After so much playoff heartbreak, the Ottawa Senators are finally going to their first Stanley Cup final. Daniel Alfredsson scored the overtime winner, an innocent looking shot on a one on three rush. It somehow eluded Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who had been so terrific in games three through five.
It was fitting that Alfredsson would get the goal. He’s been the best player in the world since early March. He hasn’t just been generally great. He’s been the best performer on the ice every game, every shift. His go ahead assist in the second period yesterday was the stuff of legends. Alfredsson transformed an apparent slap shot into a perfect feed to Jason Spezza. It was like watching a hall of fame quarterback freeze everyone with a pump fake. While everyone is looking downfield, he dumps a pass out to his right and Spezza takes it in for the easy score. The perfect fake suckered in the defenders, Miller and most everyone watching.
As an Ottawa guy, it's difficult to put hockey allegiances aside. The great thing is, I don’t have to. The nature of our show allows me to be a fan. And I am.
I’ve covered this team from day one and wondered if they’d ever get here. Their new poise, resolve and confidence has been repeatedly tested in these playoffs and they aced the test each time.
The win came despite the worst officiated period of hockey one could imagine. The third period power play scoreboard read like this: Buffalo 5 Ottawa 0. It’s not that most of the calls against Ottawa weren’t penalties. It’s just that I counted a dozen other similar incidents in the period - on both sides – that went uncalled. Referees still seem paralysed in a world between the new rules and a deep instinct to “put the whistles away and let the players decide it.” The penalties are called so randomly you’d swear the league’s instruction is to ignore six infractions before calling a penalty. The decisions in the third couldn’t have been more one sided if the referees had money on Buffalo.
Speaking of decisions, a big kick in the face to both CBC and NBC this morning. CBC couldn’t wait to leave their hockey coverage to get to a freaking soccer game. The city of Ottawa is collectively weeping with joy and we get a four minute post game. Had it been the Leafs clinching the East, they wouldn’t cut away for anything. What? A nuclear war? It’ll have to wait. Mats is still thanking his mom and the fans back home.
But NBC provided the league with one of the most embarassing moments in NHL history. The league now has its version of the Heidi game. NBC completely bailed on their coverage after the third period. To cover the Preakness! And not the actual race. Oh, no. Preakness pre-game coverage. When Alfredsson scored the goal, there was still more than an hour left before the race. When the Sabres season was ending, NBC cut away from Preakness weather and track reports to show five minutes of baseball highlights. Dave Hodge wouldn't have just flipped his pen into the air, he would have sunk it into someone's throat.
Yeah, no problem. NBC told Americans to go watch the overtime on Versus. Only one fifth of the United States actually has Versus. And for those who do, there was a good chance they too could bail on overtime at any moment. Versus left a playoff game earlier this month to show an infomercial.
In Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals between the Dallas Stars and the Vancouver Canucks, Versus cut away during the third overtime intermission to show a paid infomercial in many markets. Some Versus viewers were left unable to see the fourth overtime in which Henrik Sedin scored the winning goal at 18:06 into the period.
So just so I’m clear. We here in Ottawa, part of the NHL’s deeply loyal customer base, had to give up a beautiful sunny afternoon, one of about 30 we get in a calendar year. We did so because NBC doesn't want to waste a prime time slot on crap programming like hockey. Yet no one watches hockey on NBC, the ratings always suck. And the few that were watching now probably hate the league for allowing this to happen.
Face it, Ottawa. We’re the girl next door that loves the NHL no matter how badly it treats us. The league only has eyes for the sexy chick down south who treats them like garbage.
Anyway, today is a day of celebration. Forget the negatives. Forget what lies ahead for now. It’s just a day to soak it all in and say, "Wow. They finally did it.". After all the flak I took for being so terribly mean with last week's video, the Buffalo Sabres parody, here's another one that goes entirely in the other direction to celebrate the best day ever...so far.