Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's The Playoffs, Stupid - Anything Can Happen

Nostradamus got nothin' on me.

In my last ITPS post I said, "But after tonight, one group will be moving on and the other will be teeing off. Which will be doing which won't be settled until the final horn sounds."

It literally took that long.

Game 7 was a mirror of the overall series with neither team able to gain more than a 1 goal advantage, and that was the advantage New Jersey carried into the third period. Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu opened the scoring just 62 seconds into the game and Ray Whitney pulled the Canes even at 2-2 early in the second, but after 40 minutes the Devils led 3-2 on goals by Jamie Langenbrunner, Jay Pandolfo and Brian Ralston.

The third period did not bode well for the visitors. So far in the series neither team had won back to back games. Neither team had lost when leading after two periods. And for the first 18 minutes there was no indication that either of these trends would change.

Any time a playoff series in any sport goes to a seventh game you hear the same line: "Anything can happen in a Game 7." You'll also hear: "You have to play through the final buzzer." But in reality, there usually aren't that many surprises. The trends are trends for a reason, and you can usually get comfortable with them.

Unless you're talking about a Carolina-New Jersey playoff game. Where the improbable -- sometimes nigh-impossible -- happens despite the odds. The Devils had already had a taste of it in Game 4 when Jussi Jokkinen deflected the game winner in with 0.2 seconds left. Some of the Devils were around in 2006 To witness Eric Staal answering a late goal with one of his own 3 seconds from the end of Game 2 to tie the score and send the game to overtime.

And the way this series had gone in the first six games, there really wasn't any other way for it to end than with an heroic late-game score. So it really shouldn't have surprised anybody when Jokkinen ripped a bad angle snap shot past Brodeur with 1:20 left in regulation to knot the score at 3.

But even the most reckless gambler wouldn't have placed a bet on Eric Staal putting another puck past the winningest goaltender in history just 48 seconds later to give the Hurricanes their first lead since 2:31 of the first period.

Under the circumstances, it seems safe to say that Caniacs everywhere forgot how to exhale for the next 31.7 seconds. Especially with a faceoff coming up deep in the Carolina zone and the Jersey net empty for a sixth attacker. And the Devils didn't disappoint, they unleashed a desperate forecheck for the last half-minute. Carolina was unable to clear the zone, and New Jersey managed a handful of scoring chances -- most of them right in Cam Ward's face.

But when the final horn blew and the smoke cleared Ward was still standing, and the score hadn't changed. The sellout crowd that had been buzzing for the entire third period fell into stunned silence, and the handshake lines that are a part of every series ending game took place in an eerie quiet. By the time Jussi Jokkinen did his postgame interview with analyst Tripp Tracy, the stands in the sparkling new Prudential Center were dark and empty.

And folks, this was only the first round. There are three rounds still remaining to play.

What will they do for an encore?

(PS: Were there Caniacs at RDU International? Oh my yes. Hundreds. Pictures to follow later!)

Violence Unsilenced
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Daryl said...

this might be the longest post I have ever skimmed, er, read here ...

2sweetnsaxy said...

I never did quite get into hockey... or soccer. It's a little too intense for me. Still, enjoyed our recap on the came. Are those your shots? If so, they're great!