Wednesday, January 4, 2012

You Guys Missed A Hockey Game On Monday

The smart money here says that BockerKnocker's biggest moment of sports-centric anxiety on Jan. 2 came when the New York Knicks suffered an awful early-season home loss to the immortal Toronto Raptors, a franchise whose claim to fame is Vince Carter winning the 2000 Slam Dunk Competition, those stupid head bands they all wore in the first round of the 2001 playoffs and that Isiah Thomas didn't completely destroy that franchise for the next decade.

Frankly, you'd think Steven Spielberg could have made their nearly 20-year history more dramatic by now.

It is worth noting however, that the Bockers' unfortunate loss to Toronto came after what was really the top sporting event of the day, at least for New Yorkers. Sure the Rose Bowl wasn't bad, and the Fiesta Bowl was entertaining, too, but I enjoy sporting events that don't end because of spiking a football after the clock hits zero and a kicker missing two game-winning field goals.

We celebrate achievement, not ineptitude.

This is where the 2012 Winter Classic comes in. Even if we want to put aside the awesome and historic atmosphere and history that comes with having an annual outdoor hockey game, though this, admittedly, is hard to do, what we had Monday night was a game that had everything. Excitement, physicality, drama, rivalry, back-and-forth action up and down the ice, picturesque snowfall -- anything the NHL could have hoped for it got Monday afternoon when the Rangers rallied from a two-goal deficit to upend the Flyers at Citizens Bank park.

In many ways, the NHL got the game it was hoping for a year ago when the League leveraged every ounce of sex appeal it had in the 2011 Classic at Heinz Field, pitting Pittsburgh and Washington against one another in hopes to showcase the personal rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, arguably the two biggest stars and best players in the game. Mother nature didn't cooperate that night, bringing unseasonably warm rain that forced the game's faceoff to be delayed until the evening and created ice conditions that were acceptable but far from ideal.

This time around, despite the a slight two-hour delay in puck drop, we had an ideal setting, an even better game and even a little controversy before and after on both sides. The Flyers mixed things up by robbing us of seeing Ilya Bryzgalov pontificate on the universe mid-game when Bryz himself revealed during a press conference that backup Sergei Bobrovsky would be getting the start. On the side of the Rangers, head coach John Tortorella turned some heads when he intimated that the games dramatic final minute was perhaps orchestrated by the refs and American broadcaster NBC in hopes of pumping up ratings, a suggestion that is both ludicrous and almost certain to earn the coach a hefty fine -- though it should be noted he apologized Wednesday.

And just what was so dramatic about that final minute you ask?

So glad you did. See in hockey a defensive player is allowed to hand pass the puck forward if he is in his own zone, but he is not under any circumstances allowed to cover the puck up intentionally with his hands. And if any player other than a goalie does that in his team's crease, well that results in a penalty shot, the single most dramatic moment in hockey. And what's the most dramatic way to have the single most dramatic moment in hockey? Probably a potential game-tying penalty shot in the final 30 seconds of the NHL's biggest regular season event. Unfortunately for the Rangers, with 19.6 seconds left and the Flyers pressing aggressively for a game-tying score, New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh decided to do this. What followed just might be the most exciting thing to ever happen in an outdoor game.

Of course, Danny Briere made the foolish decision of trying to go five-hole (that's between the legs, BockerKnocker) and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist tossed the puck aside like a congressman discarded rectitude. That he managed to do this shouldn't be of any particular surprise. Lundqvist has long established himself to be among the top goalies in the NHL and a major reason why the Blueshirts are riding as high as they are this season, but you also have to assume that Lundqvist, a man who has never had bad hair ever in his life, had Sampson-esque powers at play here. Seriously. Look at him. His hair is always perfect. Always. At all times. Regardless of the situation. It's remarkable. It's almost as remarkable as the fact that his stubble, too, is always at the meticulously right length.

As someone who has seen Lundqvist up close and personal I can attest. His hair is mesmerizing, and no one, male or female, has a prayer against it. Briere was done before he started and in no way was able to focus on the shot in a one-on-one situation. Period. In fact, if Lundqvist didn't already seem amazing enough just on appearance and athletic ability, HBO had the nerve to show him rocking out on an electric guitar with John McEnroe on 24/7 last week. AND HE CAN COOK.

With that kind of raw, renaissance man sex appeal, there is simply no hope for the rest of us.

Lundqvist's stoning of Briere on the penalty shot, and an impressive 34-save night, overshadowed the man who would otherwise have gotten all the attention in Mike Rupp, a player who, while he has some skill is more renowned for his bruising than his offensive dynamism. Rupp also made some waves on 24/7, swearing by the bucket and laying some impressive checks, but on Monday, he turned the tide by almost single-handedly rallying the Rangers by scoring 30 seconds after Claude Giroux had given Philadelphia a 2-0 lead and then tying the game on a goal 2:41 into the third. At this point, I should note that Rupp's greatest career moment came eight and a half years ago with, um, a slightly bigger prize. BockerKnocker should remember it. He was watching it with me in my basement.

What made Rupp's offensive outburst truly fun, though, was that after he scored his first goal, he pulled one of these. Some of you may not know it but that salute is the trademark celebration of future hall of famer -- and Flyers winger -- Jaromir Jagr. The subtle mockery was not particularly well received by the Flyers -- Scott Hartnell for one, made his opinion clear in the game's final seconds -- but Jagr took the instance with graceful aplomb noting that perhaps Rupp also uses that celebration regularly, although Jagr wouldn't know because Rupp doesn't score very much.

With such rich barbing back and forth both before and after the game, to say nothing of the inherent drama of the matchup, I kind of wish I got to watch this one all over again. Fortunately, I can to some extent with HBO's 24/7 finale tomorrow night -- you might want to take a gander.

After all, it's the least you can do. You probably weren't watching on Monday.

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