So here we are. Sixty-four skaters down to the Final Four in this wacky, bizarre tournament. It’s amazing how a simple game of “posts” across one end of the rink can create so much controversy and drama, laughter and hilarity, scorn and ridicule.
We’ve seen torn relationships, hair-style contests, aliens, octopus tosses, a RAM truck plowing a Mule (Johan Franzen), alleged bionic men (Nicklas Lidstrom), trash-talk galore (Claude Giroux), and the epic fall of a macho man who unraveled into a doll-playing sissy (Patrick Kane).
The chaos exceeds our expectations every waking minute – even now, as we place our tournament director onto a stretcher and wheel him out of the rink.
Oh, yeah, he fainted. At first, we thought Steven Stamkos’ lingering stench provided a rare form of anesthesia. (Remember: It knocked out Zdeno Chara.)
But Stamkos wasn’t the issue. The problem behind the tournament director’s faint? A lack of sleep. Thirty-nine straight hours without a wink. He was announcing our illustrious Final Four, then dropped the microphone and dropped himself head-first onto the ice. It wasn’t pretty, although Claude Giroux found it funny and started talking trash (“Who is this guy? Keira Knightley in Pirates of the Caribbean?”).
Giroux’s insensitivity drew the ire of Evgeni Malkin, who was still feeling tough after his Elite Eight fight with Henrik Zetterberg. Giroux and Malkin nearly came to blows, but Nicklas Lidstrom stretched both arms and simultaneously covered their lips.
“Told ya: Lidstrom ain’t human,” Ilya Kovalchuk said from the press box.
Maybe he’s not. Or maybe Kovalchuk is still stinging from his Elite Eight loss to Lidstrom and wants to stir controversy. Who knows.
Anyway, back to our tournament director. He unveiled a shocking revelation when lifted into the ambulance.
“Someone … wants … to … kill … me …,” he grumbled underneath several bandages.
A death threat? That’s been keeping him awake?
God help us.
We thought those dark and heavy bags underneath his eyes were from the infamous Milan Lucic beating. But, no. Someone threatened his life.
Hey, we’ll move on with the tournament as he rides to the hospital (escorted by police).
But in the meantime, we’ll notify authorities and let them investigate the death threat. We have our suspicions it’s Phil Kessel, who’s on the loose and maybe preparing for another strike.
Let’s hope not. He’s sick and twisted and already inflicted damage several ways.
To rehash: Kessel caused a three-day delay in the Sweet 16 by pulling our generators to melt the ice; he stole Patrice Bergeron’s equipment which eventually led to Bergeron’s bipolar relapse; then Kessel caused a one-man-for-himself riot during the Zetterberg-Malkin game with one evil act: He placed the Conn Smythe trophy between the former winners of the award, then slipped out of the rink á la Keyser Soze and hopped into a car driven by Lucic.
They escaped without a trace, and a massive manhunt has unfolded ever since.
We waited 80 hours to play the second day of the Elite Eight – a delay tactic to try and capture Kessel, but that didn’t work.
It’s been seven days now since Angry Phil was last seen with that smug smirk. He had to be on the other end of the phone when threatening our tournament director. Had to be. So we’ll increase the police force surrounding the building and hire a few sound technicians to monitor the phone lines.
The pressure is mounting – for us, for skaters, for everyone involved with this wacky tournament as the Final Four begins.
No. 1 Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh vs. No. 12 Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit
Breakdown: This game is played in an empty arena for legitimate reasons: 1, The malicious riot during the Zetterberg-Malkin match-up broke 19,457 of the available 20,000 seats; thus, we had to use another facility. 2, Wings-Penguins match-ups now require one police officer per person, and we simply do not have the manpower for a 1-to-1 ratio; 3, Any patrons who could have attended under the short notice (caused by our logistics issues) were likely scared away by the 17 cop cars outside the rink.
Anyway, we start the game with Lidstrom, Malkin, three camera men, no tournament director, 13 media members and eight tournament officials whom we better not name for safety purposes.
We nearly canceled this game, knowing that somewhere blood is spilling on the streets. Remember: Wings-Penguins battles always entail hostility. They each hoisted the Silver Chalice on the enemy’s rink. That’s like someone walking into your house and slapping your mother in the face. It’s unforgivable. The ill will lasts forever.
Anyway, the first period starts and Malkin grows frustrated with his inability to dangle the elderly Lidstrom. It may be surprising to some, but remember, Lidstrom knows Russians well. Five of them were his teammates in the mid-’90s. He’s practiced against creativity (Igor Larionov), blazing speed (Sergei Fedorov), wisdom (Slava Fetisov), brutality (Vladimir Konstantinov) and shifty abilities (Slava Kozlov).
Everything Malkin possesses already has been seen.
Then again, it is a little peculiar that Malkin has zero shots through the opening period. It makes you wonder about Kovalchuk’s claims. He continues to stir controversy during a first-intermission interview with NHL Network and calls Lidstrom “The Six Million Dollar Man.”
