The other day I was fortunate enough to fall into some free hockey tickets (thank you Dave Cannone) and was going to see Crosby vs Ovechkin in what will most likely be my final game at the Mellon Arena. What a great matchup to close it out.
We got the arena at 6:50pm, but the game didn't start till 7:30pm (thank you Versus) so we had some time to kill. We walked around the arena, got a couple drinks and headed to our seats which were fantastic! Section C, to the right of the goalie, on the side that the Pens would be shooting at twice. We were right behind one of those special sections that had TV monitors. By the way, I never realized how huge the delay was between what they telecast on Versus and what was going on in the game. Its at least 20-30 seconds. Don't talk to someone at the game on a cell phone unless you like knowing well in advance what will happen.
Anyways, the Caps come out first, Alexander Ovechkin was in front... "booooo" went the Penguin fans. Ovie takes one of the Penguins practice pucks and blasts it into their net before skating over to his side of the rink... "BOOOOOOOO!!!!" It was like putting a drop of blood in a piranha tank. As Ovie headed over to his side, I began to make my way down to the glass to get some pictures. As I'm heading down, my path down the aisle gets blocked by none other than Seth Rorabaugh, the Post-Gazette's Penguins blogger. I was going to say "Hi", but we would probably start talking about hockey or the PG and take up a lot of time. So it was either talk to Seth or see two time NHL MVP Alexander Ovechkin up close during warm ups.
As I avoided eye contact with Seth, I pulled out my iPhone and made my way down to the glass. I make a point to do this before every game ever since I watched the Red Wings do their warmup back in 1996. Its always exciting to see these guys up close and it never gets old. I snapped a few of Ovie, a few of the Washington goaltenders and got a picture of some of the Caps throwing a few of the practice pucks over the glass to some kids in the front row. As I kind of expected, when all the other Caps players started making their way back their locker room, Ovie stayed out there (first one on, last one off) and took a few more blasts at the net. A few of the shots that missed the net, banged off the glass and made a sound so loud you would have thought the roof was caving in. This is why he's the greatest goal scorer of our time and scores 60 goals when everyone else is barely reaching 40.
When Ovie finally left the ice, I went back up to my seat and uploaded some of the good pictures I got onto Facebook. During the warm ups, I noticed Evgeni Malkin heading into the locker room. As it turned out, he wasn't feeling well and was a late scratch for the game. Their was a definite "GASP" amongst the crowd when that was announced. One Pens fan exclaimed, "Great! Geno's out again. Now we're going to have to beat them without one of our best players." On a side note, Caps defenseman Mike Green, who led NHL defensemen in points, was not in the lineup either.
As the game started, a "Lets Go Pens" chant started. I didn't see a lot of red Caps jerseys in the crowd, but I did hear "Lets Go Caps" pretty clearly and sometimes overtaking the Pens chants. Now the Penguins were getting to see what it was like to have the shoe on the other foot. It was a pretty even 1st period until Pens defenseman Alex Goligoski apparently forgot how to skate backwards and Alexander Semin blew past him, fired a perfect shot past Fleury and gave the Caps a 1-0 lead. A few minutes later Ovechkin received a slashing penalty and you would've thought the Penguins just tied the game when it was announced that he was the one getting the penalty. The Penguins powerplay did what it does best, not score, and the period ended 1-0 in favor of the Caps.
The Caps came out of the locker room and into the second period like they were shot out of a cannon. I grabbed my iPhone and got my camera ready, as I could tell a goal was probably going to be scored soon... and I was right. Forty two seconds into the period, Mike Knuble (former Wing whooo!!!) fired a shot at Fleury that he should have easily had, but it trickled through and into the net. Ovechkin, who had been charging for the loose puck before it went in, jumped and slammed himself into the glass in celebration of the goal. Unfortunately, when I took the picture, it all came out as a blur, soooo... no pic. Sorry.
The Pens came back though. A Mike Knuble penalty (former idiot Flyer) went off for holding. None of the Penguins seemed to be able to hit the net until Sidney Crosby wristed in his league leading 48th goal of the year. The place went nuts and the Penguins were back in the game... until 21 seconds later when Tomas Fleischmann received a pass from Alexander Semin and ripped it past Softie McFleury. Just like that, the crowd was out of the game again and speaking of out of the game... shortly after Semin passed the puck to his teammate, Max Talbot threw an elbow into Semin's face knocking him to the ice. As the over enthusiastic announcer read off the Crosby goal, Semin laid on the ice holding his head. Now every team has its "bad fans", but the Penguins seem to have a lot of very bad, outspoken fans that really need to chill. One fan not far from me was yelling, "Get up!! Get up you bum! You're not hurt you, f****t. Get up!" Really dude? Then when Semin got to his feet, the trainers helped him back to the Washington bench, a lot of the Pens faithful booed him. You're booing an injured player, Pittsburgh? Really? I'm not exactly Alexander Semin's biggest fan either, but booing an injured player is disgraceful and ignorant. Semin wasn't the only player leaving the game either. Coach Bylsma yanked Fleury and put in backup Brent Johnson. Fleury smashes his goalstick as he now sits in the runway leading to the Pens locker room and watches the rest of the game from there.
