Friday, December 24, 2010

GTOPG: Pens Win; Steelers Win; We All Sleep In

By Artistry

I met GTOG contributor Poise Thursday evening at a restaurant down the street from Verizon Center. I wedged my way through about 200 Caps fans - and you know they're Caps fans because, say what you will about them, they all rock the red - and made my way toward his location at the end of the bar. He had a beer waiting for me. "Bring it in," he said, and we clinked glasses. "Big night."

"Huge," I agreed.

And I don't remember much after that. Just kidding. Sort of. I usually don't care for going to games at Verizon, because Penguin fans tend to become targets of hostility in a way that we really aren't in most places. A couple of seasons ago, an elderly woman sitting in the seat next to my uncle - a longtime Caps fan and season ticket holder - told him that she really wished he'd left me at home and found his Pittsburgh ties both regrettable and nauseating. She wasn't kidding even a little bit. And old ladies tend to like me. Last night, though, was different. We had some other Penguins' fans sitting behind us, three guys down in the lower level were wearing bright yellow shirts spelling out the word "M-A-X," and there was something in the air, something aside from the pungent aroma of the sauce on Bruce Boudreau's chin. I think it was fear.

Much like seasoned farm animals, Caps fans could sense that a storm was coming. They didn't know where it was coming from, but instinct told them some force of nature would again deny them a pleasurable HBO 24/7 viewing experience. And on this night, Marc-Andre Fleury brought the thunder. From the first minute of the game, Flower was clearly feeling it. Poise and I just looked at each other and nodded. "He's on tonight," I said. He had to be, because the Caps kept getting 5-on-3 power plays. And as much as we mock them, there is really nothing more frightening in the context of an NHL game than the Capitals with a two-man advantage. After the Pens killed the first one, we had a perfect view of another patented Sidney Crosby deflection, one where he directed the puck into the net from a position at least five feet to the right of the cage. Picture the scene: Shouts from the pockets of black and gold dotting the red arena tapestry. Fist bumps with the people behind us. And an irrepressible, stunning realization spreading over the faces of the Capitals' faithful: "He's the best player in the league. Not our guy. Him. Why, God? Why? I praise you 24/7!!! And this how you do me!!!" OK, that last part was a tweet by Stevie Johnson, but I'm telling you, Caps fans were stunned.

When Mike Green finally broke through on yet another 5-on-3 caused by Matt Cooke's attempt to clear the puck out of the entire arena (Poise and I had him at a .4 on the Bylsma 5-point rating scale), Orange Scooter looked to the heavens as if some great weight had been lifted. Note to Mike Green: act like you've been there before. Wait, that's right, you haven't. But with nearly five minutes of power play time on a 5-on-3, you'd better get one goal. The way Fleury was playing, everyone in that arena had a feeling it wouldn't be enough.  The Caps were outshooting the Pens' something like 22-11 by that point, and you knew what Bylsma was saying to the boys in the locker room between periods. "Fourteen, how you feeling? Good. Because you're f---ing going. Grind these b------ down."

Like 17 seconds into the third, bang, Hands of Ivory Dishwashing Liquid.  The game was over until Gogo and Tanger got burned while working on a late game power play - inexcusable - and Mike Knuble snuck one through Fleury's pads on a breakaway.  At that point, it was our turn to be stunned.  I don't think Poise and I looked at each other or spoke until the end of regulation.

Then, in overtime...

Look at Green's reaction. After that save, I sure liked our chances in the shootout.  Even after Bylsma sent Geno Malkin out as the third shooter.  I feel nothing but genuine disappointment when Geno takes a penalty shot - I'm always lamenting the fact that we didn't just get a power play instead - so I'm not sure why it's ever a good idea to voluntarily put him out there.  Didn't matter.

After the game, I bounded out onto F street and joined about 100 Pens fans standing on some museum steps, chanting "Let's Go Pens" and "Crosby, MVP" as Caps' fans streamed down into the metro station.  I checked the clock. Still time for the second half of the Steeler game.

By the time I got home, hell had already pretty much been unleashed on the poor Carolina Panthers, and after the adrenaline rush of the Penguins' game, it was like watching a bad college bowl game. The Steelers did what they had to do, and now, assuming the Ravens take care of business against Cleveland Sunday, they have 10 days to prepare for a dangerous Browns team standing in the way of a two-seed and the chance to get Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith healthy. I couldn't help but think though, after watching Jeremy the Punter give Jimmy Clausen the ball at the 24-yard line after a net 20-yard punt, that we're going to need to play close to perfect defense to overcome clear deficiencies on special teams and the offensive line.  Then I stopped worrying about it.  It was, you see, a pretty good night. Happy Holidays. GTOG.

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