The Red Wings celebrate around Darren Helm after he scored Detroit's first goal in Game 5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
DETROIT - The cover of the most recent issue of The Hockey News proclaimed the Stanley Cup matchup between the Penguins and Red Wings “the final we’ve all been waiting for.”
We had to hold our breath through Games 1 and 2, felt a little more comfortable following Games 3 and 4 (though not off the hook) and are relieved to be able to stand behind our assertion now that the classic that was Game 5 is history.
This is what we envisioned.
Game 5 had everything:
Electricity. The crowd was pumped well before the opening faceoff, spontaneously chanting as the pre-game music played. They were quieted in the first period, but reached a zenith in the third when the Wings went ahead, and maintained their vigor through much of the overtimes.
An abundance of scoring chances. The offenses were on display early and often.
A frenetic pace. Obstruction, for the most part, was on holiday.
Comebacks. The Wings' surge in the third period was high drama; the Penguins shocker to tie it, then the stunner to win it was out of Hollywood.
Unbelievable saves. By both netminders, but in particular Marc-Andre Fleury. He was plywood between the pipes. The toe save he made on Mikael Samuelsson will be immortalized in highlight reels. Chris Osgood deserves kudos for remaining sharp when needed, despite long spells of inactivity.
Grave mistakes. Poor Niklas Kronwall. It was no Steve Smith in terms of gravity, but it remains indelible. Besides, it was a pretty goal, top shelf.
Blood and gore. The successive head injuries sustained by Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Malone, and their subsequent returns (Gonchar briefly) had us thinking Rocky. Sorry Philly.
Physicality. It wasn’t the hardest-hitting contest ever, but big bodies such as Brooks Orpik continued to hammer away.
Heck, we even got penalties in overtime. And some were deserved.
How entertaining was the contest? The worn-out beat reporters sitting on press row – men and women who after two months of travel typically pray for the final to end in a sweep, regardless of who wins – were standing in OT ...for good chunks of it anyway. It’s the first game I can recall attending in years where I felt nervous energy as a paid neutral observer.
"That was probably one of the best games for a long time," said Penguins coach Michel Therrien. "And it's fun."
The question now is how does the NHL build off it; what can the league do to help sustain the momentum it has built?
Simply put: stay the course. That doesn’t mean become complacent, rather remain open-minded.
We got here through much discussion, debate and some action on the part of the NHL policy-makers. The healthy exchange that exists between executives, players, fans and the media must remain lively.
Now bring on Game 6!
Jason Kay, the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com, was in Detroit for Game 5. His blog appears regularly every weekend.
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