Happy Hour – Stanley Cup Finals Game 1

At heart, what we are dealing with is a game ignorant to the cold, harsh reality of the world around it. Some would say that it is a foolish past time that simply does not matter.

Maybe they are right. There are no great wars being halted by this game. There are no political battles being waged because of a great dividing line – the border of two nations – that stands between one team and another. The game I love, and the game millions more love is suffering. It suffers from a gulf that came between the fans and the sport for far too long. The grand old game is far behind the times, so say its skeptics. Teams like the North Stars, Whalers, and Jets are but a distant memory to their disappearing fan bases, and the future for the rest of the game is anything but certain.

Yet there exists a group of people, almost thirty two million to be exact, that will have something at stake over the next two weeks. To Canadians, hockey is what football/soccer is to the rest of the world. They live the game, they breathe it, they go to their graves thinking about it. Hockey is Canada, and the Canadians have been without its greatest treasure for many years. In 2006, a team from Canada will once again try to bring the Stanley Cup home. And a nation will watch.

There’s another, much smaller (but equally devoted) group that cheer for the team that shall oppose them. Unlike Alberta’s best, the men of Carolina lack the support or attention of the entire country. They play as virtual unknowns, even while sporting some of the league’s best players and brightest young stars. Instead of playing to a captivated audience, they hope to captivate a city, a fan base, and a state by bringing them all their first professional sporting championship.

And so, on the eve of this, the glorious game’s most glorified stage, two teams of similar origin (yet drastically different backgrounds) prepare to face off in the most unlikely of settings. Amidst the humid, blustery conditions of the American South, a team from the Canadian north comes to fulfill a Cinderella quest in an effort to reclaim the Cup. Another team, one that seeks to end the playoff futility of two cities awaits them. The state capital of North Carolina remains as unique a setting for the Stanley Cup Finals as any other. On Monday, June 5th, 2006, the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes will take center stage in the hockey world, as possession of Lord Stanley’s Cup hangs in the balance.

A nation will hold its breath. A new generation of hockey fans will be born. A glorious game will stage its glorious revival.

Yeah, this game doesn’t matter…

Happy Hour’s Cup Crazy 2006!

Welcome, hockey fans, to the closest thing to Nirvana you will find here at Inside Pulse! Ahead lies a healthy dose of Stanley Cup 2006 facts, figures, information and more! If you absolutely, positively need to know something ahead of time in lieu to the drop of the puck on Monday night, here’s your source, with me, your host with the most on hand for all the hits, bruises, poke checks and goals. Naturally, with the Hurricanes making an emphatic “not in our house” statement on Thursday night, I’m in something of a joyous mood today. If the Buffalo Sabres were hosting the visiting Oilers on Monday night, you may not have heard from me again until August. [Written Saturday, June 3rd, 2006]

Well now, I cannot lie to you all. I actually had something planned for today which I had tentatively called “Cup Crazy 2006”. Not an inventive title, but bare with me for a moment. It was to be a mega-huge column filled with information on the rosters of both clubs, team leaders, and the intricacies of the Oilers away uniform. However, it’s a common known fact that I’m prone to writing bore fests that take twenty minutes to read. So, instead of going the “I’m going to get you ready for tonight!” approach, I decided to scrap it and just focus on the individual games themselves. Yes, that means I’m back on Thursday for coverage of Game 2. See, I’m still writing a huge-ass column, but it’s broken up over the span of two weeks. Oh, yes, I am that damn good.

So, this is how we’ll be doing these Cup columns. The first part of the column is going to be a running diary that I kept during the action, with the happenings of a particular spot in the game coupled with my own damned opinion or thoughts. If you enjoy it when I’m going into cardiac arrest, this is your piece. After the game has ended, I’ll morph into Barry Melrose mode and try to breakdown the game from the perspective of a fan who nearly cried when Brind’Amour wrapped the puck around into the net with 31.1 seconds left in the third period of Game 1 of the biggest playoff series since forever. As you can see down below, however, I’m not totally biased towards the Hurricanes. The Oilers are my second favorite team, and I have written proof of that.

