Playoff hockey, get on board

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By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer

For hockey fans, springtime is always the best time of the year.  Whether your team is in or not, the NHL playoffs are the best thing in sports.

Upsets, overtime game winners, goalies standing on their heads – nothing beats it. Legends are born and memories are made.  All hockey fans have that one moment where something extraordinary happened and you know exactly where you were when it did.

Author Peter Gzowski describes it best in his 1981 book “The Game of Our Lives.”  While he gives the reader an idea of what the playoffs are like in a Canadian city, he brilliantly identifies the feelings of those who love the game.

“Anyone who has lived through a National Hockey League Playoff run in a Canadian city has felt the overwhelming passion, seen the flags flying, the horns honking and experienced the almost unbearable thrill of victory, or the profound depression when the home team falls short,” Gzowski writes.

You simply can’t find it anywhere else.  Granted, baseball and basketball have their moments and football has the Super Bowl, but it’s the nature of hockey that makes it so addicting.

It’s unpredictable, thrilling, rewarding and disappointing. It’s a love/hate relationship and no matter what, you always come back for more.  It may be the closest thing we have to a real-life Greek tragedy.

And even if you have the best team with the best players and tons of offensive ability, you could still face a hot goaltender. Anything is possible.

Just ask the Washington Capitals.  In last year’s playoffs, the Capitals were the No. 1 seed. They led Montreal three games to one, before losing the next three because neither Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin nor Mike Green could get a puck past Jaroslav Halak.

The Boston Bruins had a 3-0 series lead on the Philadelphia Flyers last year, then lost three in a row.  The Bruins also had a 3-0 lead in game seven but lost that as well. It was the third time in Stanley Cup playoff history that a team came back to win after a 3-0 series deficit.

For those of you who haven’t caught the bug, this year’s playoffs are the perfect opportunity to get on board. With the exception of the Detroit Red Wings’ sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes and the Washington Capitals’ five game victory over the New York Rangers, every series has been decided in six or more games, with three having gone to a seventh and deciding game. 

For the fans and teams involved, a game seven is an experience that borders on madness. With every pass, shot and shift you live and die with the action on the ice.  Absolute elation and heart-wrenching sorrow are separated by the thinnest of lines.

For me, a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, my moment came in 1996 during a quadruple overtime game against the Washington Capitals. 

While many other dramatic games have been played since then – including two Stanley Cup Finals, a Cup title in 2009 and a number of overtime wins – nothing compares to that quadruple overtime thriller. 

At the end of regulation, the score was tied at 2-2. The teams then went on to battle though 79:15 of overtime play without the deciding goal scored. It looked as if the game was destined for a fifth overtime.

With his Penguins down two games to one, Peter Nedved took a pass on the left wing, skated to his left past a sprawled out defender and fired a shot that found the back of the net.  The Pittsburgh bench exploded onto the ice and I ran through the house going nuts, and waking up my parents in the process. It was just past 1 a.m., and after more than five hours of hockey, my team had prevailed.

When this commentary hits the stands Thursday, I will be preparing for a series-deciding game.  Though the Pens took a 3-1 series lead over a week ago against the Lightning, they’ve lost the last two games and now face a deciding seventh game in Pittsburgh Wednesday night.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to sit down during the game, let alone keep from hyperventilating. 

So now I pose the question to you: How can you not want to experience this?  Do you have a pulse? 

Do yourself a favor and give it try. You’ll thank me.  Or I guess you could get as hooked as the rest of us hockey fans are, in which case, I’m not sorry.

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