To state the obvious, keep your ticket stub. Get the footage burned onto a disc and permanently stored. If Versus offers a replay, record that too, just as a backup. And clip the Tuesday newspapers of all their morning glory. Then, henceforth, set aside each May 4 for a replay of the game in your home, with a few cold ones.
There’s special NHL playoff hockey and then there’s what transpired on the ice sheet last night in Chinatown. This was historic. I inquired as far and as wide and of the most veteran and knowledgeable scribes I could in the post-game last night: when was the last time the two very best players in hockey squared off in a playoff game and both scored hat tricks?
Their collective answer: “Never.”
Tiger never got to square off against a 28-year-old Nicklaus, at Pebble Beach, in the 4th round of an Open. And even if they had, it’s highly unlikely they’d both have shot 65s. We saw this very equivalent last night in Washington’s hockey rink.
It seems odd to think of a Chinatown not only as a hockey haven but one where hockey history takes place, but ours, now, is. And I’ll wager that the screaming Sea of Red remains in place for the duration of Alexander Ovechkin’s career as a Cap. Largely because of last night.
I kept detailed notes on all the action through the first 50 minutes of play Monday night, recording ebbs and flows and surges and such, and then that set-play-on-the-power-play pulverizer struck, freaking out the arena of course, and then, less than three minutes later, the Gr8 somehow topped his already earned second key to the city heroics, authoring follow-on frenzy, and I fell back in my press box chair and instantly realized that game 2 between the Capitals and Penguins on May 4, 2009, was about one overwhelming statistic (two hat tricks by two studs) and one stud’s heroics bettering — for one night — the other’s. All other statistics be damned.
The game was also this: one of the best and most significant sporting events in our city’s history.
Don’t quibble about its being in round two versus say the conference finals, or a game 2 instead of a game 7. Its being us versus them, our hero versus him, with all the rest of hockey stopping what they were doing tonight to watch, made it a mega-event — one that far exceeded the hype.
It’s so important to realize that the Pittsburgh Penguins’ defense didn’t fail, that Sergei Gonchar played Ovechkin perfectly, that their elite goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t come up short on either strike. Instead, the Pens were beaten by a growing legend’s indefensible virtuosity. A virtuosity the likes of which this league has never seen.
Call him the Gr8. Call him Mr. Third Period. But now, this morning, also call him one of the greatest and most important professional athletes in Washington’s sports history. Not because I said so, but because he did what he did last night against them. And him.
The Gr8 was asked afterward what he thought he’d have thought of this game had he viewed it as a fan.
“Sick game,” he generationally replied, “Sick game.”
“It’s unbelievable when we play against great players and you win the game like this,” he added.
Some outstanding, concurrent feats in sports are coincidental whether we think they are or not, but these two hat tricks by these two greats in a high-stakes showdown just didn’t feel like coincidence. They were the first postseason hat tricks for both. Alex scored as Alex scores — stylishly and dynamically — but Sidney sets up more often than he lights the lamp. That, too, made this night so special.
These teams are so evenly matched, which is so refreshing in this rivalry, and this welcomed development necessarily elevates the Monday night heroics of our hero. I remain convinced that this series is destined for lengthy greatness, and should I be right the NHL would do well to package it up on a couple of discs this offseason and market it aggressively to sports fans who’ve never encountered hockey before. Could anyone be indifferent to our sport should this series deliver seven grand games, and should one view it in its sumptuous totality?
Walking down 7th Street toward Metro near midnight last night I couldn’t help but wonder what one Don Cherry must have thought of Monday night’s magic. I hope he enjoyed it like the rest of us did.
A daunting and devastating reality is settling in not only on these talented Penguins but the rest of hockey: there is an abundance of great players with great skill in our game today, but only one player, ours, can be defended perfectly time after time, flick his wrists, and tear your heart out. And from the looks of things, he’s got a good decade or more ahead of doing it.
“Alex knows that his place in history will only come with winning the Stanley Cup,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said last night. “We’ve had that conversation.”