Well, it’s here. The final game. To reach this point took much longer than we expected – but we also didn’t expect death threats, melted ice rinks, arena-filled riots, and an ongoing manhunt for someone who doesn’t act like a man.
Yes, Phil Kessel wreaked havoc on our tournament plans, even two days ago, when he called the locker room in our host rink, Joe Louis Arena.
It reminded us of John Malkovich’s character from In the Line of Fire. Kessel made references to “stolen equipment” and “melting the ice,” then followed up with yet another life-threatening “promise” for our tournament director.
Our forensic audio specialists tracked the call to a hotel five blocks away from The Joe. We busted inside room No. 81 on the 13th floor and didn’t find him. But we did find the following: A Patrice Bergeron jersey; a composite, hard-plastic pistol; bullets; a picture of coach Ron Wilson with red eyes, red horns and a giant X across his face; and a note saying, “I got your back – your boy, Milan.”
We knew Kessel was within striking distance. The room still reeked from his nasty stench.
Sure enough, we peered outside the window and spotted a stocky figure walking toward the Detroit River.
We immediately notified authorities on the street.
And pure chaos unfolded.
“THERE HE IS!”
Kessel caught sight of the police and bolted in fear. He sprinted into traffic, causing quite a scene: Policeman hopping over cars. Kessel knocking over women and children. Policemen pulling out guns and threatening to shoot. Innocent bystanders taking cover and fearing for their lives.
And then it ended with yet another escape by Kessel, who ran along cars in traffic to create a diversion.
Dammit, Kessel is elusive. But what do you expect? He tricked Claude Julien and Patrice Bergeron at the conclusion of their Sweet 16 victory, then escaped in a car driven by Milan Lucic like it was a scene from The Usual Suspects.
And now this.
(Sigh.) We’re chasing the wind.
But, hey: We’re not letting a sadistic fool ruin our precious tournament. We’ve had too much fun, from The Pretty Boy contest (Patrick Kane vs. James Neal), to the re-enactment of Youngblood (Zdeno Chara pounding Max Pacioretty), to Alexander Ovechkin running an Austin Powers cart smack-dab into a wall.
We’re ready to go, even our tournament director, whose face resembles Kris Draper’s from the 1996 boarding incident delivered by Claude Lemieux.
We roll out the red carpet (and check it for anthrax), as Nicklas Lidstrom and Claude Giroux take off their helmets and ready for the national anthem.
Let’s get on with it – and peer over both shoulders for you-know-who.
THE ALL-PUCK FINAL
No. 1 Claude Giroux, Philadelphia vs. No. 12 Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit
Breakdown: Lidstrom’s Final Four victory unveiled a starting revelation: He’s a bionic man.
A jealous Ilya Kovalchuk placed a spy camera inside Lidstrom’s locker stall and caught the Wings captain removing both arms during the second intermission.
This discovery explains Lidstrom’s storied career, from his ability to shut down forwards without using body contact, to his 20:1 vision, to his sixth-sense ability to see plays before they develop.
Kovalchuk wanted Lidstrom expelled for his bionic nature. But we dug through every act, code, section and rule of our tournament bylaws, and there’s no language stating a resolution for bionic men.
Therefore, Lidstrom – flesh, blood, bones and bionic parts – is allowed to continue.
“This is ludicrous,” Kovalchuk says as he slams his fist in anger.
Yeah, well, whatever, Ilya.
None of this will faze Claude Giroux, anyway. He fears nobody, as evidenced by his disrespectful trash-talk to opponents.
Remember: Giroux is like Dick Vitale, plus Snooki, plus 25 Red Bulls, all wrapped into one skater. He’ll drive you nuts.
Just ask Thomas Vanek, whose dog, Diesel, was the ridicule of Giroux’s rants (“Why not name it gasoline?”). Or ask Patrick Kane, whose childhood doll playing was exposed to the masses of men (“Hey Ken, where’s Barbie?”)
So you can only imagine how Giroux begins the first period: Attacking Lidstrom’s bionic persona (“Hey, R2-D2, you play like Princess Leia!”)
Lidstrom, however, uses his voice-translating switch and translates Giroux’s words (“Hey C-3PO, time to meet Darth Giroux!) into a sweet-symphony melody that only he can hear.
The game stays scoreless through the entire first period as Lidstrom views Giroux in three dimensions, breaking down all possible angles Giroux can attack.
Then intermission struck, and things got strange.
Our tournament director continuously stared into the Joe Louis Arena rafters during the entire 10-minute break. He continued to stare when the second period started. He wasn’t even watching the game. Nor was he listening to Giroux’s trash talking (“Hey, Nickelodeon. You play like a preschooler!”)
No, our tournament director just gazed toward the rafters. The eight tournament officials initially thought nothing of it. After all, the tournament director’s posture these days is strange. His neck is in a brace, an odd effect from the Milan Lucic beating, plus the face-plant faint during the Final Four ceremony.
So we thought his upward stare was normal.
But no, the director was on to something. And as the seconds passed, his eyes widened in horror while viewing the catwalk high above the ice surface. He thought his mind was playing tricks on him. He hoped this was just another crazy-fan incident, kind of like the time he had to evacuate a full section of fans during the Wings-Kings game in January of 2010.
No such luck this time. His horrific stare was genuine. The guy along the catwalk had blonde hair and an evil glare, a guy who single-handily delayed this tournament with a downward pull of a generator switch.
The guy was Philip Joseph Kessel Jr.
How did he get inside? We surrounded the building with 27 cop cars and seven K-9 units, thinking we had the operation covered, but he must’ve hopped along the rooftops of adjacent buildings and eluded our brain-trust.
