Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Lightning Survive Game 7 and So Did I

In keeping with the rest of this series this far, I did not watch much of Game 7 versus the Detroit Red Wings. In fact I only saw about 2 minutes at the end of period 2. Enough time to get a weird look from a guest when a groan escaped from my lips after Victor Hedman bounced a wide open shot off of the lucky horseshoe that Petr Mrazek had stuffed in his pads for this series. Truthfully, for my health, it was probably best that I didn’t have the chance to watch the game.

Game 7s are not enjoyable when your team is involved. I don’t care what anybody says. There is no “relax and have fun”. Every play is embodied with extra importance. Each shift adds a tiny little ball of stress. The only time you can relax is when the game is over. Even if your team jumps out to a three goal lead early you spend the rest of the game worrying that they will blow it. You find yourself yelling things like, “Get it out of the %$*& zone!” at the TV while your wife looks at you and questions her decision to marry you.

As I texted to a Superstar Sean last night - Game 7s take at least 4 years off of your life (still healthier than cigarettes!) So when I knew I had to work Wednesday night I wasn’t 100% bummed out.  More like 95%. Because, despite the previous two paragraphs, it is always better to have watched the game and died sooner than not to have watched it all.  I followed along by frantically refreshing in between questions about local bars and where the closest bathroom is located (into the carpeted area and left of the bar).  I found three excuses to go over to the bar (hence the two minutes of TV time) and had a couple of friends shoot me texts to keep me up to date.

There was a small whoop (maybe more like a yelp) of joy when the screen changed to “3:58 Braydon Coburn (1) ASST: Ryan Callahan (3), Alex Killorn (2)”. Which led to some explaining to the guests standing in line to check in.  After a few more tense moments I finally relaxed when Scotty sent me a congratulatory text. So all in all not a bad way to experience it.  Just think Lightning fans - only three more rounds to go (if we’re lucky)!

So how do the Lightning’s Game 7s rank in order of stress?  Let’s go to the list from most stressful to least.

1. June 7, 2004 - Game 7 Stanley Cup Finals against Calgary.  I think this is the easy winner for all Lightning fans. After the unbelievable double-overtime Game 6 the stress level was a 100 out of 100. We had survived the gut-wrenching double-overtime Game 6 so there was no way the Lightning would blow it on home ice in Game 7, right?  Believe it or not I turned down a ticket to go to the game. Mostly because I was poor, but also because I knew there was no way I could handle being around other people with that much stress. Regrets, sure I’ve had a few.

I watched it alone in my condo. I actually paced back and forth in front of the TV. I’m sure there was a beer on my coffee table, but I don’t think I drank it. I shrieked like a girl when Ruslan Fedotenko scored (both times). I dropped to my knees and raised my arms in the air when the clock ran out on the final frantic seconds. Yes I geeked out big time. All things I couldn’t do in public. I might have even yelled out a few Larry Hirsch-esque “Yes, sir! Yes, sir! Yes, sir!”

Happiest sports day of my life. photo from Associated Press

One of the highlights of the night - about 30 minutes after the game ended, a slightly less-than-sober Hamel (my buddy who went to the game) called me to announce that he was celebrating the win with former Lightning goalie Darren Puppa (PUUUUUU-PPPPAAHHH). I congratulated the slightly embarrassed goaltender before the phone disconnected. Perfect ending to the night.

2. May 27, 2011 - Game 7 Eastern Conference Finals against Boston. This one clocks in at a nice 75 out of 100. After all, no one expected the Lightning to be there. They were playing with house money at the time. It would have been lower on the stress level if not for off the ice factors.

I wasn’t in the best place in life at the time. Unemployed, living week to week in Chicago, and completely at a loss with what to do with my life. Luckily I was also living  with an extremely patient girlfriend.  I met some friends and watched it at a bar downtown.  Of the Game 7s this is the only one the Lightning have lost. I might have wandered the streets wondering why I followed sports if this was going to be the payoff.

Highlight - Stamkos coming out onto the ice with the cage covering a broken nose he suffered earlier in the game. At that point the young center started his journey to being the leader of the franchise. Now if he could just find his scoring touch again.

Broken nose, broken leg - Boston has not been kind to Stammer. 

3. April 27, 2011 - Game 7 First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  I put this at a solid 70 out of 100.  Much like the game against the Bruins, the Lightning weren’t even supposed to be here. They were a surprise to make the playoffs, they were playing the mighty Penguins (granted the Penguins didn’t have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the lineup) and the Pens had, at one point, a commanding 3-1 series lead.

The Lightning should have been done after losing in double-overtime on a fluky James Neal goal in game four. Instead they absolutely shellacked the Penguins in Game 5 and then tied the series in game 6 when Steve Downie (current Penguin!) and Ryan Malone (former Penguin!) scored third period goals.

This was not a fun game for the Lightning. This was one of those “4 years off your life” Game 7s. Dwayne Roloson stopped 36 shots for the playoffs and Sean Bergenheim scored the only goal.  This was also the series that made Sean Bergenheim a very rich man.

I think Link had the exact opposite reaction to this goal than I did.

Honestly, I always forget that this series went to a Game 7, I thought the Lightning beat them in 6. It was such a weird series, maybe one day I’ll do a deep dive into it.

4. Wednesday Night’s game. - A decided 50 out 100 in the stress category. First because I couldn’t watch it and second because I convinced myself that the Lightning couldn’t overcome the trapping/interfering/borderline cheating style that the Red Wings were playing. So I went in with pretty low expectations.

5.  May  22, 2004 - Game 7 Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers. Stress on this one was a 5 out of 100.  I know, you’re shocked. A Game 7 to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history? A moment to validate all of those horrendous games I went to where I had to convince myself that Sergei Gusev was a legitimate solution on the blueline. A chance to crush the dreams of Flyers fans, those hated, almost-rivals who always seemed to beat the Lightning?

To this day I’ve only seen about 5 minutes of this game. And that’s the last five minutes. Yet I have no desire to go back and watch the game. In fact, of all of the games the Lightning have played this is the one that means the absolute least.  Because this was the day that I had my first (unofficial) date with The Duchess.

After many, many months of talking we finally had decided to do something together without anyone else involved. Casablanca was playing at the Tampa Theater and we decided to catch it together, but not as a date, date. Just a couple of friends hanging out together - at least that’s what we told ourselves.  She was nice enough to call me early in the day and ask if I wanted to re-schedule because of the hockey game. Not being a fool I said no it would be fine.

So we went to the movie. After it was over we popped into The Hub where their one TV was showing the game. I ordered a way too strong drink and we watched the Lightning dispatch the Flyers amidst the riff-raff that fills a dive bar like The Hub on a Sunday afternoon.

Luckily for our relationship, The Duchess was out of town for the actual Stanley Cup finals.

So the Lightning move on and will try to vanquish the Canadians.  Remember those guys? The ones that punked them last season by sweeping them out of the first round? Will this series go to a game 7?  Maybe. If it does, I might have to call in sick for that one.

1 comment:

Jeff Jones said...

I feel the same way with the SC final being tops I was in Atlanta with my family and freaking out when we won. (I was born there but moved here before the Thrashers existed)

2004 game 6 was the best man and I have a hard time hating St Louis like everyone else because of it

2011 Pens series wasn't so bad because like you said house money and we came back from 3-0

2011 Bruins series was horrible because we were SO close even after Stammer getting his face smashed

I only got to see the 3rd period last night and it was great I was watching on the back porch with my dog and started yelling like crazy when Coburn scored... Beat the Habs