Skip to Main Content

8 games, 8 days blog

by Shawn P. Roarke
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a grueling test of physical, mental and emotional strength. So, has come up with its own test of those three strengths. Welcome to the 8 Games in 8 Days Tour, presented by Honda.

Simply, managing editor Shawn P. Roarke will drive – in his 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour - to each of the eight Eastern Conference cities hosting Stanley Cup Playoff games this spring. It is a grueling trip that will cover almost 2,400 miles in 192 hours.

Along the way, it will celebrate all that is great about playoff hockey – the places, the people and, most important, the game itself, that make the next two months the most demanding and memorable on the year’s sporting calendar.

Please join us for this ultimate road trip, which begins Wednesday in Pittsburgh. Shawn will have all the details here in the 8 Cities in 8 Days Tour blog and will also provide updates on twitter: sroarke_nhl.

Saying thank you

04.22.10 /12:01 AM ET

Saying thank you

We have come to the end of the 8 Games in 8 Nights tour. It ended Wednesday night with Washington's 6-3 win against Montreal at the BellCenter putting an exclamation point on one of the most interesting -- and demanding -- eight-day stretches of my life.

This trip has been a simply amazing experience. It was much harder than I envisioned it to be, but I am glad for that. I feel like I was challenged and responded -- and isn't that what hockey is all about this time of year?

I saw some amazing playoff hockey along the way. I was at two overtime games, including Saturday night's 6-5 instant classic at the Verizon Center that turned the Washington-Montreal series completely around. I saw the home team win five of the eight games I went to, but opened the trip with Ottawa stunning Pittsburgh at Mellon Arena. I saw two great goaltending duels between Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Boston's Tuukka Rask. In the 120 minutes of head-to-head competition between them I witnessed, each goalie gave up just three goals.

And I saw plenty of goals. In fact, In eight days, I saw 59 goals. That's an average of more than seven a night -- and certainly made spending than 40 hours in my Honda Accord Crosstour and driving almost 2,500 miles in 192 hours worthwhile.

But, Icouldn't have had this adventure without the help of so many people. So, let me go Oscars on you for a moment and provide a list of people I need to publicly thank.

The list starts and ends with my family. Nothing in my professional life happens without the understanding and support of my wife, Daryl, and the love from my kids. But, I'd also like to thank my colleagues - John McGourty, Adam Kimelman, Dan Rosen and Mike Morreale - who helped me out immensely as I visited the series they are covering so ably. And, I need to thank the boys back in the home office, who made sure all my copy from this trip got up on the site.

I also need to thank all the other beat writers along the road here; so many of them have been helpful and kind during this journey that it would be impossible to name them all.

My boss, Bob Condor, deserves some kudos for having faith in me to make this harebrained scheme happen in a mildly entertaining way. I also have to thank the support staff back at the office, especially Heather Carpenter, who dealt with all my on-the-road emergencies.

Honda gets a big shout out for loaning me the Crosstour. I wish I had the cash to buy it because this is a beast of a car with all the bells and whistles necessary to make long-haul driving a dream.

Finally, I have to thank the fans -- the people who cared enough to read about the details of my adventure and were captivated by the magic of the road trip. I especially want to think the followers on Twitter, who provided me with feedback and support. You guys are the reason I did this and you are the reason I got through it. Thanks for your energy.

I hope you all enjoyed the journey as much as I did. Maybe we'll do a version of it again next year.

By the way, for those of you keeping scorecards at home, here are my numbers from Day 8's travels:

Destination: Ottawa, Ont., to Montreal, Que.
Miles to destination: 135 miles
Total miles travelled on trip: 2,342 miles
Weather: Another perfect day, Can we get one more to get me home?
Caffeine consumption: Two 12-ounce cans of Pepsi.
Food Highlight: Pulled-pork sandwich and poutine (I shared it) at M:brgr; grilled hot dog at Bell Centre press meal.
Top-five tunes during trip: Flirts, Jukebox; Tom Hiatt, Carry You Back Home; Iron Maiden, Trooper; Foghat, Slow Ride; Pet Shop Boys, West End Girls.

A change in fortunes

04.21.10 / 8:20 PM ET

It's amazing how fast things change in a playoff series.

