It was over.
At 6:48 of the third period, Vaclav Prospal put our season on the brink. Sitting in 9th place, on the verge of a three game losing streak, there we sat just thinking things over as the clock ticked towards null.
Our star defenseman was a mess, someone actually screaming “GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME, CAMPBELL!” loud enough for him to hear. He was visibly shaken by the process of renegotiation, the eyes of an entire city on his every move. Hesitation in shooting, unwillingness to work the play up ice, and a defensive liability in his own zone, we were watching Brian Campbell crumble in the face of mounting pressure.
Then out of nowhere Toni Lydman puts a puck on net. What seemed like 30 seconds later, it was in the net and there was hope. Someone got a piece of it, I had thought Timmy made a great tip for his 7th of the year, a nice little bonus for some nice work on the night. It turned out to be so much more then that.
There was an interesting feeling before the puck dropped. They took an extra second to review it, and you realized that this line wasn’t coming off the ice. All night Vanek/Roy/Connolly had been our strongest group, even in those goofy shifts where Mair was out in Timmy’s place.
The wheels started turning, and just before you could think “If we could just get one more…” Tim Connolly makes the pass of his life to an Austrian blur and the game was tied.
Wow, did that just happen? Did Tim just get that pass through? Are we going to steal a point?!? No. More.
As the clock ticked to zero and the third ended, you just had to laugh at yourself. They were dead, no question about it. We were six minutes away from this being the “Cloverfield” game. Yeah, the effort was there, but the play was a little shaky and there was just no ending to speak of. Suddenly we still didn’t have an ending, but there was a whole lot of life in this team.
The shifts in overtime went as you expected. The Vanek line was out first, then Hecht and Pominville, then back to the Vanek line. You were glad Clarke didn’t see ice time because he was garbage again, and you could just feel it coming. You were waiting for the hammer to fall. This time it wasn’t going to be on us, though.
Dan Boyle takes that penalty and you knew it was just a matter of time.
Before the face off they announce a change in the Connolly goal. Vanek got a piece, so it was his. The signal flare in your head explodes as you realize he was on the ice again. He was always on the ice, everywhere for what seemed like every shift. This was it.
The puck drops and you start to think about things again. The guarantee, where things stood just twenty minutes ago. A friend texts you: “Vanek wanted to stay out there. Where was the turning point for him?”
Pominville breaks free from the pile in front.
Timmy to Jaro to Pommy again, jumps over his stick. Vanek sets up in front.
Pominville works it along the boards as Vanek slides to the side of the net. The pass moves across to Jaro…
“PULL THE TRIGGER!!!”
I don’t remember what happened after that. You knew it was coming, but even when it happened it hit you like a ton of bricks. Just a half hour ago this team was dead, and now we were right back in it. Vanek had “The Natural”, and you were jumping and screaming and high fiving anyone in sight.
It’s the complete reversal of emotions we live for as sports fans. That amazing swing of adrenaline, the feeling that you want to run out of that arena and take on the world. Forget 7:30 tomorrow, let’s play ’em right now. Heck, let’s grab some skates and we’ll find a patch of ice in a field somewhere. Now, 12:49 am, let’s play some hockey.
It is something so rare in sports, and we saw it tonight. The equivalent of sitting motionless and suddenly being rocketed into space, breaking the sound barrier as you go. All you wanted to do was stand around and cheer and try to comprehend what just happened. Did we really just see Thomas Vanek take over? And what about Tim Connolly? Why was Mike Ryan out? What about Brian Campbell?
Yes, even after all that the reality of the race came back to get you. Yet for just a brief second you forgot about all those questions and stood witness to something remarkable. Amazingly, stunningly, and with no hesitation, Thomas Vanek took up the call and took over this game. And while all those questions came to mind there was one thing you knew for sure:
It was over.