The buildup was perfect: A Stanley Cup rematch. Sidney Crosby. The Detroit Red Wings. Marian Hossa against his former teammates for the first time.
The execution was phenomenal: A huge third-period comeback. Overtime. Jordan Staal with a hat trick. And 13 goals.
Gary Bettman is going to wake up this morning, walk his dog, scour the Internet news reports and smile after reading how exciting the game was and how large the Versus television rating will probably be. Thanks to Versus' exclusivity rights, there was no other hockey game broadcast in the United States during the window, so for puckheads to get their fill, they needed to put up with three hours of hockey and Sports Soup commercials.
It sure beat last week's Versus' exclusive 7-0 pouncing by the Philadelphia Flyers over Atlanta Thrashers.
Throughout the game, I found myself more involved and on edge than I've ever been for a regular-season game, let alone one held in mid-November. The game's intensity level at times was playoff-esque, and the end reminded hockey fans of Max Talbot's late-game heroics in Game Five of the finals.
Aside from seeing 10 players have multiple point nights, Pittsburgh Penguins fans saw a glimpse of what Jordan Staal can bring to the National Hockey League. His second career hat trick in the third period completed the comeback; his defensive-mindedness in tracking his errant shot in overtime, stealing the puck from an unsuspecting Pavel Datsyuk, shows his prowess as a shutdown centerman.
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What does the outcome mean for both teams?
For the Penguins, it's a huge jump in confidence and breaks the barrier of any doubt in their minds when they fall behind; especially when they played with only five defensemen for majority of the game after Rob Scuderi left with a foot injury.
For the Red Wings, their inability to show up in big games so far this season proves, as George James Malik opines, that there's plenty of work to do:
It's time to get to work, and to get to work making sure that this superstar-laden team meets its own expectations by putting its inner artiste back in his cage and getting down to the business of winning regular season games in a measured, controlled, poised manner--in other words, by playing Red Wings hockey on a period-by-period, shift-by-shift basis.
Christy from Wingin' it in Motown summed up the game best for all Red Wings fans:
"Well, that sucked."
While it's unlikely the late collapse will have a long-term effect on the veteran-laden Red Wings, it's a game for Pittsburgh to build on as the Penguins continue to survive without their top two defensemen in Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar. Rookie blue-liner Alex Goligoski continued to impress by playing calmly and controlling the puck; the 23-year-old played with an air of confidence.
On the other hand, fellow defenseman Kris Letang had a rough night. His failure to knock the puck to the boards and instead to the slot led to Darren McCarty's goal, and Mikael Samuelsson's ability to draw Letang away from his mark allowed Jiri Hudler to slip in and set up Detroit's third goal by Johan Franzen.
What this game showed is that for all the talk of a Stanley Cup hangover for Pittsburgh , losing their top two defensemen and the effect of traveling to Sweden to open the season, the Penguins are still as solid a team as they were last June. There are plenty of issues still needing to be worked out (third-period collapses and over-passing, to name two), but as Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone have departed, Miroslav Satan and Jordan Staal seem to be stepping up their games to fill in the blanks.
For Detroit, their stoic defense could not hold a 3-1 or 6-4 lead. After Henrik Zetterberg's early power-play goal in the third period to make it 5-2, the game seemed all but done. When Jiri Hudler's shot trickled past Marc-Andre Fleury to make it 6-4 and stall Pittsburgh's comeback, the game seemed over then, too.
I know I was almost ready to flip on "On the Fly" at that point.
The final stats show Detroit's defense was a stunning minus-6 compared to Pittsburgh's plus-7. Nicklas Lidstrom and company found themselves out of positions more times than not, causing much more open ice for the Penguins:
"We started running around a little bit," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "Against a good team, especially with good forwards like that, you got to stop and be on the inside. Tonight we were chasing the puck a little too much, and that's when they found the open player."
Finally, because it's hump day, here's video of all 13 goals to help you through your Wednesday morning.