Tuesday’s game was everything that the NHL should be trying to showcase if it truly wants the game to grow. Of course, every game can not possibly be that spirited, tense and angry. Still, the fact that any game could turn that viscious is what separates NHL Hockey from every other sport. It’s a level of catharsis that baseball and basketball never reach and that football only rarely touches. A casual fan might get a mild buzz from the recent 6-5 Isalnders/Pens Nintendo game, but it is impossible not to take sides when Cam Jansenns strides to the edge of the bench and, with eyes as calm and violent as a mako shark’s, screams, “Your next! I’m gonna’ fucking kill you!” to the Rag$’ goalie. Avery is a either a thug or a hero; Janssens a gunslinger or a psychopath. No one watching that could be neutral and most people in the building, being partisans to begin with, had their senses sharpened to the slicing point by alcohol and hatred. The atmosphere through the TV was electric — and the fights in the stands were likely classics too.
The game was past the boiling point when the brawl happened. Now (Casual Fan) you care; every moment is vital because it is potentially decisive. With so much invested already losing is beyond awful. Tense. Agonizing. Thrilling. Infuriating. Both teams, literally and figuratively, took and gave hits in that game. Missing their two most talented offensive players the Devils became unable to mount much of an attach in the middle of the second period. Even before the brawl it seemed like they were becoming half a step slow. Janssens even lost his third period fight. This Devils team, more than any other, can take a punch. At its very best a hockey game is about the refusal to die. Stay alive for enough time, and the long odds might work in your favor. Parise’s GWG had elements of skill and luck, but it only mattered becuase as a team the Devils refused to lose and couldn’t be beaten.
No red line, tag-up offsides, no-line-change after an icing, penalty for shooting the puck in the stands are great. Those changes likely made yesterday’s classic more exciting than it would have been. The “obstructon” crack down has some benefits, but it has come at too much of a cost of grit, determination, and (non-cheap) violence and yes fighting. By letting the play stay chippy but even yesterday the refs let a true hockey game break out instead of a numb skills competition.
Somewhere, a bored 14-year old happened on that game surfing through the stations, got drawn in and became a fan. Some dude dragged his girl to her first game and now she’s a fan too. As a longtime fan, I could care less about the next Isles/Pens game, but I am counting down the minutes to the Devils/Rag$ rematch at MSG. I am certain that there are several mew fans that are waiting with me. More games like that and the NHL will grow; no more games like that and it will die.
Personally, I could care less about the final score so long as Cam Janssens pounds Avery’s face until it resembles a bruised tomato.