This week, the Triangle will be looking back at the players, games, and moments that singed our eyebrows and blew our minds in 2014. Buckle your seat belts; it’s the Year in Holy S#!t.
By the time the conference finals rolled around, it was pretty clear that the Blackhawks and Kings were the league’s two best teams. When they met in the Western final, we had reason to hope for a classic.
It often doesn’t work out that way, of course, and through the first four games the series hadn’t been especially memorable. The Kings held a three-games-to-one lead heading into the next tilt in Chicago. Looking to avoid elimination, the Hawks jumped out to a 3-1 lead before the Kings stormed back in front with three straight goals. A Chicago tally early in the third tied it, and things stayed that way until the end of regulation. For the first time in the series, we headed to sudden death.
And that’s when all hell broke loose.
For the entire first overtime, the two teams went end to end, trading scoring chances with abandon. There were barely any stoppages — one icing, one offside, and a few stray frozen pucks in the entire period — and at one point the two teams went back and forth for eight straight minutes. The entire 20-minute period took just 26 real-time minutes to play. Our own Katie Baker called it “one of the greatest hockey overtimes ever played.” SB Nation went one further and just flat said that it was “the best overtime hockey we’ve ever seen.”
Here’s the thing: This isn’t how hockey’s supposed to be played in 2014. Modern coaches preach defense first, second, and third, while players have had it drilled into their skulls that you play not to lose. Today’s game is tentative, structured, and safe, with occasional bursts of spontaneity and artistry that are quickly doused.
Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty Images
For one glorious period, though, nobody held back. It was if both sides realized they were the two best teams in the world, then looked each other over, and said, “You want to go? Let’s gear up and go.”
If you were in Canada, there was an added bonus: The game was called by Bob Cole. Cole is basically hockey’s Vin Scully, the voice of the sport, but he’s also 81 years old and has been relegated to the CBC’s second team for years.1 Scully may be a master, but he’s not being asked to call a sport where the players are moving at a neighborhood speed limit. Cole’s voice is still golden, but he can struggle to keep up with the game under normal circumstances. What would happen when he had to call a full period played at hyper-speed?
That’s why he wasn’t doing Montreal’s series against the Rangers.
Here’s what happened: Bob Cole fucking killed it. I’ve been listening to him for 30 years, and I honestly don’t think he’s ever been better. Somehow, almost impossibly, he found his fastball just in time to do justice to the masterpiece playing out in front of him.
The Hawks went on to win early in the second overtime on a goal by Michal Handzus. The Kings won the series in seven on another overtime goal, this one by Alec Martinez, and two weeks later they won the Cup on yet another Martinez OT winner. Those were all great moments. But if I could go back and relive anything I witnessed during 2014, it would be that one perfect period.