One of the great things about being a hockey fan is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Unlike many other sports' playoff structures, like the NFL's, the Stanley Cup Playoffs' series structure allows the events to unfold at the game level, the series level and the playoff level all at the same time.
Yesterday's game between the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (their last year with this Disney-inspired name; next year they will simply be the Ducks) and the Colorado Avalanche was a case in point.
On the game level, it was a match up between two hard-charging teams who have played brilliantly this season and a clash of the two best GMs in the sport (LaCroix and Burke). On the series level, the big story was Anaheim goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's amazing three game shutout streak, extending back to the Game 7 winner against Calgary. Could he extend this remarkable feat and break the record by holding the opponents scoreless for more than 270 minutes? On the playoff level, the Ducks had toughened up and shed their nice-guy image (really a hold-over from the Kariya years) and gone nose-to-nose with the Flames, while Colorado had dispatched a talented Stars team with ease.
And then the game starts and you begin to realize that you're seeing something very special. You can love a game and watch it for years and still see something you've never seen before that takes your breath away.
Colorado struck first, ending Bryzgalov's scoreless streak at an amazing 249 minutes. 1-0 Avs. In the second, young Duck Right Winger (as you may have guessed, my favorite hockey position!) Joffrey Lupul scored the equalizer. 1-1 tie.
In the third, the Av's Jim Dowd scored a scrappy, short-handed goal that electrified the crowd, giving the Avs a 2-1 lead and lighting up the Pepsi Center. The sense of relief, of finally breaking through the stifling defense the Ducks had thrown at them was readily seen, even through the medium of TV.
About 4 minutes later on a nice shot, the Ducks tied the game at 2-2 when Lupul put in another. "Nice looking kid, this Lupul," thought I.
Two minutes later, Lupul pops in another, stunning the crowd. This put the Ducks up 3-2, and threatening to take a series 3-0 lead, with only 9 minutes left in regulation. A Hat Trick! And in the playoffs, no less! What a night this Lupul is having!
Ah, but the Avs are never out, not with guys like Sakic and Blake around. Rob Blake blew a hard, hard shot past Bryzgalov with 6:30 to go, tying the game at 3-3. Then, in the final minute, the Avs were buzzing around the net, desperately trying to score the game winner, as the Ducks and Bryzgalov flopped around trying to stop the onslaught.
Regulation ends, and we go to sudden death overtime. Like most OTs in the playoffs, the teams circled each other tentatively, not wanting to make a stupid mistake. As the minutes go by, that caution lessens as the blood begins to flow and tired legs begin to protest.
With 3:30 to go in overtime, the Ducks score on a stolen puck lifted from Colorado's Patrice Brisebois on a hard shot.
Who scored the winning goal? Joffrey Lupul.
Or, as the ESPN headline has it this morning, the final score was:Joffrey Lupul 4, Colorado Avalanche 3.