To quote Al Michaels, that was one unbelievable game Monday night. I'm actually still recovering from it as I type this.
If you're from Detroit, you're probably at your wits' end. At least you still can take solace in the fact that you're still up 3-2 in the series. That's never a bad position.
If you're from Pittsburgh, I can't even imagine what you're going through. That game ran the full gamut of emotions -- from "we're eliminated" to "holy crap we're back in this series." I don't think I can possibly understand what you went through on Monday night. I can barely remember David Volek smoking the two-time defending Champs in 1993, so I guess I have some idea.
But wow. Simply... Wow.
Has there been a more entertaining Stanley Cup Finals game in the past 10 years? I think you would be hard pressed to find it. Ray Bourque winning the cup in Game Seven back in 2001 comes to mind. Brett Hull's 3OT full in the crease in 1999, maybe. That's where the list ends.
You really have to go back decades to find a SCF that was legitimately this exciting, unless you're a fan of a team that's won it in the past 10 years. Then, obviously, you would love a more recent Finals. But, if you're like me and neutral to all of this, you have to go back a ways. Sure, in 2003, 2004 and 2006 we had a seven game series. 2006 was pretty epic but I don't think any of those hold a candle to this one. However, the jury is still out and waiting to see if Pittsburgh or Detroit can trump Edmonton or Calgary in terms of riots.
The first two games in this series were like Gigli. They were an embarrassment to mankind. Maybe people thought that the series would end in four or five. Pittsburgh had no chance, they would say.
More experienced folks knew that home ice makes a big difference. Both parties ended up being right. Home ice made a difference but the Wings still returned home with a chance to win it all in five. This series ends tonight, they said (myself included). The Pens haven't even scored in Detroit, it's too big of a mental hurdle, I said.
"Ha!" That's what the Penguins had to say about that.
They played well for two periods on Monday night, then imploded. You might as well of shut down Detroit's end of the ice and brought in the circus. The Penguins weren't going anywhere. If you only watched the third period, you probably thought they didn't deserve to be in the game. The fact is, if they hadn't played so well early on, they wouldn't. Total domination from Detroit in the third. It looked like a sumo wrestler against Verne Troyer.
34.1 seconds. That's all the time that was left when the Penguins tied the game up 3-3 late in the third.
Immediately I thought of baseball. Weird, right? Well, maybe not so much. Let's go back to the 2004 American League Championship Series. Down 3-0 in the series and 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning the Red Sox were facing Mariano Rivera, possibly the most dominant closer in baseball history. The Sox looked like they were cooked against the New York Yankees. Again.
The Yankees were a team of veterans who had been there before. They were experienced. They were emotionless. They were unflappable. They were the baseball equivalent of the 2008 Detroit Red Wings. On the other side, the Red Sox were new to all this. They were a bunch of exuberant veterans and kids who had never been here before. They joked around. They got rattled. They didn't have a Sidney Crosby, but they bore a slight resemblance to the 2008 incarnation of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So, facing Mariano Rivera, and their backs as far against the proverbial wall as they could possibly be, the Sox stormed back. They tied the game in the bottom of the ninth when Bill Mueller, the most unlikely of heroes, singled in a run sending the game to extras. In the third extra frame, the twelfth inning, David Ortiz smacked a walk off homer over the wall in right-center. Three games later the Red Sox had completed the comeback, overcoming the deepest hole they could possibly be in to win the series 4-3. It seemed like the ground shifted in New England that night.
Now, I'm not saying that the Penguins are going to come back and win this thing. We're a long way away from that.
What I am saying is that Max Talbot's goal was one of those plays. One of those plays that destroys even the greatest amounts of momentum. If you stopped and observed closely, you could almost feel the tectonic plates shift beneath Joe Louis Arena with 34.1 to go. Never in the history of mankind has more life been sucked out of an arena than it was in Detroit on Monday night. It took three more periods but Petr Sykora's goal was the result of those shifting plates and all of a sudden the Penguins were full of life again.
Maybe the Wings will head to Pittsburgh and end the series in six. Maybe in ten years Game Five will be meaningless, save for it's entertainment value. Or maybe this is one of those plays that shifts the landscape of a series so dramatically that it's not the same series anymore. Maybe the slate has been wiped clean and we're starting over again, even if it's still three games to two.
Obviously, we're going to have to wait and see. I can wait, though. All good stories take time to unfold.