No more pussy-footing around. No more lip service. No more bullshit about “journalistic integrity”. Not after this tabloid trash headline:
Attempting to connect the taunting that has followed Alex Burrows’ bite to Aaron Rome’s late hit on Nathan Horton is a blatant attempt to lead the casual fan’s opinion away from hockey.
Meanwhile, on this week’s cover, there isn’t even a secondary mention of the Stanley Cup Finals. The NBA Finals have the cover, as they have every bloody spring since 2001, with blurbs about baseball and Stanford QB Andrew Luck. College football isn’t even in season! The one thing you fetishize even more than the swimsuit issue is that blessed Cover of Sports Illustrated, and you don’t consider the championship of the highest level of hockey in the world worth so much as two square inches of text.
Don’t piss on my shoes and tell me it’s raining, Sports Illustrated. You hate hockey, and you have zero respect for hockey fans.
We were left for dead in July, when Marian Hossa went all-in with Detroit and the Lightning paid a king’s ransom for Ryan Malone.
We were left for dead in October, when all the talk was about the Runner Up Curse.
We were left for dead in December, when we could only muster 15 shots on Tampa Bay’s rotating-door defense.
We were left for dead after the Valentine’s Day Massacre that cost Michel Therrien his job.
We were left for dead in February, when a 1-0 win over the Islanders wasn’t enough.
We were left for dead when Washington won their first two games at Verizon Center.
We’ve heard this before. We’ve been here before.
We’re not dead.
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.
Sometimes, you just don’t your own strength. You don’t understand just how deep down you have to reach to find the will, to find the energy, to find something to carry you through the darkest time you’ve ever faced.
You’ve never faced it before.
Has a force so overwhelming ever turned your 2-1 lead into a 3-2 deficit with such swiftness and intensity? Have you ever felt so helpless on a field of play you’ve lived on for your entire life? Have you ever come within one minute of losing the championship? In the neutral zone, preventing a superstar from taking a shot on an empty net? Gaining the zone, chasing the puck into the corner? Working it to the slot? Throwing it at the net, hoping for a rebound? Standing at the post, with a sliver of daylight between cold, red iron and a sprawling goalie’s skate?
And what does it earn you? Another forty-nine minutes and fifty-seven seconds of life, doled out in twenty-minutes increments with no time outs, and no margin for error. Your next mistake could end everything.
So you lean into the storm. Weather it. Eventually, the relentless pressure that allowed them to take the lead from you will falter. Fatigue and doubt will settle in. Your will asserts itself. In the little battles, at the lines, along the boards, in your crease, your will begins to prevail.
And then it happens.
An opportunity you were thirty-five seconds from being denied is right there. Deep down, you knew that when that opportunity presented itself, when you had that chance, you’d take it.
See you Wednesday night.
- EliteXC Saturday Night Fights (CBS): 2.7
- Stanley Cup Finals, Game 4 (NBC): 2.6
So mixed martial arts is more popular than hockey now, right? Not with a single data point, it’s not. If some accounts of the main event, matching blanket-hyped internet sensation Kimbo Slice against James “Colossal Tomato Can” Thompson, are to be believed, the fix might have been in. I neither watched nor recorded the fight. (I prefer boxing. I’m old school like that.) That puts me in no position to judge the impact of Saturday night’s ratings matchup.
If the mainstream sports media is any indicator, MMA’s prospects weren’t helped by EliteXC’s show. At 1:15 PM today, here’s how some prominent MSM sports web sites are covering MMA on their front pages:
- espn.com: The regular ESPN The Magazine cover story link, since last week’s cover was Kimbo Slice. Mixed Martial Arts is hidden under the “More +” menu item.
- si.com: A link under The Scorecard entitled “TOO MUCH HYPE: Kimbo Slice is doing MMA a disservice”, and the regular “MMA & Boxing” menu item.
- sports.yahoo.com: A link to the Dan Wetzel column I linked above, and the regular MMA menu item.
- foxsports.com: An analysis of the Slice/Thompson fight, well down the page, and the regular MMA menu item.
- sportingnews.com: Nothing. Not even a menu item for MMA.
- tsn.ca: No story. MMA is a sub-entry under “Other”, but it doesn’t appear on the front page. (But there is a refreshing amount of European soccer news!)
- sportsline.com: No story! That’s right, CBS Sports’ website has nothing about the event they aired Saturday night on today’s front page. Just a lonely little MMA menu item.
Clearly, CBS and EliteXC have done MMA fans no favors with this little experiment. I don’t think anybody was looking for a “big bang” opening in the first place, not when Saturday night is a ratings graveyard. But not so much of a graveyard that the NHL couldn’t improve its ratings over last year’s Game 4.
There’s still hope for MMA. I’ve seen enough WEC while waiting for hockey games on Versus to know that there are better-run organizations than EliteXC out there. Let’s face it, though. Cauliflower ear is no way to make a first impression.
Some general sports bloggers are still up in arms about The Detroit Situation. For those of you living under a rock: Detroit sports fans were forced to choose between the Red Wings and Pistons, because games 1-3 of the Stanley Cup Finals and games 3-5 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals were scheduled at about the same times on the same nights.
