Several times, over the last two weeks, visions of what might happen occasionally pop into my head. There was a scene of Marian Hossa skating around the Mellon Arena ice with the Stanley Cup held high that I couldn't shake, nightmarish as it was. It was the worst thing I could think of, and at times seemed not only possible but likely.
Thankfully, I don't have to worry about that anymore.
There's another scene I occasionally catch a glimpse of, but it's seldom more than that. It's of Sidney Crosby, smiling like a madman and screaming, skating toward his teammates and holding the cup over his head.
Tonight's the night it could happen.
Anyone you talk to will give you any number of statistical and historical reasons why the Penguins will lose this game. The next guy will throw out a half-dozen stats that say it's destiny that they win.
An entire season comes down to one single game. How insane is that?
What an opportunity. What a time to be a Pittsburgh Penguins fan.
Nothing like preemptive whining. I'd expect this from somebody like Dan Steinberg, but for a guy who lives in a city where the home team has won 4 of the last twelve championships? Of course, if the mighty Red Wing machine does happen to lose tonight, it won't be because the Penguins beat them, but because the fix is in and that's how the NHL wants it.
Mike Thompson is a joke.
If you were cynical, you could point to this kind of mentality as the reason why the city of Detroit is the crab louse on America's salty, sweaty crotch, Michigan. Decades of placing the blame on the city's sorry state elsewhere, rather than the industry's own refusal to innovate and see the writing on the wall. You could argue that it's a city of losers and no-account excuse-makers.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a exhilarating, merciless, relentless bitch. There is nothing in sports more emotionally draining. An important game almost every other day for almost two months. One day, you're on top of the world; the next, the depths of despair. And the longer it goes, the more intense it gets. Don't get me wrong...it's light-years better than the alternative. But it will take it outta ya.
The last 72 hours have been a rollercoaster. I've hit that bottom, and managed to climb out. Seriously, Saturday night might as well have been last season, it feels like it happened so long ago. That's why my spirits are up and my sense is that we're headed for a Game Seven.
The unthinkable is close...too close for comfort, really. You have to know it's a possibility. It's a vomit-inducing, nightmare scenario...I honestly can't imagine anything worse. And it's staring all of us right in the face.
But, what the fuck...I've come this far, and I've believed all season...there's no reason to pack it in now. That the Pens are even in this situation is so unlikely, so infeasible, lends power to that belief. If you could have faith in this team back in February when the dirt was raining down, you can have faith now.
• 25 years ago today, the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted Mario Lemieux. While the Steelers are and will likely always be the #1 team in town, it's hard to argue against #66 being the most beloved and important athlete in Pittsburgh.
• At the mall today, some random dude noticed my Penguins cap and said "Keep the faith."
• "Penguins" must've been the word of the day on Sesame Street, 'cause they were all over the place today!
Game Five is exactly five hours away. I've waited until now to talk about it for fear of jinxing it.
This is the sixth time Detroit has been to the Stanley Cup finals in the last fourteen years...four times, they've won it easily. Tonight is the closest thing to a "must-win" they've faced since Game Three in New Jersey in 1995...which they lost en route to being swept by the Devils. Finally, they're being pressured. Now to see how they'll respond.
Make no mistake, The Penguins aren't gonna break them. But if they can bend them just enough, when they drive that Cup up into the Igloo on Tuesday night, it'll be the home team with a chance to hoist it.
Again. This time it's Nate McLouth, who made the All-Star team last year and won a Gold Glove. He heads to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for three prospects who are no immediate threat to make the Big Club. Pirate fans are up in arms about this, believing it's yet another in a seemingly never-ending list of great player the team has traded away for little return. I'm hardly what you'd call a Pirates apologist...though I still identify myself as a Bucs fan even after almost two decades of shitty baseball and shittier management...but I don't really have a problem with this move. Sure, on the Pirates McLouth is a star...but as my baseball stats-obsessed pal Greg likes to point out, "A star for the Pirates is a fourth outfielder on a good team".
Maybe the prospects pan out, maybe they don't. I was all ready to decide McLouth was my favorite player, until I recently discovered that A. He's a Red Wangs fan, and B. He skipped his team's recent meeting with the president because, as he told Stan Savran and Guy Junker on their ESPN 1250 radio show on May 20th, "I don't like this administration." (pretty amazing how ardent these conservative creeps are in their demand that you "respect the office", as long as their guy is occupying said office. Otherwise, go ahead and blow off the president. Classy.). So, good riddance, jagoff.
Fuck the Detroit fans, bloggers, etc. and their ridiculous, whiny conspiracy theories. There is no plot in place by the NHL and Gary Bettman to keep you from winning. If you believe this in your heart, you're a joke. There's nothing worse on earth than a sore winner.
Fuck Mike Babcock, and his "Crosby's a dirty player, he's a head-hunter, wait, sorry, no he's not." routine.
Fuck know-nothing peddler of cry porn Mitch Albom, who just started watching hockey last week when the season finales of Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty and Brothers and Sisters freed up a few of his nights. Fuck Morrie too.
But most of all, fuck me. Fuck me for almost giving up and losing the faith on Sunday night.
Make no mistake, if the Penguins don't win tonight and Thursday, it's over. I will be enraged on a level I seldom reach. I will wish horrible things on complete strangers, things that will fuck up my karma for years.
Tonight is the last shot at redemption, and let's face it, the odds aren't great. But I've believed all season, and I see no reason to stop now.
ROBERT ULLMAN pays the bills as a freelance illustrator for a plethora of publications and clients, such as THE HOCKEY NEWS, PENTHOUSE, THE STRANGER, LAS VEGAS WEEKLY, HarperCollins, The U.S. Army and The American Red Cross. He creates comics in his spare time (of which there never seems to be enough), including ATOM-BOMB BIKINI, GRAND GESTURES, and OLD-TIMEY HOCKEY TALES.
rob (at) robullman (dot) com