January 07, 2009
Philadelphia Flyers goalie Marty Biron unwrapped the long ribbon of tape from his ankle, the locker room having emptied out after the Washington Capitals' 2-1 shootout win on home ice. He had played quite brilliantly, stopping 33 shots and keeping his team in the game.
Until the game ended in the skills competition.
"I'll be honest with you: As a player, it's kind of like, 'That sucks,'" said Biron. "But as a fan, when I watch the game and there's an overtime or a couple minutes left, I'm like nobody score ... I want to see the shootout.' I want to see it. I want to see what the guys are going to do."
That's the dichotomy of the shootout, isn't it? Unequal parts of excitement, disappointment, exhilaration and anti-climax. The NHL is fond of saying there's nothing quite like its brand of hockey, and attempting to digest its flawed overtime finale is certainly an abnormal experience.
Especially when what's supposed to be the most exciting moment of the game is delayed because one bench isn't happy with how the ice looks.
The Capitals and Flyers finished their four-on-four overtime, with both teams getting chances and an arena-full of fans inching ever closer to the edges of their seats. The horn sounded, the announcer bellowed that the shootout was next ... and, as has become customary in many NHL arenas, that announcement was met with tepid cheers and more than a few fans walking towards the exits.
The still-packed house was back into it when Biron was preparing to face Viktor Kozlov in the first chance of the skills competition.
They were just as quickly out of it again during an annoying delay, and then boisterously booed as it became clear that the freshly resurfaced ice was going to be Zamboni'd a second time.
"I have no idea [why]," Biron said after the game. "It came from our bench. I was actually getting it going ... I had to scrape my crease three times."
The Flyers felt the ice wasn't properly resurfaced on their offensive end, saying after the game they didn't feel their sheet of fresh ice was as wide as the Capitals'.
"From what I could see, the one Zamboni kind of cut across the slot on the Washington side, and our guys thought there were creases so the puck would jump," said Biron. "They should have just gone out and done the whole ice. It took 10 minutes to do what they did. It's just one of those annoying things."
The delay sucked the wind out of the game, but once Kozlov scored the first goal for Washington the fans were quite deafening.
Once again, it's the dichotomy of the shootout: a tiresome delay over an ice quibble meets the Pavlovian reaction of fans to offensive hockey. As inferior as the shootout can be, there's usually something to get excited about; even for the most ardent shootout critics, there's something to be said for the psychological chess match between the Flyers and Jose Theodore.
Simon Gagne is a friend of Theo's, and the goalie knew he liked to go backhand. But he was wondering if Gagne knew that he knew, and would attempt something different.
Regardless, Theodore made the save.
Mike Richards is a shootout ace, having gone 3-for-6 prior to his chance against the Capitals. He skated in wide to the right of Theodore. "I thought he was going to shoot 5-hole, but then he made a move and pretty much had me beat," said Theodore, who eventually made the save with his pad. "I always say you never give up on a play, and I just had my pad on the goal-line and he wasn't patient enough."
The final shooter? Some dude named Jeff Carter, who's tied for the NHL lead with 27 goals. Theodore skated out to face him, and then made a great save that had him searching for the puck as the crowd cheered the victory.
If the Flyers thought they had a book on Theodore, he said "they should change books."
Exhilarating? Sure, in this case. And there was also a winner, which is fine by Biron: "I think it used to be worst when you'd go home and have a tie. There's an extra point there [now]. Battle and go get it."
But the battle wasn't the shootout; the battle was the first 65 minutes of hard hits - or as Richards called those of Alexander Ovechkin, "some dirty hits" -- and close calls. So when it comes to a shootout between bitter rivals like the Capitals and Flyers, the game is won but the battle is not.
That was never more evident than in Coach Bruce Boudreau's comments after the game. A reporter asked if Boudreau felt his team has exorcized some demons after taking it on the chin the last time the teams met in Philly.
Boudreau bristled for a moment before saying, "I thought you were going to talk about me exercising," drawing a guffaw from the room.
Back on point, Boudreau made it clear that winning in a skills competition is just an extra point in the standings and not a psychological benchmark.
"We won in a shootout. It's not like we dominated them. We won in a shootout. It was a tie game for 65 minutes," he said.
When a win is a win but also really isn't a win -- that's the shootout in the NHL.