1. Introduction (i.e. Written Proof of That)

“Almost every major sport has been, or is currently being covered by the incredible staffers here in the Sports Zone – Football, Baseball, Basketball, Cricket … even paintball! Hockey is no exception. So why am I, a NASCAR guy, covering the NHL when we already have NHL columnists? Well, for starters, I’ve got the world’s biggest ego when it comes to writing, and when Inside Pulse Sport’s resident deity Slayer gave the okay, I figured I’d do a little ego-stroking and get into the NHL. I’m a big fan of hockey (though not as big a fan as our guest interviewee), with my loyalties split between the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes, if only to give love to the home team up in Raleigh. But more importantly, I write about NASCAR all the time. We need breaks from Hell too, folks. So please people, cut me some slack and pass the maple syrup, because we’re going where real men take it to the ice. It’s too damn hot around here, so let’s cool it off a little bit, shall we?”

– Myself, 09.03.2005

See, I told you I had proof. That was from the first hockey column I did, way back when I was avoiding NASCAR. Wow, what a difference a season makes.

“Everyone we saw and came to know in 2003-2004 have gotten a bit older, maybe a bit more experienced if they played internationally. On paper, Tampa Bay still looks very, very good, as does Philadelphia and surprisingly, Atlanta. Calgary and Colorado will probably fight for the Northwest Division right down to the wire, though I think Iginla gives Calgary the edge that they need to repeat as Western Conference Champions. It’s early, but I’ll say that Calgary vs. San Jose and Tampa Bay vs. Philadelphia will be your Conference Finals, with Calgary vs. Tampa Bay as our repeat from 2003-2004. But do not sleep on the Philadelphia Flyers.”

– Myself, 09.03.2005

I will say this, though. First of all, I had the right Canadian province and the right division in mind when I chose that Stanley Cup Finals prediction. And hey, San Jose and Philadelphia both made it into the playoffs, so I’m not totally out to lunch. Okay, the Atlanta prediction was god-awful, and I missed the mark on Anaheim… and Edmonton, and my boys up in Raleigh. Yeah, I blew this one pretty badly.

If you want to check out the rest of my predictions, scan the archives and find the first “NHL Ice This!” … or the final one, actually. Be warned – it’s long, boring, and reeks of sucktitude. So, since we have that dazzling pre-game show concluded, it’s time for Game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals! And since Bill Simmons likes to steal from Inside Pulse, we shall steal from his columns as well. Cheesy stolen movie line for today to pump us up: Saddle up!

2. Game 1, Edmonton at Carolina [Monday, June 5th, 2006]

– Our first image as we tune into OLN… TERRY CRISP! He coached the 1989 Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup, and then appeared on that classic S.I. video, the Greatest Sports Follies. I love this shit!

– Okay, now we’re into the Pregame proper, as Clement, Keith Jones, Brian Engblom, and Mark friggin’ Messier are your OLN intermission guys. The underrated Mike Emrick and John Davidson will commentate tonight. We’re live at the RBC Center in downtown Raleigh.

– Another quick note: has anyone else noticed, for ‘Canes fans at least, that whenever the opposing team’s fans come up with some sort of euphemism like “Hurricanes Blow” or tonight’s sign of choice, Edmonton’s “Hurricane Hunter” sign, the Hurricanes tend to play well? I mean, Hurricanes blow. Now, a “Hurricanes Blow Hard” would at least be both clever and meteorologically accurate. And for our crazy Canuck friends, the last thing I’d want to compare my club to is a Hurricane Hunter, the plane that gets to fly into these storms and get the shit kicked out of them as a result.

* Pregame festivities include the playing of both national anthems, sung by the beautiful Holly Wilver. In a huge show of class, the Raleigh crowd sings both the Canadian and American anthems, and cheers loudly after both. You think you’ll see this kind of reaction in Edmonton on Saturday? In a particularly neat touch, thunder effects boom through the arena as the Star Spangled Banner finishes up.

20:00 – In the immortal words of Mike Myers… Game On! Roloson vs. Ward, Round 1. Face off at center ice, won by Brind’Amour!

19:28 – Stillman sends a shot on goal towards Roloson, the first of the game for the Hurricanes. Good, hard start by both teams. Edmonton looks like monsters on the ice.

