There's nothing like an NHL Game 7. Nothing. At its best, a Game 7 can bounce you around like Styrofoam in a hurricane, the fortunes of the teams changing in an instant even if the score doesn't, the tension mounting as the clock shrinks and a single, seemingly impossible goal begins to loom as the difference between moving closer to the Stanley Cup -- or winning it -- and going home for the summer a loser.
Monday night we got Game 7 at its best twice, with underdogs winning both on the road. In Boston, the Canadiens, once down 3-1 in the series, rode goalie Jose Theodore and a third-period goal by Richard Zednik to their third straight win, 2-0, and a stunning series victory, the latest disastrous collapse by a Boston team.
In Vancouver the Flames beat the Canucks 3-2 in overtime after a furious, unbelievable finish in regulation. This followed by two days a Game 6 in Calgary in which the Canucks coughed up a 4-0 lead, then won in the third overtime. On Monday, trailing 2-1 in the last minute but on the power play and with their goalie pulled to give them a two-skater advantage, the Canucks took a bad penalty, then watched the Flames' best player miss the empty net with what would have been the clincher, then scored the tying goal with 5.7 seconds left, then gave up a goal 1:25 into overtime to end their season.
I'm doing my best to describe this but we need Tolstoy.
Those head-snapping shifts of fortune are why hockey provides a different kind of excitement than any other sport. I didn't tell the whole story of that game-tying Vancouver goal. Jarome Iginla, the Flames' captain and star, had scored both goals and his empty-netter would have given him a hat trick as well as a ticket to the second round. Just as he let a backhander go from the left point, a fan threw a jacket onto the ice. The shot missed the jacket by about five feet, then missed the goal post by the width of the puck.
The Canucks took over and skated up ice. As Iginla began to retreat on defense, his stick was slashed out of his hand by Brendan Morrison and he fell down. Markus Naslund took the puck at center ice, raced up the left-wing boards, drove to the net and tried to stuff the puck past goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, who made the save.
Perhaps in part because Iginla couldn't help clear the puck, having arrived at the net a step late and without his stick, Matt Cooke jabbed it home. Bedlam at General Motors Place. The cameras caught Ed Jovanovski, the Canuck who had negated the vital power play with a dumb cross-checking penalty, jubilantly banging on the glass inside the penalty box.
Precisely 12 and a half seconds had passed since Iginla's would-be dagger had bounced harmlessly off the outside of the Canucks' net. Ninety seconds of playing time later, fans were sullenly filing out of G.M. Place and the Canucks were trudging sadly to their dressing room after Martin Gelinas' goal. Jovanovski, a goat after all, was still in the box when the game-winner went in.
And that kind of thing happens all the time. Other sports have their quick turnarounds. A football team can be driving for an important touchdown only to fumble or throw an interception and have it returned all the way. A basketball team on the verge of an important score can turn the ball over and give up a game-winner. But those things are rare. "Havlicek stole the ball!" didn't become a classic radio call because of its erudite wording. And that famous, singular steal nearly 40 years ago only sealed a win.
The drama was a little less sudden in Boston. The Bruins, trying to avoid losing a series they'd led 3-1 for the first time in their history, dominated the Canadiens for the third period of the still-scoreless game. The Canadiens didn't even have a shot on goal in the period until the scoring play, when Alexei Kovalev put a shot on Bruins goalie Andrew Raycroft from the goal line. Raycroft left a rebound, which a charging Zednik whacked home. Zednik added an empty-net goal at the end.
It was the second time in three years the Canadiens had dumped the favored Bruins in an opening-round series. It was all the worst for Boston fans because it spoiled what might have been a perfect sports day in town, a Patriot's Day on which the sun shone on the Boston Marathon and the Red Sox beat the Yankees.
But then, it doesn't really get any worse than losing an NHL Game 7. That's what makes them so great.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
The NBA shoots an airball on Artest [PERMALINK]
The NBA must be trying to give the underdog and overmatched Celtics a leg up on winning one game in their series with the Pacers by suspending Indiana's Ron Artest for Game 2 Tuesday night.
The NBA dinged Artest for leaving the bench during an altercation in Game 1, when his teammate Jermaine O'Neal was thrown to the floor by Brandon Hunter of the Celts. O'Neal jumped up and barked at Hunter, who responded with a priceless dismissive smirk, by the way. Artest, on the bench at the time, jumped to his feet and ran toward the dust-up for about four steps, then suddenly turned around and sprinted back to his seat.
So the NBA's rule against leaving the bench to join an altercation worked. Artest remembered the rule and, rather than joining in, went back to the bench where he belonged. Why suspend him then? The NBA didn't say in its announcement of the punishment, but league discipline czar Stu Jackson later told the Indianapolis Star that the decision was "straightforward" since Artest "clearly came on the floor."
Before the suspension was announced, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle had said, "If it's judged on intent, he won't be suspended. If it's judged technically, he will."
So it was judged technically, and that's dumb. Next time, when Artest or anyone else instinctively takes a couple of steps toward a teammate in an altercation, why should he stop and go back to the bench? That's what the league wants him to do, to stay out of the ruckus. But at that point, he'd have little to lose. If you're already suspended, you might as well go help your pal.
Artest, named the league's Defensive Player of the Year Monday, got robbed on this one.
Tuesday night update: The Pacers beat the Celtics in Game 2 without Artest, 103-90.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Once more for the folks at home [PERMALINK]
Kudos to the ESPN2 crew covering the Boston Marathon Monday for its up-close-and-personal view of men's winner Timothy Cherigat of Kenya. A hand-held camera hovered nearby as he took some sips from a water bottle in the moments after he crossed the finished line -- and zoomed in for lingering close-ups as he repeatedly vomited. Way to get that story!
- - - - - - - - - - - -