Shame on us for not hiring helicopters and snipers.
And shame on us for not securing the ventilation system, because that was his method of entrance. He must think he’s Bruce Willis or something.
Meanwhile, on the ice, Giroux and Lidstrom continue to battle in the second period.
Giroux slips past Lidstrom – but he extends his bionic left arm and steals the puck in one motion.
“This is ludicrous,” Kovalchuk says as he slams his fist in anger.
Lidstrom then slips past Giroux, but misses the net, and the game heads into the final period scoreless. (“Hey, Watson: It’s Final Jeopardy time!” barks Giroux.)
Kessel, meanwhile, slithers his way through the stadium like a rat in a maze, then sneaks into Lidstrom’s locker room.
This isn’t good, because the reasoning behind Kessel’s rebellious nature centers around Lidstrom.
Remember the 2011 All-Star game? Lidstrom was a team captain in the 18-round fantasy draft and passed Kessel repeatedly. He finally selected the Maple Leafs’ sniper dead last – but only because he had no other options. Heck, he wouldn’t even announce the pick.
Kessel held the anger and embarrassment on his mind upon meeting Lidstrom again in the Sweet 16 of this tournament. But the negative energy engulfed Kessel, whose history of clashing with coaches occurred yet again when he bickered back-and-forth with Wilson (“You’re useless, Phil!” … “Screw you, coach!”)
So now Kessel is really out to get Lidstrom. He sets a Gatorade inside Lidstrom’s locker stall – but this isn’t just a Gatorade, it’s a form of kryptonite for bionic men.
Lidstrom returns in the intermission, takes a sip of the spiked Gatorade, then heads onto the ice.
Everything is fine at first, but then Lidstrom’s 3-D vision breaks down. Then his bionic reach. Then, with 8:07 elapsed, his mind-reading button sputters.
Giroux blazes past him and rings a shot off the post for a 1-0 lead.
Now just 1:53 remains, and Lidstrom’s vision begins to fade in and fade out like an old black-and-white TV. Is this the end of his storied tournament? His Cinderella-like run? Or will he rise in the clutch again?
Four times in five tournament games, Lidstrom drilled a shot off the post with 7.2197 seconds remaining.
And here he comes again, still hanging on for dear life, a chance to ring another dramatic shot off the post.
He circles and patiently waits to strike.
Twenty-one seconds. Twenty seconds …
He thrived during this situation in the first round against Sidney Crosby, which, of course, forced Sid the Kid to leave the ice in disgust and surpass the game-ending handshake.
Nineteen seconds. Eighteen seconds …
Lidstrom thrived during this situation against Michael Ryder in the second round – which, of course, was aided by the octopus-toss from Red Wings teammate Dan Cleary.
Seventeen seconds. Sixteen seconds …
He thrived during this situation against Kovalchuk, which,of course, brought forth the allegations of his bionic nature.
Fifteen seconds. Fourteen seconds …
And he thrived during this situation in the Final Four victory against Evgeni Malkin, the conclusion of a hotly-contested match-up in front of an empty arena (for safety purposes after Kessel spurred a riot with the Conn Smythe trophy placement).
Thirteen seconds. Twelve seconds …
Can Nick do it again?
Eleven seconds …
Lidstrom fakes right.
Ten seconds …
Lidstrom shifts left.
Nine seconds …
Lidstrom winds up.
Eight seconds …
And … Lidstrom fans on the shot.
The damn kryptonite caused a malfunction.
The clock hits triple zero, and Giroux throws his gloves into the air celebrating the first documented All-Puck Tournament Title.
And of course, he isn’t sympathetic for Lidstrom’s defeat. (“Hey, Johnny Five: You ain’t no hero!”)
So that’s it.
We unroll the red carpet (and check it for anthrax again), and present the trophy to Giroux.
Our tournament director struggles to lift the 35-pound silver chalice with his stiff neck, stiff arms, and well, stiff legs.
But just as he’s raising the Cup …
“HE’S GOT A GUN!”
There was Kessel, the look of a deranged psychotic, his hair frazzled, his eyes crossed like Gomer Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. He holds a gun and aims it toward the midsection of our tournament director.
Giroux, usually a trash-talking tough guy, runs away and squeals like a 7-year-old girl (“Don’t kill me, Mr. Kessel!”)
Kovalchuk, who we allowed to participate in the championship ceremony for black mail purposes (this dates back to the spy-cam controversy), decides to bail as well.
The tournament director, meanwhile, is frozen stiff.
Kessel, with nothing but evil on his mind, slowly drools as he begins to talk.
“I keep my promises,” he growls. “First you, then Wilson.”
Kessel snarls at the tournament director and slowly pulls back his trigger finger. The bullets fly through the air as people cover their eyes.
Lidstrom, however, isn’t one of those in fear, and takes matters into his own hands as he leaps from the blue line, all the way to the center-ice circle where the tournament director stands in horror.
Lidstrom dives in front of the gunshots à la Clint Eastwood from In the Line of Fire, absorbing two bullets with his bionic, bullet-proof stomach.
Kessel’s eyes uncross in disbelief. He drops the gun and tries to escape for the umpteenth time during this tournament.
He runs across the ice, but slips and knocks himself silly, thus allowing authorities to detain him.
Lidstrom, meanwhile, just peers at the scene through his half shield, looks at the tournament director, then nods in approval.
Sixty-four skaters and 37 days of this wacky tournament could only end this way. What a finish.
And just think: It will continue next year.