Wednesday, June 21, 2006

No One Sits Tonight

[I meant to get this up yesterday, but I needed some recovery time from the celebration.]

The same message was posted all over the arena prior to the game: don't sit down.

The home team was clearly energized by an RBC Center crowd that was standing-room-only -- they never sat down the whole game long, another first in the New NHL. It was a season-ending, game-long standing ovation that had to be seen to be believed.

What an incredible atmosphere. When the scoreboard cut to a decibel meter at one point, it read 128.3. This was the only hockey game I've ever attended where the crowd energy has remained high from start to finish; there were absolutely no lulls, which was amazing. The noise and the "Let's go Canes!" chants were perpetual. It was hardly coincidence that the Hurricanes skated well from start to finish, and out-hit the Oilers by a wide margin.

We arrived at the RBC Center at about 5:30 and ended up parking next to some Pittsburgh Penguins fans, who I assumed must have been lost. It turned out they were there to pull for the Oilers, but since they were primarily Pittsburgh fans they had come decked out in Penguins gear. They didn't actually have tickets to the game; they came to tailgate (and pay $7 for parking, which Peter Karmanos appreciates) and watch the game on the big screen that the Hurricanes setup in front of the RBC Center.

There were Oilers fans all over the place: a group of 8-10 a few cars down:

And, over by a patch of trees, a huge contingent numbering well over 20:

The strange thing about these people? They are astonishingly nice. All of them. Every Oilers fan I talked to wished us good luck, and many said they were just hoping for a good game. Whatever ire I had for Edmonton evaporated after a few friendly conversations.

Oilers fans are such a contrast to the invading douchebag hordes from Buffalo that it's staggering.

Probably an hour after we arrived, a guy came over to tell us that Ron Francis was tailgating a row or two behind us. We started wandering in that direction and quickly spotted Ron standing next to an SUV, fending off phone call after phone call. He was kind enough to take a break from his cell phone and pose for a few pictures, so my night was pretty much made right there. I'd say we picked a good parking spot.

I managed to keep my nerves under control while waiting impatiently for the opening faceoff. For whatever reason, watching games on TV is always harder on me. Something about being there in person makes the situation feel more under control--if that makes any sense. At any rate, I didn't have to fret about which team would score the first goal for very long. Aaron Ward scored about 90 seconds in, on this shot:

Just the second time in the series that the Hurricanes scored the first goal. The play-from-behind thing has been this team's annoying tendency all year long (it's less painful than 2002's let-opponents-tie-game-in-last-two-minutes tendency, however), but it wouldn't be an issue this time.

The third period ended up being played as I feared it might be--with the ice tilted toward Carolina's end. The cheers started back up shortly after Pisani's goal, but there was some obvious apprehension in the building.

The clock whittled away slowly; I was trying not to stare at the scoreboard. (I felt like Milhouse in the opening scene of this Simpsons episode.) It never helps to watch the seconds tick away, and it's particularly useless when there's fifteen minutes left. 14:35...14:34...14:33... Why'd Edmonton have to score so early in the period?

There was a little more than a minute left when Edmonton won the faceoff in the above picture. Pronger couldn't find a shooting lane and decided to dump the puck into the corner. The Oilers wouldn't get a scoring chance out of it.

The Hurricanes quickly dug out the puck from behind the net, so quickly that the puck got to Eric Staal near the blue line before Chris Pronger had a chance to pinch. Pronger was outnumbered 2-to-1, and when Staal skipped the puck to an open Justin Williams, it was over. Staal began jumping up and down as Williams neared the other blue line. Pronger dove at Williams, but he had too much ground to make up. Williams put it in the empty net. The celebration began, 61 seconds still on the clock.

The rest of my game seven photos can be found here.

We went downtown after the game, which is where we ran into Barry Melrose. When we asked if we could get a picture, he said that would be fine as long as it was quick: he was on his way to get a beer. We were on our way home, else we might've gone to have a drink with him. I don't figure he had to pay for that drink, wherever it was that he ended up.