I said this a couple of weeks ago: it’s just the best time of the year. The intensity gets amped to ten on the dial. Each game means something when you can move up three spots in the playoff race with just one win. You can also plummet quicker than the Dow Jones Industrial if you have a bad week. And lets add to this wonderful hockey recipe…a large dollop of the Trade Deadline.
That’s right: the Trade Deadline.
Every fan has a wish list, some of the ideas sublime, others bordering on the ridiculous. No fan base is exempt. It just depends on whether you are a buyer or a seller. If you have been out of the playoff race since the third week of November, your team finally has a chance to unload the deadwood and acquire two to three first round picks so that you can be assured of landing John Tavares. Failing that, you can convince the horribly over-paid guys with No Trade Clauses to waive them to some low level southern city, get two first round picks and then settle for Victor Hedman. Finally some excitement in your hockey season.
If you are one of the sixteen (or 23) fortunate buyers, then you will package all your perceived failures and acquire that one magical piece that will allow you to finally (or once again) hoist the Stanley Cup. In Vancouver we will package Raymond, O’Brien, Ohlund and a fifth round pick for Jay Bouwmeester. And if we don’t get him now, we’ll snag him after the first of July. But of course, we’ll also be acquiring Marion Gaborik during UFA madness this summer because he will obviously sacrifice millions to play with Pavol Demitra. No fan base is exempt at this time of year. Edmonton will finally unload the atrocious Dustin Penner contract, the bad Robbie Schremp pick and a sixth round choice for Bouwmeester. But how can they get Jay Bouwmeester when clearly he is ours? Well, he’ll just have to play for both teams, for he is JayBo, Master of the Universe.
Now this is not a shot at Bouwmeester. He is certainly one of the best young D-men in the league. But Gillis is not going to rip this team apart to get him. As for Gaborik, hell, I’ve got healthier groins. And I’m 58 years of age.
But like I said, this is a great time of year and the game tonight is the perfect example. Both teams are in a playoff race. Columbus is seeking its first playoff position; Vancouver is looking to re-claim it’s rightful place in the top eight in the Western Conference. And both teams have some great players…but the story tonight is the goaltenders.
Steve Mason and Roberto Luongo are two of the best in the world. And sure, Marty Brodeur has come back strong, but is it really that much of a stretch to see both these goaltenders in the top three for the 2010 Games? Both these guys are big, butterfly net minders with lightening quick reflexes…who never, ever give up on the puck.
Yep, both these teams are desperate for the points tonight.
And that’s the way the first period was played. The game starts out pretty much the way we hoped. The intensity and tone are set by O’Brien and Dorsette. I’ll give the nod to SOB.
And I’ll say this on the first of March. Watching these teams in the first period; the coaching, the skaters and the goaltending…I say right now, I would not want to face either one of these teams in the post season. One team is just starting to believe in themselves for the first time. One team is believing in themselves again.
We outshoot the Jackets, but we don’t dominate as much as the shots indicate. It is playoff style hockey and that’s just what every fan wants. Steve Mason plays as advertised…but Roberto is not tested until late in the period on the PK. He responds to Malhotra’s big slapper by snaking out the left pad and the game stays gooseggs (or is that geese eggs…ok, bad).
We get the late PP and everyone sits up a little straighter. Our first PP was taken out by Demitra (who did not redeem himself with the post PK breakaway).
Sidebar here, your honour. I often think bad thoughts about Demitra…a lot. But the guy looks like he cares. He moves the puck and he plays with speed. There is still hope for him. The same with Kyle Wellwood…if you’ve played a sport…any sport…you know what a slump is like. It’s miserable and dark. But one day the sun will shine through. I haven’t given up on Wellwood. The guy has a mad skill set.
Our PP hems them in and Demitra saves this PP by drawing a penalty from Nash. I’ve said this many times. Five on threes make me nervous. If you don’t score, you give the other guys a boost.
But shortly after Salo boots the puck back to the corner, he gets another chance. Sami wires it, Daniel does that weird hopscotch jump and we leave the period with a last second goal.
I listen to the Team1040 guys between periods and they speculate about how big another goal would be on the remainder of this PP. I snort. Two goals…against Columbus.
Me no think so.
And just as I am mentally criticizing Mats for not one timing the shot, he wires one that Kesler tips and we are up two zip. Not a PP…but it is a goal. And as big as the goal is, the next goal is the most important. But we stay on the Jackets the rest of the period. We give them very little and Roberto is not forced to handle the puck. It’s a solid game by our guys, but one worries just the same. The infamous two goal lead.
We are full value for the lead, but Burrows takes a late, unlucky tripping penalty (Alex is a favourite so it’s not a bad penalty…just unlucky) and we are reminded that it’s still a slim lead. Still we stifle every Jacket foray and we leave the period up two goals.
But a game that has a Rick Nash is not safe. He shows what pure goal scorers do…they don’t give up on the puck. The Jackets are back in it.
But now the question is: how do we react?
We’ve seen Canuck teams panic in situations like this. But not tonight. We close the Jackets down. They get few chances and we counter punch hard when Daniel Sedin dishes to Alex Burrows and he wires it home faster than Wells Fargo.
Sundin has a couple of assists. Demitra has been involved. Kesler scores another and then the Sedin line gets the insurance goal. Big Lou was there when he had to be, but credit to the team. It was a pure team victory. Lou didn’t have to be there that often. On a big game night, we have a big game.
It’s a wonderful time of the year.