The simile of the NHL playoffs being like a rollercoaster, if clichéd, is at least true. What else can describe the feeling, or rather the cascade of feelings, a fan has as his or her team attempts to win four games before they lose four? Win the first game, and it’s up, up and away--momentum, that peculiarity of physics that somehow transcends the force, power and energy generated as metal cuts ice. It’s just like that slow ticking as your coaster mounts that first hill. At the beginning it is slow: you wait a day while the other half of the schedule unfolds, and the feeling is that there’s nowhere to go but up. Sometimes, rarely, this is true, and the team wins a second, a third and even a fourth consecutive game--the sweep: the most glorious of victories, or at least the quickest--but even then the latch must eventually release, if not in the first series, then surely the second. The more common occurrence is this: just when you think there is nowhere to go but up, you go down. The team loses. Momentum, again. The day off is painful. Nothing in your life matters, or, worse, everything else matters; you’ve given up hope.
But it’s too soon for that. In game three, your team loses again. Or wins. By now, there is no slow click; you are either riding high or plummeting to your death. The fulcrum is usually a power play, a shorthanded goal, an injury to a star player. At the end of the ride, you slide safely (for now) into the docking bay, the brakes are pulled, and the carnie either snarls at you to get out--your team has lost--or pull down that safety bar, because here we go again.
To be specific, it’s those g.d. Leafs again. When they lose, they lose big; when they win, they win ugly. Happy as I am that Toronto is up 3-2 in their series with Ottawa, it has been painful to watch. The way it has gone, every game--the script the same regardless of who is winning or who wins--is as follows: one team dumps it in, throws themselves wildly against the boards, other team dumps it out and takes their turn. When one team finally scores, that formula is replayed, but with only one team on the attack. In game five it took a player kicking the puck into his own net to break a dreary scoreless tie in the third period. Tie Domi was credited with the goal. Sometimes, once one team scores (usually by accident), the other actually starts to try to score also (you have to score to win this game, apparently), and this allows the team that is winning to score more goals, because their opponents, in their blind efforts to score, forget to try to stop them, and you end up with a deceivingly interesting score like 4-1 or 4-2.
I hope in the deepest core of my being that the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup, and I’m quite willing to accept that it may have to happen in the ugliest way possible (after all, the New Jersey Devils have several Cups to their credit); however, I also harbour another hope, a secret young Jedi known as the Western Conference. In the Western Conference, the players try to score goals all the time. They skate quickly, fast even, up and down the ice, chasing the puck, trying to take it from the opposing players and put it in the net. This is called “hockey.”
To be specific, the Calgary Flames. The Flames, like my beloved Leafs, are up 3-2 in their series against fellow Canucks, the Vancouver, uh, Canucks. So exciting are these games that the ol’ rollercoaster metaphor can actually apply to one game, not just to the series. While the Toronto-Ottawa matches are spent mostly cringing, cringing and hoping (an extra cringe because Aki Berg is back in the lineup), the Calgary-Vancouver matchups involve cheering, clapping and sighs of satisfaction. Compare your first time having sex with a daylong multiple orgasm.
As for the Habs, they are down 3-2 to the Bruins, and though the town is all aflutter because they’ve got one more date with the Bears, I don’t think the Canadiens are going to get past second base, and if they do, you won’t be sure they’re not faking it.
There’s nothing quite like the first time: Go Leafs Go!