Every NHL fan knows that watching a game in person changes everything. You follow hockey differently after that. During the Stanley Cup Final, NHL.com Editor-in-Chief Bob Condor will be watching games from various locations inside the arenas in Chicago and Philadelphia -- to give the both fan and insider perspectives.
PHILADELPHIA -- Early in the FIRST PERIOD of Wednesday night’s Game 3, Flyers captain Mike Richards lined up Chicago forward Kris Versteeg for a big hit sure to detonate the home crowd. One problem. Richards missed and appeared to stagger himself on the boards just off from the scorer’s table.
Richards didn’t take long to recover -- and he had no choice. This was a light-speed streak of a game, which, when observed at ice level wedged between the timekeeper and scorekeeper, practically hummed. When you are down that low at a NHL game between two fast-skating teams, the rink seems a little too small to hold everybody without copious crashes and collisions.
Dustin Byfuglien proved that when he went chest-to-chest with Philly’s Blair Betts at mid-ice a few minutes after the Blackhawks tied the game 1-1 in the SECOND PERIOD. There was a supersized thud when the two players rammed; you didn’t have to imagine all of the air releasing from Betts’ lung. Byfuglien, in contrast, just continued to the bench as if ending any old 45-second shift on ice. Betts, like Richards, didn’t take long to recoup. No choice.
Later in the middle period, Byfuglien was back at center ice, what hockey insiders like to the neutral zone, first leaping to try to stop the flight of puck, then on the same shift pancaking the impressively active Scott Hartnell in an attempt to slow down once of Philly’s “energy” players.
Even the faceoffs looked tighter in alignments during the most physical game of this series to date. There was lots of leaning in and leaning on.
Byfuglien finished the period with a penalty for slashing. He was exercised about the call, but Duncan Keith smartly stood at the penalty box blocking his big teammate’s view of the referees. At that point, Big Buff dropped his case and parked on the bench.
After the two teams exchanged goals within 20 seconds during the THIRD PERIOD, Blackhawks captain Jonathon Toews lined up Simon Gagne at about the same spot where Richards tried to do the same on Versteeg -- only this time Toews succeeded. Gagne staggered back into the play and the hyper-fast tempo.
He had no choice. This 2010 Stanley Cup Final, which officially stamped itself as a series Wednesday night, features two fast teams, yes, but equally two that will dish out the body checks. What might just tell the difference is how quickly players recover from those blows to get back on the warp track.