19:23 – Ales Hemsky, hero of the Detroit series, launches a bullet on goal towards Ward, who also saves Edmonton’s first shot on goal.

19:06 – Edmonton has firm control in the Carolina zone now. Centering pass into a shot, blocked by Ward! The rookie is going to be peppered all night like this. We’re a minute into this game, and these hits are brutal.

18:00 – Wesley blocks a shot with his right leg and limps off the ice. A trooper Glen Wesley is, yes sir.

17:48 – And here comes the first Carolina penalty, as Mike Commodore gets two minutes for roughing. Though his last name is not spelled like Magoo, the referee is about as blind as he is. First bad call in a series of them tonight.

15:49 – Ward makes some incredible saves, and Carolina kills off their first power play of the night. Carolina’s stick work looks terrible, and Edmonton is playing crisp hockey.

15:39 – Commodore is out of the box, and he launches one on goal towards Roloson, who blocks it. Edmonton is tough at both ends of the ice, it looks like.

14:59 – Ryan Smyth just gets MURDERED by Mike Commodore, and the crowd rises to their feet. Our condolences go out to the Smyth family for their loss.

13:35 – Carolina is in the Edmonton zone now, and Dwayne Roloson gets bowled over by Williams! Williams had help from a defenseman, so no penalty for goalie interference. Edmonton is definitely the better team at this point in the game. So much for the rust factor.

12:59 – Icing on Carolina, so Edmonton gets the draw in the Hurricane defensive zone. Edmonton loses the face off, however. God, these hits can kill a person.

12:07 – Edmonton’s Michael Peca launches a wrist shot at Ward, who makes another critical save. Cam Ward definitely belongs in the net tonight. He’s the first rookie goalie to start in the Stanley Cup since Ron Hextall did it for the Flyers in 1987, if memory serves me right.

11:43 – EDMONTON GOAL! #34 Fernando Pisani scores off a rebound from a diving Cam Ward. Carolina turns the puck over in their own zone, which facilitates the goal. The Hurricanes are passing sloppily and look lethargic at times.

8:14 – Carolina now gets a power play, with clipping the call.

7:36 – Roloson comes through for Edmonton and saves a shot from damn near the blue line. He’ll freeze the puck, and we’ll have a face off in the Edmonton zone.

7:04 – Roloson again makes a huge save off a Doug Weight shot I believe. He freezes the puck again. Roloson also belongs, and could be the deciding factor in this series.

6:14 – We’re back to full strength. Thank God… if it isn’t obvious by this point, I’m firmly rooting for Carolina right now.

5:48 – The idiot Edmonton defenseman Bergeron gets penalized for some tomfoolery behind his own net, and Carolina will go on another power play.

5:14 – Whoops… Carolina gets penalized as Hedican trips up Moreau on a breakaway. Emrick wanted a penalty shot, but no dice. We’re now at 4-4 for a few minutes.

5:05 – Damnit! Wallin gets penalized for Carolina, and now Edmonton has a 4-3 for a while longer, followed by the dreaded 5-on-3.

4:26 – Glen Wesley takes a hard shot right off his right knee and falls to the ice. He stands back up… and takes a second shot right off the same leg. He limps off the ice to a standing ovation from the crowd, but looks hurt.

3:47 – Edmonton now begins a 5-on-3 power play for 33 seconds. They start off by icing the puck. Nice one, guys. Interesting fact – Glen Wesley has played 1,473 games and has never won the Stanley Cup.

3:27 – Another friggin’ penalty, as Brind’Amour gets called on a weak hooking call. These referees are getting some unreal heel heat. Ward is having to make save after save with little break.

2:51 – Glen Wesley sets the Real Man standard for the evening by hobbling back onto the ice. He sends the puck into Edmonton’s own zone, and sets up an odd-man rush! Roloson saves, however. We’re now at a 5-on-4, standard power play for Edmonton.

1:11 – Somehow, Carolina kills off the penalties in succession, and the crowd responds. We have a minute to go, and Edmonton looks befuddled as to why they couldn’t get more goals than the one.

