One of the biggest complaints that hockey critics have is that they like going to the rink, but can't stand to watch it on TV.
As a big hockey fan, I am reluctant to agree with such a statement. Hockey is hockey and I don't care if I'm watching it in person, on TV, minor league, beer league or a chewed up VHS tape of the movie Slap Shot.
But there is some truth to the critics' sentiment and it had to apply to tonight's game.
There's no way you can fully experience from a TV set all the sounds and the atmosphere that go with a playoff game at the Joe: The deafening throng of fans in red jerseys, the crash of bodies against the boards, the legendary voice of Budd Lynch, and the three blasts of the goal horn after hitting paydirt are best experienced in person.
Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay dropping the ceremonial first puck? Man, I wish I could have been there!
For those of us who have to settle for watching the game on TV, one-hundredth of the real drama was more than you could get on most days—even in the Finals.
These two teams went at each other as though their lives depended on it as I began to have visions of Game Seven against the Blues in 1996! You couldn't have asked for a better effort from both teams.
Many experts felt going into this game that Pittsburgh had the advantage with youth, speed, and a little more rest from their four-game sweep of Carolina.
What Detroit may not have had in youth and speed, they made up for with opportunistic play—especially on defense. A turnover in the defensive zone allowed the Wings to score first when a shot by Brad Stuart caromed off the end boards and off the back of Theo Fleury's leg.
Johann Franzen scored another goal for Detroit off Fleury's leg after shooting another carom off the end boards to make the score 2-1 in the last minute of the second period.
The defensive play of the game for Detroit had to be a shot that landed on Chris Osgood's back while he was sprawled out. Osgood wisely rolled away from the goal, while Henrik Zetterberg smothered him to prevent the puck from going across the goal line.
Pittsburgh's goal was similar to an old hockey joke: Osgood saves, but Fedotenko scores on the rebound. Evgeni Malkin made a shot on goal in the first that Osgood stopped but could not grab. An opportunistic Ruslan Fedotenko put the loose puck into the net before Osgood could recover.
If there was any lesson from this game it was this: Clear the puck. It made the difference in a game that was an otherwise-even matchup and at times may have favored the Penguins.
For both teams, there is no time to think about this game. In fact, I barely have enough time to write about it before the second game tomorrow.
What remains to be seen is whether experience and smarts can prevail over youth and athleticism three more times. I have a feeling it will take seven games to find out.