It Doesn’t Hit You Right Away

I was too in the moment last night. The event was foremost in my mind, but the implications weren’t. Then, on the commute home tonight, it hit me.

There was no reason to hurry.

No game, no live blog, no two or three nights of chores crammed into one to make room for games or live blogs.

No more hockey. No Cup to show for it. Just a ticket stub, a few cameraphone shots of the traditional dog pile photo, a few free hours Saturday night, and a dull ache that may not go away anytime soon. Just a dull ache, though. Not the sharp pain of hitting the wall in the first round, or what a sweep or a fold would have felt like.

Maybe the lack of seething animosity between Pittsburgh and Detroit is helping the loss go down easier. [Glares at the eastern half of the state.] After The Mural, the Rangers’ “Cindy the Diver” act, and, well, Philly being Philly, it was nice to have some mutual respect, and a plain, simple may-the-best-man-win series.

Make no mistake, the best men won. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team as positionally sound as the Red Wings. It seemed like, no matter what the Penguins did, the Red Wings would have somebody in position to intercept a pass, cut off a dump-in, pull a puck out of a scrum on the boards, or take a simple five-foot pass when a Detroit puck carrier was under pressure. More of a full-court press than a neutral zone trap. And against a team that had never seen it before, it was the perfect plan to gain a quick lead in the series. It took the Pens the first two games just to figure it out.

If Detroit had a weakness, it was their figurative right foot. As soon as they let up off the throttle, the Penguins, who never lacked for intensity even as they looked utterly confused, would strike. The Wings came out slow in Game 3, and the Pens jumped out to an early lead and held on for the win. With the Cup on its way to the ice in Game 5, the Penguins found another level of desperation, Miracle Max found a rebound on the right post, and a three-overtime legend was born.

The Red Wings didn’t make those mistakes in Game Six, though. Well, not until Jiri Hudler took a late penalty that let the Penguins close to 3-2 on a Marian Hossa deflection. They had one more furious six-man rush, but Hossa’s last put-back attempt was tantalizingly close, agonizingly late.

So what are we left with? An uneven start, a Thanksgiving turning point, Fleury’s high ankle sprain, Ty Conklin’s moment of glory, Crosby’s high ankle sprain, Evgeni Malkin’s breakthrough, and some of the most thrilling, entertaining hockey this town has seen in years.

So I find myself celebrating this season, even with sadness at the end.

After all, we could have been refusing to watch Detroit and Kansas City.

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