34.3 Seconds – The puck is deflected out of play into the Oilers bench, and it looks like we’re going to finish the period at 1-nil. Carolina controls the face off and establishes the offensive zone. Weight launches a last second shot, but it’s blocked harmlessly, and the period comes to a close.

20:00 – Carolina works the puck in their own zone to start. Stillman now gets the puck, and launches a shot on goal that is saved by Roloson. Stillman gets another crack at it, and again has his shot saved by Roloson. Brind’Amour takes the puck at center ice, passes to Stillman with another shot on goal, saved by Roloson!

18:31 – Edmonton now with the puck, and a shot is launched on goal. Ward with a big save and he freezes the puck. If Ward can keep this play up, Carolina may be able to tie it up if Stillman keeps getting these looks.

[Ed. Note – We take a brief break to secure some beverages, as I may be needing a drink in a moment. Edmonton is the better team through a period and a half. Carolina looked jittery through the first twenty minutes, but now Carolina is getting decent looks and still can’t put a goal in. If Edmonton’s big defensemen keep rocking Carolina, this series could be over long before we move out to Edmonton.]

14:12 – We return after a break with the game still at 1-0 Edmonton. A shot comes from nowhere, and Ward has to freeze the puck after another great save. Say what you want about rookie goalies in big games, but Ward is making crazy saves here.

14:01 – Michael Peca is going to the box for throwing an elbow. And the referees make the first good call of the game! Carolina goes on the attack, launching absolute volleys at Roloson, who makes save after save. What a goalie duel this game has become!

13:09 – The power play is half over, Carolina looks to rush again, but gets caught offside. Is their a more irritating penalty in all of sports than the offside call? Edmonton kills off the power play, as I kill off a tasty cherry-lemon sun drop.

12:00 – The ‘Canes can’t pass for beans, and it’s really driving me nuts now. Holy crap, here comes a flurry at Ward! Shots blocked in every direction, and Ward is being screened beautifully. Brind’Amour finally clears and gets the puck out to center ice, but now he loses possession and here comes the Oilers again! A massive rush creates a huge pile-up in the crease! The puck is lose, I am dying! A whistle stops play… and a penalty shot is given to Edmonton! Fuck…

Looks like Niclas Wallin is the culprit, and these referees are drawing huge heat in the RBC Center. Pronger, who it should be noted looks like that guy from Entertainment Tonight without his helmet on, will take the penalty shot. He starts up the ice, Ward outside the crease now. Pronger blasts one… and SCORES for the Oilers. It’s 2-0 Edmonton with less than 10:00 to go in the 2nd period.

7:17 – Edmonton has possession again, and the ‘Canes are reeling. Another goal and we’re toast, I think. Edmonton keeps blasting away with shots, and Cam Ward keeps making save after save. You can’t say enough about Ward – the two goals he has allowed have been well-earned. Wait, Carolina gets a shot that’s saved by Roloson, and he freezes the puck. Carolina needs a goal, STAT.

5:57 – Ward is challenged again by the Oilers, and he makes a brilliant save by stymieing Peca. Outside of their goaltending, Carolina can do nothing right.

4:13 – Carolina is too damn sloppy with their passing and stick work, and Edmonton is just picking them apart at center ice. Edmonton establishes the zone and sends two long shots in on goal at Ward, who saves both. Now the puck comes to Moreau, he takes another long shot, and it’s a GOAL for Edmonton at 3:37! Moreau took the shot and it deflected off Aaron Ward, behind Cam Ward for the third goal. That’s about it, Carolina is looking like toast right now, but they usually save their best for the third, so until then, we’ll flip over to RAW.

4:13 – 0:00 is our designated RAW viewing for the evening.

We’re back just in time to catch the intermission report wrapping up. And lo and behold, I quit watching for five minutes and Rod Brind’Amour scores on a rebound. I wasn’t watching, but I know that Commodore set up the play by blocking a shot during an odd-man rush. You don’t f*ck with the Afro, guys.

20:00 – It’s 3-1 Edmonton as we start the third, and this has historically been Carolina’s period. They’ll need two goals to equalize, and they look sharp off the drop of the puck, as they quickly take control of their offensive zone. Carolina is carrying a power play over from the second here.