The Pens did manage to get back into the game once again when Jordan Leopold blasted one from the blue line that hit off a Caps players' foot and into the net. They nearly tied it when a Sergei Gonchar blast smashed off the crossbar. Before the period expired, former Penguin Matt Bradley scores a nice deflection goal with Brent Johnson having no chance. The Caps regained their two goal lead, 4-2.
During the second intermission, I looked around at a few souvenir stands, hoping to get something for the kids, but everything was way overpriced. Its bad enough that professional sports teams gouge their fans for tickets just to get in to see a game, but do they have to gouge us for money inside the arena/stadium too? How about making things affordable for us normal people that love, fund and support YOUR franchise?
Anyways, back to to the game. Despite only giving up 2 goals, Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov looked beatable. Toward the end of the second period, he looked as though he was fighting the puck and if the Pens could get some shots on him early, they could get back in the game again... and they did. Forty nine seconds into the period, Jordan Leopold scored, pulling the Pens within 1 goal again. At this point, the Pens should have just started throwing pucks at the net because Varly looked rattled. Unfortunately for the Pens, Pascal Dupuis fired a shot wide of the net, breaking the glass (the same glass Ovie was blasting earlier) behind Varlamov. There was a 10 minute delay in the game to fix the glass, killing the Pens momentum. While they were fixing the glass, it was announced the Sidney Crosby recorded his 100th point of the season on the Leopold goal. All of the fans, scratch that, MOST of the fans gave Sid a standing ovation and started chanting "M-V-P, M-V-P!" I didn't agree with that and neither did someone else in the building... the current reigning league MVP, Alexander Ovechkin.
This ovation for Crosby, just ignited Ovechkin who has been struggling to score goals lately. Bill Guerin received a high sticking call giving the Penguins their first penalty of the game. Ovechkin just needed 4 seconds. Backstrom won the face off, Ovie picked it up, moved into the slot before anyone else could even blink and fired it past Johnson, restoring the Caps 2 goal lead. It was Ovechkin's first goal in 5 games. He wasn't done yet. On his next shift, Ovie showed off another side of his game, his physical side. He slammed Max Talbot into the boards, crushed Kris Letang a few seconds later, then leveled Jordan Staal right in front of where we sat. My buddy Dave exclaimed, "Oh man, Ovie's a beast! He's destroying everybody out there right now." I smiled and quietly clapped my hands and chanted in my head "M-V-P". Watching Ovechkin brought back memories of Mario Lemieux and how he would just take over a game and there was no stopping him. Just like with Mario, I found myself no longer following the puck, but following the player. You just knew Ovie was going to do something awesome with or without the puck.
With a few minutes left, the Pens pulled their goalie and Ovie was on the ice. When he got the puck, Pens fans were irate, "STOP HIM!!! You can't let HIM score!" Gonchar dove to the ice to knock the puck off Ovechkin's stick which he did with 6 seconds left. However, Ovechkin, with Nicklas Backstrom's help, managed to get the puck back a few seconds later and was all alone with the empty net. I looked up at the clock and it read 1.2 seconds, with all the fans cursing his name, he cruised towards the empty net as if he had all night. I slipped up just this one time and yelled, "Shoot now you idiot!!" Ovechkin buried it into the empty net with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. He was now tied with Crosby for the league lead in goals with 48. It was the final goal, in the final seconds, of my final game at Mellon Arena. Sorry Ovie, you're not an idiot. I got a little wound up there.
The game was over and the Caps surrounded their goalie while celebrating their 6-3 win and sweeping the Penguins in the season series. As we rode the T back home, a Pens fan was whining about Ovie's empty netter, "I'm so pissed off! You're going to win the scoring title because you can put a puck into an empty net. Aren't you so great?" Just as an FYI, Ovie is 6 points ahead of Crosby in points, tied for first goals and Ovechkin played in 8 less games. He won't win the scoring title because he scores into empty nets, he'll win it because he's better.
Here are the highlights in case you missed it:
So in all likelihood that will be my final time at the Civic/Mellon Arena. Lots of great memories in that building. I witnessed so many events like WWF, NHL Draft, Dane Cook and countless hockey games. I witnessed the greatness of Mario Lemieux. I got to see Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Henrik Zetterberg, Nick Lidstrom, Chris Osgood, Pavel Datsyuk, Dominik Hasek and all of "my" Wings in person. I watched Illya Kovalchuk score a game winning goal in the final seconds of overtime. I saw Lemieux and Jagr record their only points of the '96 Eastern Conference Finals in Game 2 of that series. In 2008, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in that building just a few months after my son Caleb Yzerman Fruscello was born at Mercy Hospital, which is just down the street from the arena. There's a lot of great things to look forward to at the Consol Energy Center though... taking my kids to their first hockey game, taking Caleb to his first Red Wings game, arena football, NHL All Star game, playoff games, wrestling events and most likely another Stanley Cup. It will be sad to see the old Igloo get shutdown, but those of us that were lucky enough to experience it, will have great memories that will stay with us forever.