Patrick Kane broke into the Wings zone pretty much one-on-one with Lidstrom. My brother, who attended the game with me, said, "Look out, he's really good!" Then Lidstrom coolly and efficiently stripped him of the puck and cleared the zone. I leaned over and said, "Yeah, but Lidstrom's better." The man has somehow managed to turn defensive positioning into an artform. And that says a lot because I always hated playing defense when I used to play soccer and mini-sticks.

Jonathan Ericsson stood out like a rookie again this game. He made a couple more shaky plays, and, in general, I was extremely uncomfortable when he and Lebda were out on the ice. I like Ericsson with Lidstrom a lot better because Captain Nick can make up for some of the mistakes Big E might make. That being said, Ericsson wasn't nearly as bad as Chicago's D-men who made turnovers that lead to not one, but two Wings goals, including Sammy's in OT.

Datsyuk still hasn't scored. I'd be more panicked if everyone else wasn't picking up the slack. Boy oh boy was he evert on fire defensively, though. Even without points, he's worth keeping around just to see him ninja the puck away from unsuspecting Hawks. I would not want to run into this man in a dark alley. He'd swipe my phone, my keys, my wallet, my chapstick, and probably my pocket lint before I even knew what happened.

Even though he wasn't named one of the players of the game at the Joe, Ozzie played incredibly tonight. What I said in an earlier post still stands: anyone who I was forced to defend Ozzie to over the course of the season should line up now for a ceremonial slap. That man can bring it when he's called upon. I could be wrong here, but I'm pretty sure this was the first time during the playoffs that the Wings were out-shot. Ozzie made some stellar saves at key moments. Anyone who argues that this man isn't Hall of Fame-worthy can join the aforementioned lineup. I experienced one of the greatest moments of my life when my brother and I started an "Ozzie, Ozzie!" chant at the start of OT.

Speaking of chants, I was sitting in 225B, and I have to say that section 226 was the loudest group of fans that I have ever seen at a sporting event. I loved it. They were starting cheers all night long. Kudos to anyone in that area. Notice how it's always the cheap seats who have the most team spirit.

I was also struck by how few Chicago fans there were at the Joe. Since Chicago's so close, I figured there would have been more of an enemy presence in the stands. Looking around after Chicago's goals, there were only a few scattered here and there. Way to go Wings fans. The Joe is our building!

I'm not ready to talk about OT yet. I'm still recovering from it. Right at the start, I had a moment when I thought that I'd be more comfortable curled up in a fetal position on my couch at home, but I wouldn't have traded being at the Joe for anything. I'll never forget everybody rising to their feet as the Wings broke into the zone and then jumping up and down for what seemed like five minutes after Sammy scored. I even hugged my brother. That's how excited I was. Long story short: I will never forget this game. Ever. Even though it was far from the best the boys have played and they tried to kill me with OT.

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