19:15 – Roloson kills off the few shots during the PP, and we’re back to full strength now. Carolina is playing with a fire under their ass now.

18:54 – Carolina takes control of the zone again, and the puck finds its way to Ladd. Andrew Ladd now with the puck, he takes a shot on goal, and Roloson freezes! Roloson is a madman between the pipes.

18:30 – Edmonton is looking a little tired as they try to set up shop. Carolina intercepts near the neutral zone, and we’ve got an odd man rush! Weight up the ice, he’s got Wesley and Whitney with him! Weight, over to Whitney with a one-timer GOAL! GOAL! Ray Whitney with the one-timer in past Roloson, and Carolina has made it a one goal game! Hallelujah, hallelujah! That’s a goal off the rush, so says Davidson, and I’m inclined to believe.

18:09 – Carolina is clawing back, and Edmonton looks surprised. Here comes a flurry near Roloson, Carolina needs another goal to tie, but we’ve got a penalty coming up, and it’s a hooking call to Kaberle. Not what the doctor ordered… here comes Edmonton now, my left side is starting to feel tingly. Cam Ward keeps pulling these saves out of his ass, and oh my God Ward is the man. Here comes Carolina now with a rush, shorthanded! No, Roloson turns it away, and monkeys are dancing around my television set… f*ck, here comes the Oilers back the other way, and Pronger attempts to blast a shot through Ward into the net, but Ward saves. Pronger with the rebound, and Ward saves again! What a game this has turned out to be!

15:32 – We were back at full strength, but now Moreau gets called for the Edmonton penalty, and Carolina has another power play. Edmonton wont budge, and Carolina can’t establish the zone. Now Carolina has the rush working, with Staal taking it up the ice. Carolina is in the zone, Edmonton looks lost. A centering pass from Whitney hits Recchi who shoots, blocked by Roloson! The rebound is loose, Whitney! SCORES! We’re tied up! 3-3 off a Whitney blast! Holy crap!

13:15 – Carolina smells blood, and Edmonton is stunned! Roloson has to tighten up, as the Hurricanes take shots at will. Now here comes Pronger to the rescue, and Edmonton sends the puck back up the ice. A salvo fired at Ward is blocked, but the rebound is lose! Another shot on goal, and Ward dives to save it! Cam Ward is the friggin’ man!

11:49 – Whoops, there goes the momentum. A Carolina penalty results in another power play for Edmonton, and Pronger is pissed. The ‘Canes defense holds momentarily, but Edmonton establishes the zone. The stick work of the Oilers is a sight to behold, actually. The puck is loose in the zone, Edmonton recovers, and Hemsky has his shot blocked by Ward. Another shot on goal is saved by Ward, and now PRONGER takes a huge shot, and Ward saves again, and here comes a rebound SAVED by Ward. Edmonton tries to reset, but they turn the puck over! Here comes a breakaway for Carolina, it’s Justin Williams, he’s all alone, he shoots… and SCORES! MOTHER OF GOD he SCORES! What a goal! What a f*cking goal by Justin Williams, who puts them ahead 4-3! The go ahead goal is scored shorthanded by Williams, and we’re 9:58 away from winning Game 1!

[I think I just destroyed my vocal chords…]

Edmonton is rocked, but damned if they come right back at Carolina. Ward is back to work, saving shots right and left. Someone, Peca maybe takes a shot that goes wide of Ward, but misses the net! Carolina clears, but Edmonton comes right back at them. Someone dumps the puck in the zone, and now Ward is trapped behind the net! It’s a scrum in the trapezoid, Edmonton desperately fighting to get the puck in the net! Ward is back in the crease, but Edmonton has the puck. A centering pass to Horcoff, who finds Hemsky open right by the net! A one-timer, and CAM WARD makes the save of the century, diving at the puck at the last second, and he knocks it down in the crease! Edmonton pokes at the puck, but Ward keeps it in front of him, and we get a stoppage. Hemsky was right at the crease, behind Ward but that didn’t stop Cam from making the save. That is your top play of the week for Sportscenter!

