School will be out soon, which is how you know it’s almost time to start the Stanley Cup final, but that doesn’t mean the good people of Chicago won’t be thinking about the night of June 1 for the rest of a long, hot summer.
I feel their pain.
It’s not that I cared whether their Blackhawks or the Kings of LaLaLand turned up in the final, as both are superior to the New York Rangers, who are in California for tonight’s Game 1.
The hurtful part is rather the purely random nature of the overtime goal that eliminated the Blackhawks, which was nothing more than a blind flick of the wrist by the Kings’ Alec Martinez, resulting in a sailing/vaulting puck that seemed to have as much to do with the NHL Western Conference final as a bee flying through your window in Blawnox.
“It went in!” was all play-by-play man Kenny Albert could say about it.
No one put it in; it just went in.
No one shot it in, tipped it in, flicked it in, whacked it in, rifled it in, blasted it in, tucked it in or even sent it in with a suspiciously indistinct kicking motion.
“It went in!” is all, like the bee through your window. Why that window? Why then?
But just to butcher Tennyson one more time, theirs was not to reason why, the Blackhawks, theirs was just to do or die.
But do what rather than die?
“Crawford didn’t have a chance,” said NBCSN color man Joe Micheletti, referring to Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who was the man who just happened to be looking out the window when the bee flew in. There was nothing he could do.
This subtracts zero from the effort of the Kings or from Martinez or from Justin Williams, who dug the puck out of the right corner, swept around the cage and got it to Martinez near the left point. All this says is that the kill shot was a terribly depressing way to end a titanic playoff achievement by both teams. They fought through parts of 24 periods, gaining no definitive separation from each other over 447 minutes and 50 seconds of desperate hockey.
Then, at 447:51, it went in.
For the Blackhawks, it was not “It went in, so what are we going to do about it?” For the Blackhawks, it was “It went in, and it’s over. End of hockey.”
In the event you missed it as you were too busy punching additional holes in Pierre McGuire’s resume, (although very few hockey fans missed it based on NBCSN’s overnight ratings), Martinez took Williams’ pass and, with little hesitation, flicked it to the right of Chicago forward Ben Smith. As it passed Smith, it headed straight for defenseman Nick Leddy, striking him on the right biceps adjacent to his right nipple, which is when it jumped over Leddy’s shoulder and clear over the head of Crawford, and across the goal line.
That’s how the verdict was read after two incredible weeks of playoff hockey.
After 51 goals, after 51 narrative twists from the unrelenting brilliance of L.A.’s Marian Gaborik and Chicago’s Patrick Kane (I remember when the Penguins had a young player like him), that is all of what separated the previous two Stanley Cup champions.
Did the Kings deserve to win? Absolutely.
Did the Blackhawks deserve to lose? Absolutely not, but a bee flew in their window.
Veteran hockey observers will tell you, and solemnly so, “Well, that’s hockey.”
I know, but do I have to like that part?
The definition of an empty promise this morning is to say the Kings and Rangers will deliver this kind of theater over the next two weeks. More likely you’ll see two dog-tired teams just trying not to look foolish.
Of the six series the Kings and Rangers have played in this postseason, five have gone the full seven games.
The Rangers needed seven to beat Philadelphia, seven more to beat a desultory Penguins team, and had to come off the deck to beat Montreal in six.
The Kings dismissed a superior level of competition in the Sharks, the Ducks and the defending Stanley Cup champions.
New York’s best chance is right there in the menacing goaltending personage of Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped all but three of the last 105 Penguin shots of the season, then shut out Montreal to send the Rangers to their first final in 20 years.
Bettors will love the Kings right up until tonight’s faceoff, but there is one additional x-factor everyone should remember. No Stanley Cup champion has ever played more than 25 games. The Kings have already played 21.
If the Rangers can stretch them to five games, and perhaps more impactfully beyond, they will, if nothing else, be closer to that ridiculous moment when maybe a bee flies through the castle window.
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org.