With the Darth Ovechkin - Sid the Kid drama resolved (for now), the next biggest story of the Conference Semi-Finals played out to it's conclusion last night at the Joe Louis Arena. The tension between the Anaheim Ducks and the Detroit Red Wings had been been building from the beginning of the series. Anaheim had taken down Mighty Joe Thornton and the Sharks and having tasted blood, were going after Detroit with the same predatory zeal. It was one of those series where there were no easy wins, no clear winners until the end.
When a series gets that intense, it gets personal. Messages were sent at the end of Game Six, so it was inevitable that Game Seven was going to be sixty minutes that felt more like an allnight pick-up on pond ice. The tough games keep you on the edge of your seat, especially when there are no clear winners until the clock runs out. When that happens you either feel exhilaration for the white hats or something akin to Snoopy's "Curse you, Red Baron" as those bastards show unseemly glee at the expense of good people everywhere.
The losers tend to fade into the plexi. Maybe they want to. You'll see some disappointment, but what you get for the most part is stoicism and lots of game face. Either they've worked as hard as they could and still got outplayed or they were having an off night and the drive wasn't there. You know it and they know it and yet there's that look away dynamic that makes you not quite connect with the loss as much as you ever will with the win.
Maybe that's why it was difficult to watch Anaheim's Jonas Hiller last night. From ten minutes into the first period on, you could see his game wasn't gelling the way he wanted it to. The saves seemed too hard won and every Detroit goal was soul-crushing and we saw every bit of it on Hiller's face. When he took that hard hit at the shank end of the second period, many would argue that it was time to give the guy a break and plug in Giguere.
Was playing on dumb? Was it brave? Maybe at ice level any other course of action was no longer an option. No matter what it was, Hiller gave everyone a taste of what it must be like to get so far and no further and be aware of it while you're in the moment. No one but the guys on the ice can really know how that feels, but just getting that glimpse into being one of the people who has to skate through the line and congratulate the winners after such a long, hard slog was like a punch in the gut.
copyright 2009 Jas Faulkner