Just for reference, here’s a quick list of the parties directly involved in the schedule making process for the Stanley Cup Finals and both NBA Conference Finals, in no particular order:
- The NHL
- The NBA
- The Palace at Auburn Hills
- TD Banknorth Garden
- Joe Louis Arena
- Mellon Arena
- Staples Center
- AT&T Center
Why is the NHL the only one taking the blame for this?
Thanks to our man in the Globe and Mail trenches, James Mirtle, we have a transcript of Gary Bettman’s traditional “State of the NHL” press conference, which he holds before Game 1 of the Finals. He’s wondering the same thing I am:
Q. Are you chagrinned or bothered by the fact that the Pistons and Celtics are going head-to-head against you both nights here and could you have gotten together with David Stern and done anything about it?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: What’s interesting about that question is, and as I’ve watched the commentary on the subject, everybody seems to be focused on us. And I think that’s a little unrealistic and a little unfair. […]
And we, and I assume the NBA, made commitments in terms of scheduling so the networks that we’re on – and we’re on multiples in more than one language – to structure how they’re going to be programmed. Networks just can’t gut their programming schedules overnight. […]
What I think is going on – and I’m not privy to the NBA’s contractual arrangements, but I’m going to make an educated guess. TNT and ESPN, or ABC, one in the same for this purpose, schedule themselves out and they have programming, alternate programming on some nights, and then they schedule the NBA on others.
I also think, and I think I read this somewhere, that those two networks alternate who has the East and who has the West. We’re up against the NBA conference finals no matter what we do. So you’d say the logical question is: Why didn’t they just switch nights between the East and the West? And my guess is, and they were quoted as saying, it was locked in concrete over a year ago. And that’s why they didn’t switch it. Guess what, they’re not the only one who has to lock things in concrete to do business.
And so we had no choice. I’m not happy about it in terms of our fans in Detroit. But there’s nothing any of us could do.
This is par for the course. The first rule of sports writing, whether you’re a blogger or MSM writer, is this: When you need a crutch, make fun of hockey. The Sports Point reached for it last night.
ESPN reached for it last week. No burying the lede for Eric Adelson. His first paragraph puts the blame right at the NHL’s feet: “What is the NHL thinking?” Curious that a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine would be asking that question, considering that the NBA Eastern Conference finals were exclusive to, you guessed it, ESPN. He could have found the answer on his company phone list, but that would let the NHL off the hook. Wouldn’t be good for ratings.
I sent something off to Le Anne Schreiber on Adelson’s column. Let’s see if it comes up in her next update.
[EVGENI MALKIN has SIDNEY CROSBY, felled by his wounded ankle and the weight of The Puck, in a fireman’s carry. They are almost to the bank of the Delaware River. Suddenly, MALKIN hears a noise behind him]
The precious is ours! We wants it!
[UMBERGER jumps out from behind a parked car, and tackles MALKIN from behind. MALKIN, CROSBY and UMBERGER all tumble into an alley.]
Hey, I thought those goblins in Montreal took care of you!
Nasty goblinses couldn’t catch us. Now gives it to us!
[UMBERGER jumps on top of CROSBY.]
Junior swore to protect the precious!
[UMBERGER grabs CROSBY by the throat. CROSBY reaches up, and tries to push UMBERGER away by the face.]
[UMBERGER looks up to see that MALKIN has a beer bottle at his feet, and has his stick wound up for a slap shot.]
[MALKIN’s slap shot hits UMBERGER right between the eyes, knocking him out cold. He rolls off CROSBY.]
Come on. Let’s end this.
[SIDNEY CROSBY is watching TV in his room at MARIO LEMIEUX’S house. MARIO and the family are visiting their parents back in Montreal, so SIDNEY has the house to himself. SIDNEY hears somebody coming down the hall. Suddenly, GARY ROBERTS rushes into the room.]
Is it secret? Is it safe?
The puck! Where is the puck?
Up here on this shelf. But I don’t know what you want with…
[ROBERTS produces a pair of barbecue tongs from his coat, and snatches the puck from SIDNEY’S hand.]
Hmm… yes. It is as I’ve feared. Do you know where this puck came from?
Mario told me he found it behind the shed at Bob Errey’s house. Mario, Bibs, and Rex were shagging pitching wedges in the back yard…
Mark Recchi was there? Then it is true. This is the One Puck.
The One Puck? You mean Tugnutt’s Bane?
Yes. You see those marks there? Left by Keith Primeau’s stick. This was the puck that ended the Penguins’ five-overtime game against the Flyers in ’99. This is the first time we’ve faced the Flyers since that series. If this puck is still hanging around, it could jinx the whole thing.
And it’s been on my shelf the whole time?! We gotta get rid of this thing!
Whaddya mean, “We?” You know what I’m capable of now. Could you imagine what I could do with this puck?
So what do I do?
[Before ROBERTS can respond, he hears something outside the window. Grabbing a hockey stick from the corner of the room, he opens the window, jabs the butt-end of the stick at the ground, and hits somebody. ROBERTS grabs the person and, in one motion, hoists him through the window and slams him down on the table.]
Sorry! Sorry! I didn’t mean any trouble. I was just doing some gardening…
A bit late for trimming the verge, eh?
[aside] Trimming the verge?
What did you hear?
Nothing. Nothing. Just something about a puck, and the end of playoffs. That’s all. You aren’t going to hurt me, are you?
[arches an eyebrow] No…