Monday, May 14, 2007

The Spirit of 'New' NHL being perfectly exemplified by the Senators and the Sabres in this thrilling semi-final series of theirs. It's been a beautiful thing to watch.

BUFFALO -- It could stand as an 84-minute 58-second argument in favour of what has become known as the "new" National Hockey League.

It was a game dramatically sent into overtime by the local heroes with six seconds left in regulation time. It was decided, in favour of the visiting Ottawa Senators, on a rifle-like skip shot from the point that could not have been stopped by a Zamboni.

It featured two of the most talented teams in the league and undoubtedly the two quickest in a sport that finally woke up to the fact it was putting its fans to sleep. In rewarding speed over impediment and skill over obstruction, this NHL playoff game produced a work of sports art that offered the shock and soaring hope of lightning-quick transition, the breathtaking beauty of puck control and, from time to time, the utter chaos and randomness that separates the Canadian game from those far more familiar to American sports fans.

Pucks hit posts; goaltenders (and Ottawa forward Oleg Saprykin) made impossible saves; defencemen blocked shots; and skaters named Daniel (the Buffalo Sabres' Brière and Ottawa's Alfredsson) showed the magic that is usually found only in the imaginations of the very young.

The Sabres, having played last Thursday as if several players had skipped the morning skate to go over the falls in a barrel, came out as was required on Saturday, swirling all over the ice and pressing so hard that two of the first five shots went in - with a third goal cancelled by video replay that showed the puck going in off a player's glove.

The Senators fully expected this early charge by the Sabres - Buffalo has won but once in 14 tries now after losing the first game of a series - and they simply waited, and prayed. Sure enough, Ottawa's captain, Alfredsson, came through with a pretty goal off the rush to make the score 2-1 after a remarkable period of hockey.

In the second period, the Sabres sputtered and the Senators slowly took control, moving ahead 3-2 on a 5-on-3 power play in the final minute of the period - only to have little Brière tie everything up with less time on the clock than it takes a nervous Ottawa fan to wince.

It was a game in which a dozen penalties were called, only two of which would have been merited mention in the hook-and-hold days before the owners' lockout.

But if this is the price of a lost year of NHL hockey, it is well worth it.
Hopefully this showcase for the "New NHL" will translate into more interest from the sports fans of America. However, since it's being shown on Versus and the ratings so far have been minuscule, I have my doubts. Imagine what a impact this series might've had if it was on ESPN?

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