Everyone watching the game got a special feeling when Ty Conklin stopped Buffalo’s third shooter, Maxim Afinogenov, sending Sidney Crosby to center ice with the game on his stick.
I turned to my friends and said, “if Sid scores, this is everything Gary Bettman could have ever dreamed of.”
It was theater to the 10th degree. I hate using a Pierre MacGuire saying, but it’s true. The game was like the NHL’s Super Bowl and the league’s Tom Brady had one last drive to win the game.
Crosby took the puck, skated in on Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, slowly drove in and, at the last second, fired the puck between Miller’s legs to win the game. It was the beginning of something special for the Penguins. It was a kick start to the first Stanley Cup Finals appearance for Pittsburgh since 1992. Lastly, it gave tons of Penguins fans, and the nation, a glimpse of how exciting the new style of NHL play could be.
The NHL had created about as grand a stage as ever at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.
However, the teams set the stage a few nights before. The Sabres and Penguins played at Mellon Arena on Dec. 31, 2007, with Pittsburgh victorious by a score of 2-0. The win created a 3-game winning streak and good vibes running in to the new year.
Moving to Buffalo, the teams competed in the most anticipated game in league history since Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals between Edmonton and Carolina. However, as Dan pointed out in an earlier post, not too many people were interested in that game anyway.
After the opening ceremony, which featured both teams walking out of the tunnel side by side, the playing of the ‘Oh Canada,’ the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and ‘God Bless America’ and a flyover of military helicopters, the Penguins jumped out to an early lead.
Just 21 seconds in, Crosby drove the left wing and slashed in on Miller. He moved the puck from his forehand to his backhand and Miller was able to poke it away. However, he poked it right to Colby Armstrong who was following the play.
He chipped it home, 1-0 Pens.
It seemed like the conditions were going to provide fans with a high-scoring game.
Such was not the case.
The Penguins’ 1-0 lead held for the entire first period. To open the second, Brian Campbell wristed one home from the point just 1:25 in and the game was tied. Again, that score held for the rest of the period.
It held for the entire third period as well, though Buffalo turned up its play and had the Pens chasing for much of the frame.
At the end of regulation, after playing nearly 47 minutes of penalty-free hockey, Don VanMassenhoven decided to raise his arm and call a hooking penalty on Armstrong.
It forced the Penguins to defend a 4-on-3 penalty to open the overtime period. Thoughts of losing and justifying that, ‘at least we got a point — it was a great game even though we lost’ ran through many of our heads.
However, the Penguins survived and a shootout ensued.
Conklin was huge. Kris Letang scored yet another shootout goal.
And then Crosby finished it off.
Chris | PPT