Devils 4, Lightning 3 (OT)
At one point during a goal-mouth scrum, Chico exclaimed that, for the first time in this series, we were seeing some real playoff hockey. He was right. Game 4 was a heart-attack-inducing, crazy-mood-swinging, vomit-in-my-own-mouth, leap-off-the-couch-and-jump-with-joy reminder of why the hockey playoffs are the greatest thing the world of sports has to offer.
Tonight we got to watch a simulcast of sorts, Pookie down in DC watching CBC’s feed, Schnookie back home in Jersey watching FSN. The FSN pregame gave Dano a chance to demonstrate how much of a difference two days can make for his disastrous sunburn from Monday. Before Game 3 he looked like he was doing a clinic on how not to take the sun in Tampa, but tonight he looked tanned and fresh. But crazy tense. Meanwhile over on CBC Kelly Hrudy gushed about the Devils superiority to the Bolts but when it was pointed out that they’re not too good at stopping pucks, chipperly added, “No, no, they’re not so good on the defense!” Pookie loves Kelly. He puts on postive spin on everything. If she ever gets fired, she wants the news delivered by Kelly. (Schnookie, by the way, is pleased to see Thunderbug off the St. Pete Times Forum roof. It was probably a very close thing for him, hunger striking until the Lightning sold out, but then drawing the impossible-to-sell-out Devils. Poor guy. If he was stuck up there for even one more night, he might be forced to eat his own mascot-sized plush Stanley Cup ring. Pookie suggests he came down from the roof because Kelly convinced him that sell-outs are overrated, and that there’s a lot to be said for having empty seats.)
FSN also discussed during the pregame that the EGG line might be broken up; this seems like a fantastically good idea. How much better would Patty look if he was getting a kick in the ass by having to keep up with the 4th-liners’ motors for a few shifts? Needless to say, we are passionately in love with the Zajac line right now. Passionately. (Notice how we attempt to look professional by calling them by their center’s name and not just saying, “We are passionately in love with Zach right now”.) But seriously, there is only so far the team can expect to go if they’re counting on Zach carrying them all by his lonesome. Of course, the EGG line probably heard all that talk and came out doing all the things the Devils have been loathe to in the last two games — forechecking hard, taking shots, screening Holmqvist, pouncing on rebounds… and they scored the first goal. By the end of regulation, though, we were convinced they only did that to keep Lou from breaking them up. We would offer up some of our chat transcripts from their inexplicably numerous, fruitless shifts, but they basically just resemble the famous crime scene sequence from “The Wire” in which McNulty’s and Bunk’s dialog is made up entirely of the word “fuck”. During the overtime intermission on CBC Kelly Hrudy even said, after showing a replay of one of Patty’s countless squandered scoring chances late in the third, “Man, when Elias got that chance I thought to myself… Gosh, I hope he doesn’t score here, because he doesn’t deserve a goal in this game.” (Yikes! He said that after calling Ladislav Nagy a coward during last night’s Stars-Canucks game? Schnookie’s not so sure she would want Kelly telling her if she was fired…) We’re not even sure how redeemed the EGGers are for the OT goal. That was all Gomer; Patty’s still on our shit list.
Now, with the EGG line bile out of the way, let’s turn our attention to something wonderful and good: Zach Parise. Holy flurking schnitt. Because he’s “the cute one” we tend to be over-effusive about the good things he does, but seriously, even we’re running out of superlatives for him. You expect what Lecavalier’s doing in this series, because he’s a beast and a freak of nature and just an amazing, amazing hockey player. But our very own Zach Parise? We hope he never, ever, ever forgets how badly he wants to prove the Islanders wrong for not drafting him. Never. The highlight of the evening — slurp-wise — on FSN was after Zach jumped on a loose puck in front of Holmqvist’s net, very nearly scoring for the zillionth time in the game, and Chico just started cracking up. Then he said, “Did you see who came flying in there?” Pause. “I love Zach Parise.” Pause. “‘s attitude.” He then scrambled to say something about leadership on the ice, and we just want to reassure Chico there is no shame there. A mancrush on Zach is totally understandable at this point. The CBC announcers made no effort to hide theirs; at one point they referred to Zach as “a hot hockey player” and Pookie was convinced the closed captioning on that would have read “hott hockey player”. He had one shift early in the third period during which he brimmed with so much confidence it was almost staggering; the puck couldn’t stay away from him, and every time he touched it he forced Holmqvist to make a great save. We have not seen a single Devils forward ever take such an offensively confident shift, not even in the A Line’s heyday. The ceiling on Zach Parise right now has been blown right off. Elsewhere on that line, Travis looks like he’s getting used to the playoff thing, or at least gaining a little of Zach’s swagger, because he’s really stepping up. (We are completely on board with Chico — we can’t wait to see how good he can be next year with this experience under his belt.)
Despite the fact that the Devils gave up 3 goals (AGAIN), and despite the fact that they blew a 2-goal lead (Zach must have been fuming, “God! How much more do I have to do here?”), we didn’t think the D was really that awful tonight. Matvichuk was a superhero, filling in ably for Whitey; PaulieMartinNation was once again agog that Paulie somehow, quietly, is the best blueliner for the Devs (and was even more agog at that gorgeous, ridiculous passing play that led to Zach’s first goal); Andy Greene seems to have the world’s highest panic threshold (does he need to be reminded he’s a rookie in his first playoffs?); there just weren’t many glaring holes back there. (Oh, and IPB sends a hearty congratulations to the Lukowiches on the birth of their second daughter. We might be cold-hearted bitches, but we’re not that bad.) We will also grudgingly admit that Marty was better tonight. He had his moments, made some huge saves, but still. That first goal was crap. Utter crap. And we don’t care who the pucks bounce off of, or how brilliant the wonky-angle shots are, or how miraculously the puck is beating him when he’s giving Tampa’s stars nothing to shoot at — a two-goal lead is a two-goal lead. It should be automatic for Marty.
So, yeah. A win’s a win, and this was huge for our boys. The neighbors in Jersey are probably glad it’s too cold for the windows to be open, because Schnookie was screaming after the OT goal like she was being ax-murdered. But tonight was still a bit of a curate’s egg. Looking forward to Game 5 we’d like to not see the guys let the Lightning wake themselves up like they did on that 4-on-4 in the second period. We’d like to see the scoring chances buried when Tampa unravels defensively like they did in the third period. (Come on, Devils. Holmqvist isn’t as bad as he looked in Game 1, but he’s not as good as you guys have been making him look since.) We’d like to see a Marty who doesn’t make us nervous whenever the puck crosses the red line. And most of all, we’d like to see the EGG line either remember how to skate together or get broken up; we have, on our 4th line, some hungry, huge-hearted guys who frankly deserve the ice time a lot more than Patty, Gomer and Gio do right now. And we can’t, for the life of us, figure out why Lou isn’t using them.
(Special thanks to Stephen Jones for the inspiration for this post’s title. At one point during the Devils second-period collapse we had a chat exchange that included the exclamation, “I’m not saying ‘Boooo.’ I’m saying ‘Puuuuuuuuke.’”)