He’s not talking about money. He’s referring to the 1970s TV show with The Bionic Man, Steve Austin.
“They’re cousins,” Kovalchuk says.
Anyway, the second period begins and Lidstrom slips past Malkin, shoots and misses everything. If there was a crowd, they would’ve oohed and ahhed. Instead, the sigh of relief from Malkin echoes across the ice, which turns into a tomahawk-stick-slamming echo as he ends the second period with zero shots.
Then came intermission.
Then came a shocking development.
There was Lidstrom, sitting at his locker stall as he removed his helmet, then his gloves, then his elbow pad, then …
“Told ya: Lidstrom isn’t human,” Kovalchuk says behind a secret spy cam.
Well, that explains everything.
That explains Lidstrom’s simultaneous lip-shut move during the Final Four ceremony. It explains his ability to shut down forwards without using body contact. It explains his 20:1 vision. And his refusal to be annoyed by the bickering between Phil Kessel and coach Ron Wilson during round two (“They name streets after you, Phil: They’re called ONE WAY!”)
Lidstrom takes the ice for the third period, despite our Bionic Man discovery. The eight tournament officials don’t know if this affects Lidstrom’s eligibility. By rule, they have to present evidence to the tournament director, and he’s not in the proper state of mind to make a rational decision. (Plus, Kovalchuk may have fudged with the video. Who knows.)
Anyway, Lidstrom manages to hold Malkin without a shot through the entire third period as the clock ticks toward overtime.
Malkin makes a move in the final minute, but Lidstrom steals the puck, cycles to check-up at the blue line, then circles in patience, waiting and waiting to strike.
He fakes right, shifts left, winds-up and uncorks a shot that drills the post with 7.2 seconds remaining.
Malkin drops to his knees in disappointment.
Kovalchuk slams his fist in anger.
Lidstrom, meanwhile, just peers through his half-shield, looks at the 1-0 result and nods in approval.
That’s his fourth game-winner of this tournament with 7.2 seconds left. Out of pure curiosity (and constant nagging from Kovalchuk), our control room reviewed each game winner and broke down the clock into ten-thousandths of a second.
All four times, the clock read 7.2197.
Good thing our tournament director isn’t here, he would faint again.
No. 1 Claude Giroux, Philadelphia vs. No. 1 Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay
Breakdown: The Elite Eight mentioned Giroux’s tenacious work habits: He spends countless hours performing exhausting research for trash-talking.
This time, he stumbles upon a youtube clip featuring Stamkos on Entertainment Tonight Canada. It aired in August 2008 after Stamkos inked a lucrative deal as the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft.
But the ET exclusive was more fitting for a model, not a grizzled hockey player.
The studio host touted Stamkos as “the next Sidney Crosby.” And then Stamkos went on to say “there’s definitely been times in the past, where … maybe I’ve checked myself out in the mirror.”
What’s with Giroux’s opponents? Patrick Kane loved dolls. Now Stamkos loves mirrors?
They say the “stars have to align” for a championship run.
Well, the sissies have aligned for Giroux’s championship run. Destiny is clearly on his side.
What was perceived as a heavyweight match-up between No.1 seeds turns sour in the opening minute when Giroux drills Stamkos into the bench, á la Kyle Quincey.
It’s the start of a horrific night for Stamkos. And you gotta remember who he’s dealing with: Dick Vitale, plus Snooki, plus 25 Red Bulls, all wrapped into one skater named Claude Giroux. His trash talk will drive you nuts.
Giroux rips the “next Sidney Crosby” label that ET Canada bestowed on Stamkos (“More like the next pretty boy.”) Then he rips Stamkos’s Scottish descent (“The bagpipes will play a sad legato after this one.”)
And then, in perfect Giroux fashion, he cohesively meshes the Sidney Crosby and Scottish labels into one perfect insult (“Did ET buy you one of those skirts, Cindy?”).
The last insult gets under the skin of Stamkos, who slumps into the locker room behind 5-0.
Oh, speaking of skin, Stamkos starts scratching his forearms, his back, his legs, his entire body. Remember, he hasn’t washed his equipment since laundry partner Steve Downie was traded on Feb. 21. Ever since, he’s carried the stench of Ben & Jerry’s Smores ice cream and those Lays Ketchup chips.
It helped him in the opening round (it placed Brad Richards into a haze en route to a 13-1 laugher).
Now Stamkos scratches himself everywhere as his face breaks out in hives. He looks like Chris Elliott’s character in There’s Something About Mary.
But this isn’t a love bug. This is a massive staph infection, 50 days’ worth of unwashed equipment. It may have knocked out Chara in the second round, but now it’s getting the better of Stamkos, who forfeits and calls an ambulance.
Of course, Giroux isn’t sympathetic. He walks along the stretcher of Stamkos, who is turning yellow as he’s wheeled toward the ambulance.
(“You’re turning yellow. And you’re Scottish. You know what that means? You look like Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons!”)