7:45 – Carolina finally calms things down for a moment, and they get control in the Edmonton zone. These hits are coming fast and furious, and someone is going to get leveled any minute. Edmonton wont hold, and they make a run for the net! The puck squirts all the way out to Ward, and he’s forced to freeze the puck. And we have a huge penalty coming up on Carolina! It’s Eric Staal going to the box, and Edmonton has a chance.

6:51 – Edmonton begins their power play, but Commodore quickly clears the puck out of the zone. Pronger leads a rush back up the ice, and the pass goes to a wide open Hemsky! Hemsky leaps, SCORING while twisting in mid-air! The call is made as he crashes to the ice, and we’re tied again, 4-4 with less than six to play! This game is an instant classic if it were on ESPN.

6:10 – Edmonton now has the momentum, and someone takes a shot on goal and Cam saves. We’re at full strength as now Carolina starts a rush. The puck is played along the wing, Ladd has it! He’s open at the crease, but here come Bergeron! Bergeron with a massive body check, and the two players STEAMROLL Roloson, and all three players crash backwards into the net! Roloson got bowled over in his own net, and he’s hurt! Roloson isn’t getting up… and the idiots at OLN go to break.

5:53 – We come back to the game… and Roloson is coming out! Oh, man, talk about a terrible break for Edmonton. Ty Conklin is in for Roloson, and play resumes. This is insane… both teams jockey for the puck, Edmonton wins possession! They’re behind Ward, and Torres tries a wrap-around that’s blocked, and the rebound shot is caught and frozen by Ward. I’m dying over here!

3:32 – Edmonton is back again, and Ward saves another shot. Go Ward! Pronger shoots, Ward saves! Here comes the ‘Canes now, but they’re caught offside. Three minutes left! Edmonton can’t control the zone, and now Williams moves up the ice. He launches one on goal, and Conklin makes his first save of the game. Edmonton returns up ice, and Ward makes his 901st save of the game. Two minutes to go, and Carolina marches right back up the ice! Conklin saves again, and for Heaven’s sake, Edmonton gets the puck at center ice, and play is stopped. Edmonton was hit with an offsides call. Carolina wins the draw, and we’re one minute away from going to OT!

Carolina wants another chance, the pass is to Cullen and a shot is wide! No, Carolina is caught offsides again, and we’ll have a face off near center ice. Carolina wins the draw again, but they get caught offsides AGAIN. Damnit, Damnit, Damnit… The face off comes to the same place, but this time its Horcoff who gets tossed out of the circle. And the linesman looks to be bitching him out in the process! Forty seconds left, and Brind’Amour wins the draw, and the puck goes back to Commodore. Commodore dumps the puck into the Edmonton zone, and it caroms around the board. Conklin goes into the trapezoid to play it, but Smith WHIFFS ON THE PASS! Brind’Amour is there, he wraps the puck around the post… GOAL! GOAL! GOAL! 31.1 seconds left, and oh my sweet gentle Jesus, Carolina leads 5-4! Conklin with miscommunication to his defenseman, and the Captain was there to mop up the loose puck! Edmonton is stunned, and the Carolina bench goes absolutely bonkers. Now Edmonton has it, Conklin has to get off the ice for an extra man, but play is stopped with 17 seconds left! Face off, Edmonton controls, and here comes Conklin off the ice! Edmonton with a mad rush now, ten seconds left! Cam Ward saves a shot, then the rebound! There’s a scrap in the crease, Edmonton with a turnaround shot, Ward saves! SOMEBODY SHOOTS AT THE BOTTOM, and WARD DIVES at it! Ward saved all six shots! Three seconds are shown on the clock, and Ward made the save every time!

0:03 – The face off is taken in Carolina’s zone. The ‘Canes win the draw and send it around the boards… And it’s over! It’s all over! The Hurricanes win it! Greatest! Game! Ever! There goes the remote! There goes my left eye! The Hurricanes lead the series one game to nothing!

My fingers are killing me, so I shall wrap this one up now. Allow me to say this. Even with Roloson out, this series is not over by a long shot. Be ready for Game 2 on Wednesday. The pimps are the usual suspects. I am Steve Price, and from the hospital, I bid you adieu! Peace out.