If you are a hockey fan, then you will know what I mean when I say it has felt like forever since HBO premiered their 24/7 special on the Penguins/Capitals. If you don't get HBO, you better find somebody that does. If you can't do that, I suggest you invest good money in a Slingbox or watch it online, because this is a series that is not to be missed.
The week-long wait was worth itm because the second installment aired tonight and continued just where it left off. If you thought the hype leading up to the series and the reviews from episode one were great, I can only imagine what the response will be once this is eventually over. It's wonderful to have this kind of full-blown access into the sport we love, but at the same time it is a little disappointing that there will only be four episodes to see.
As a hockey fan I am left craving more, but for now let's take a look at the top 10 highlights of episode two.
As a hockey fan it is normal to see a player's face banged up. However, when it is in an ultra-close up on HD television, we get a whole new perspective of what these guys go through. The episode opened with Maxime Talbot's road warrior face bruised and battered.
Next up was Matt Hendrick's black and bloody eye from a fight in the previous game. If you didn't know, he was a hockey player, you'd wonder whether or not he was going to be pressing charges.
The sobering part is the way he told the story behind his fights. It wasn't too long ago that he was a fringe player and realized that his best chance to stay on an NHL roster was to become a fighter.
It's easy to think of these players as glamor stars living the good life. Of course this is true on a macro level, but on a day-to-day basis during the season these guys grind it out week after week.
One of the themes that has quickly become apparent is the travel. Hop on a plane, get some treatment, lace 'em up and battle it out. Pack it up, hop on a plane and do it all over again. Day after day, month after month.
If anyone had any illusions about the rigors of the game before this series, it will surely be dissolved by now. These guys work for a living. This isn't your back-alley shinny hockey.
Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee spoke rather candidly in this episode. There has been a lot of pressure building on this team over the last couple weeks, as they lost game after game. Some were even calling for Bruce Boudreau's head.
George made it clear that his philosophy to a slump like this is to take a laissez-faire approach. He didn't make snap changes after their first round upset last season and he's not about to do anything drastic now. It's important for teams to work through things like this, and he didn't mince any words.
He even took it one step further to take a shot at the so-called pundits in the media by claiming, "if they knew anything about the game, they would be in the game."
Many people were wondering about Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux after the series premiere.
Where was he and why wasn't he on screen?
We still don't have an answer to that question, nor did we see him on camera discussing anything. What we did see however was his first participation in a scrimmage game in five years. He flashed some of his famous stick moves and gave us a small reminder of his historic brilliance on the ice.
Not many networks put on a production like HBO, and they continued to keep things balanced with more than enough humor sprinkled throughout the show.
One of the funnier moments was when the trainers showcased how they maintain the odor of a locker room. Gear was dried and huge power fans were left on overnight to combat the smell. Unfortunately, even professional hockey organizations haven't figured out how to get the stench out of the gear either.
Matt Cooke was up to his old tricks again with some more pranks. Bubble gum shoved right up into the fingers of gloves was a good tactic because according to him, "it's the last thing they put on before they go on the ice."
But perhaps the most funniest sights to behold was Capitals defenseman Mike Green riding to the arena on his moped...with Louis Vuitton gloves.
Only a hockey player...
Before this series started, there were a lot of critics and fans out there who thought that this series would be nothing more than an Ovechkin/Crosby lovefest. On one hand I can agree with them. Both are featured prominently, but you never get the feel that the show is about them. They are weaved in pretty seamlessly as key cogs of a larger machine.
In this episode we get a backstage view of Ovechkin at home with his parents as he proudly packs his PS3 for the road trip. Later on we see him in a pretty funny moment as one of the trainers rubs out some soreness in his hamstring. You'll need to see it for yourself because I can't do it justice in print.
On the other side of the coin, we have Sid the kid. If you've heard stories about his superstitions like I have, nothing you read or hear will compare to what was shown on this episode. The guy takes a different route through the arena just to make sure he doesn't pass the opponent's dressing room.
He eats the same thing every game day and continues to wear the same jock strap that he's had for years. If it sounds disgusting, wait until you see it on screen. Nasty doesn't begin to describe how bad it was. Pittsburgh fans will also want to hear the story behind how he and Malkin decided who would come out onto the ice last before a game.
Early in the episode, Crosby gave us the inside scoop on his fight earlier in the year too. Pretty funny stuff coming from the latest member to the featherweight fight club.
If there was one dominant theme that came out of the premiere, it was the contrasting storylines for each respective club. Pittsburgh were on a long winning streak while Washington was in the middle of a losing streak.
Both came to an end over the last week and HBO did a great job narrating each transition. The interesting part of this was how both teams responded.
After Pittsburgh lost to Philadelphia, no one really blinked an eye. Even after its next loss, no one on the team looked down. It's hard to blame them given how well the Pens have played, but it didn't take long for them to right the ship and get back in the win column.
On the other side though, the final shot of the episode was the sheer delirium expressed by the Capitals players in the locker room after they finally won a game. One player even said to "pop the bubbly" to mark the occasion. It might have also been the first time there were some genuine smiles from the team since the series started.
HBO poignantly captured the agony of losing leading up to the win, and if anybody wondered whether these guys cared about the final result, wonder no more.
The access that HBO is affording us continues to be eye-opening. I'm still shocked at how much the organizations and the league have agreed to show us.
You name it, we get to see it. Whether it is on the plane, in the hotels, at dinner on the road or at some of their homes, we get access.
However, in this episode one moment really stood out. During one of the games, the cameras treated us to a mic'd up play-by-play of another fight. We saw this in the first episode, but instead of hearing what the players are saying, this time we hear referee Stephan Walkom. He carefully orchestrates the scene to allow the players to get it on.
Afterwards, we see the referees and linesmen talking about the game in their own little locker room. This is a sight most of us have never seen, and it was funny to see them talking so candidly and saluting each other with Red Bulls.
I finished off my first 24/7 list with Bruce Boudreau, and it's only fitting that he tops the list once again. However, this time it isn't really for his profanity, although there was a lot of that too.
In another locker room speech he only dropped 7 more F-bombs, but he did it in a 23-second span. Therefore, he's still keeping up his one per three-second average.
On a more serious note, coach Boudreau was dealing with much more important subject matter this past week. A lot of people were calling for him to get fired, and we got to see him do some hands-on coaching. It's easy to coach a winning team, but when your team is on a nine-game losing streak, a coach needs to coach.
He changed up his tune this week as he used a much more selective approach. Gone were the angry rants in favor of a more positive and encouraging attitude. The players responded with some hard-fought games...and eventually a win.
Both of these teams square off on Thursday, so next week's episode is sure to be another installment of must-see-TV.
We can hardly wait...