Tuesday, June 15, 2010

NHL playoffs in review: Marian Hossa is a girl's name

Hossa, no matter where your hockey career takes you, this is how you'll always be remembered to Penguins' fans.

It has taken me this long to be able to cope with and adequately reflect upon the NHL playoffs due to the traumatic way in which they unfolded. Like a harshly dumped girl who holes herself up in her room with Ben & Jerry's ice cream, her cat, feel good books like "Eat, Pray, Love", and "Hang in there" kitten dangling from a branch motivational posters, who finally emerges days later ready to write angry, brooding, dark, yet cathartic poetry, I'm finally ready to tackle the NHL playoffs with a blog post.

Now, I'm not one for crying - especially not over boys. But, I will say that I cried over a record number of boys - 34 of them to be exact - on May 12; all 34 of which are members of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And together, on May 12, they faced the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

If you had asked me up until there was less than one minute remaining in that game 7, when the Pens were down 5-2 and the Canadiens had a power play, who was going to be in the Stanley Cup Championship, I'd have said Blackhawks vs Penguins. I predicted that matchup since the playoff teams were announced.

It wasn't until just under a minute left and trailing by 3 goals and one-man disadvantage that I came to accept reality, and came to cry over boys. Watching the game in DC and surrounded by 3 loyal Pens fans and a bar full of Caps fans rooting loudly for the Canadiens who had defeated their team a series prior, but who despise the Pens more for their constant playoff routing of their team, I must have been truly a sad sight because the Caps fans couldn't bring themselves to cheer or give me a hard time after that loss. I went on crying for a good 5 minutes.

I don't want to sound like a sore loser or anything, but, on behalf of my boyfriend Sidney Crosby, you're welcome for your gold medal, Canada.

With the Pens out, I came to two conclusions. First, the Red Wings' and Penguins' fates are tied together in some sick, twisted universe which cosmically links the two arch rivals. Think of it as Harry Potter and Voldemort. Obviously the Penguins are Harry Potter and the Red Wings are Voldemort.... In '08 the Red Wings and Pens faced each other in the Stanley Cup championship and the Wings won it all in 6 games. That series produced one of my favorite hockey games of all time when the Pens won game 5 in triple overtime to avoid elimination. ...I didn't make it to work the next day.

In '09 the Wings and Pens would again take each other on in the Stanley Cup championship, but this time it would be the Pens who would win, doing so in 7 games, the last of which ended 3-2 and with a barrage of Detroit shots on Pens' goalie, Marc Andre Fleury, the stress of which took years off my life.

This year, in the Western Conference playoffs, Detroit pulled the only upset of the first round; entering as a 5 seed and defeating the 4 seed. The 1, 2, and 3 seeds all won. In the Eastern Conference playoffs. Pittsburgh was the only seed to avoid an upset; a 4 seed triumphing over the 5 seeded Senators, while the 1, 2, and 3 seeds all fell to their lower ranked opponents.

However, both teams would fall in their conference semi-finals. I guess it was time Detroit and Pittsburgh let someone else have a shot at the Cup.

The truth is, in game 7 against the Canadiens, Fleury was just really off his game. He had been on and off, hot and cold, throughout this year's playoffs. The team also didn't have quite the same level of energy in that game as it did in the other matches they played against the Canadiens.

I went to game 5 of that series and sat third row on the blue line in what would turn out to be the last ever Pens' victory in Mellon Arena. [Their new arena, the Consol Energy Center, is slated to open in July.] The seats were so close and amazing that when the puck was shot up and around the glass I could see the ice spinning off of it. The players were life size and only feet away, and I yelled at Sidney Crosby to marry me and allow me to have his babies at least 5 or 6 times. The Penguins' energy and force in that game was palpable and they straight up outplayed the Canadiens. That is what we needed to muster in game 7. We didn't.

Perhaps there should have been some foreshadowing here in that the Penguins' first ever game in the arena was a loss to the Canadiens, and of course the parallelism between the Pens and Wings success in recent years.

The second conclusion I reached after the Pens were eliminated, was that this year's cup match would be between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers. The San Jose Sharks, the 1 seed who would play the 2 seed Blackhawks in the Western Conference final, were overrated as hell and anyone who disagrees is wrong and doesn't know their hockey. Before even watching a game between them, I knew the Sharks were going to be put to shame. I also knew the Flyers would win in the Eastern Conference because they're a much scrappier team, were on a hot streak, and were playing the Canadiens who wore themselves out against the Washington Capitals and Penguins.

The Cup match itself, however, was a more challenging puzzle. The Blackhawks were the better team, but they also possessed they key to their own self destruction; one Marian Hossa. I truly believed that Hossa was forever fated to make it to every Stanley Cup championship ever and lose.

Hossa is known in Pittsburgh and across the NHL as the cup-grubbing ginger who played in Pittsburgh in '08, then turned down a contract renewal with them in exchange for less money and a shorter contract with Detroit, which became his '09 team. Think of him as the Alex Rodriguez of hockey, if A-Rod [See also, Pay-Rod] had actually taken less money to play for the Yankees instead of the Red Sox. Hossa made it to the Stanley Cup match 2 years in a row and lost, the second year after betraying his team to go to their biggest rivals.

In Pittsburgh, it is a truth universally acknowledged that any good Penguins fan in possession of a good hockey knowledge must hate the Flyers as division rivals, and must also hates Marian Hossa. Decisions, decisions... I thought Hossa's fate might do him and his team in for the third year in a row, but all that changed the night before Game 6 of championship round. That night, I had a dream.

I woke up and posted about it on facebook. The time stamp reads June 9, 12:25PM. The post reads as follows:
So I had a dream last night that the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in OT, 4-3. The night before the Pens lost to the Canadiens in game 7 I also dreamed that we lost that game. Sports stress me out. And who dreams about sporting events?? I think most girls dream about like... I don't know, boys they like or unicorns or... something. Not me. It's more like ESPN up there.

In case you weren't following the game [odds are that if you're interested enough in sports to read this far, you have], the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup that night... in OT... 4-3.

Of course I didn't want to see Hossa's grubby hands on the Stanley Cup, but it will make the Pens all the hungrier for victory next year. Let's go Pens. And, as a fellow Pittsburgh fan pointed out, it is better to have one set of grubby hands on the cup than a whole team (read, "Philadelphia").

The way a hot cheerleader in high school might handle a breakup? That's basically how we deal with season ending losses in Pittsburgh. It is a phenomenon with which we're unfamiliar. We have no idea what just happened, but everything is wrong with the world and we're in a glass case of emotion. So, if you'll excuse me, I need to go back to staring at my motivational kitten poster again.

In the meantime, feel free to come to me before you place your sports bets.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with most of what you wrote with the exception of "I guess it was time Detroit and Pittsburgh let someone else have a shot at the Cup."

    This can be said about Detroit, but not about Pittsburgh who has only been to the Stanley cup finals 4 times in the last 40 years and have only been to the eastern conference finals 6 times in the last 40.