I first dropped in on the Montreal-Washington series in Game 2 and the Canadiens were on top of the world. They had pulled off an upset in Game 1 and chased starting goalie Jose Theodore by scoring on their first two shots in the second game. Before long, it was 4-1 for the visitors and full-blown panic had found a home in the nation's capital.

Five periods of play and just four days later, I find myself in Montreal -- and the panic has moved here. The Canadiens are down 2-1 in this series and Montreal is paralyzed by the fear of their hockey team going out early in the first round for the second year.

Things are so bad that goalie Carey Price, persona non grata since late March, was cheered with gusto when he was announced as the starter for Game 4. It seems Jaroslav Halak -- the main reason Montreal is playing in the postseason this year -- is now excess to needs after allowing eight goals in the last 50:45 of game action.

Montreal, on top of the world such a short time ago, is facing a must-win Thursday night. How did they get here is the biggest question in this hockey-mad city. A number of theories have been discussed for the past several days. But, to me, it is obvious that Washington is the better team.

Remember, Washington had 33 more points than this team and scored 101 more goals. Game 1 and the first half of Game 2 were an aberration for the Caps. Now they are playing at the top of their game.

The fact that Montreal is hanging with Washington as this game and series reach the halfway point of its run should be celebrated, not met with angst.

Finish line in slight

04.21.10 / 4:33 PM ET

I love sleep-in days. Who doesn't, right?

Well, I must admit Wednesday wasn't a sleep-in day in the traditional sense. I went to bed a little after 1 a.m. and was up by 9 a.m. to prepare for a hit on XM NHL Home Ice 45 minutes later. But, with the pace I have been keeping on this trip, eight hours seemed like one of those half-day power sleeps I would pull off every once in a while -- at least before I had kids.

Even after I finished the radio gig, I lounged around for an hour or so because I had nothing more than a two-hour journey to my next, and final, city -- Montreal.

So, I left around noon and pulled into downtown around 2 p.m. A half-hour later, I was at M:brgr for a late lunch with colleague Dan Rosen, who has been delivering the goods with his coverage throughout the Montreal-Washington series.

I still have a little while to kill before I head across the street to film a video with Matt Coe of NHL Studios to celebrate the completion of my voyage. I hope I am better than I was in my last video, shot Saturday night in DC. You can find that video -- and its blooper reel -- lower in this blog.

I can't believe I am finally a short-timer on this trip. Each day, there has been another city and another drive weighing on me, even as I enjoyed the city I was in at the moment. But, there are no more cities on this 8 Games in 8 Nights Tour. Tonight, Washington and Montreal close out the tour with game 4 at the Bell Center.

So, for me, it is merely a wake-up call and a leisurely 6-1/2 hour ride home straight down 87. Only after you have driven almost 2,500 miles and spent more than 40 hours in a car in a little more than a week can you described a 400-mile jaunt as leisurely. But, that is what it will feel like as a I hurtle home with only one deadline to worry about -- getting home by 8 p.m. to watch Survivor with the kids, a Roarke family tradition.

Who knows, I may even take time to have some breakfast tomorrow. I have skipped the "most important meal of the day" far too often during my trip. I guess it depends on how the city of Montreal treats me post-game.

This is such a great city that there will have to be a post-game jaunt -- maybe for a late dinner or a quick beverage. Nothing too serious, but a little raise of the glass to mark the completion of an unbelievably rewarding and trying trip may well be in order.

Super Sid the Kid

04.20.10 / 9:04 p.m.

Sidney Crosby isn't getting much love in Ottawa. He is booed relentlessly whenever the puck even enters his area code.

That's understandable, as No. 87 is almost singlehandedly breaking the hearts of the Sens Army. But, there is no denying that he is a special player who should be admired, if not exactly adored, everywhere he goes.

Crosby seems to get better on an almost nightly basis. He is a far better player tonight than he was when I saw him open this series in Pittsburgh last Wednesday. And, let's not forget, he had a three-point game in that 5-4 loss.

But Crosby is by far more dynamic tonight. Yes, he has two goals and two assists in what has turned into a wild game, but that is only part of the story. His play alone has been worth the eight-hour drive necessary for me to be a witness.

His second assist illustrates his maturity. Pittsburgh was reeling after letting a 4-0 lead turn into a 5-3 nail-biter late in the second, but Crosby helped lead a line rush and then drove the net hard, drawing the attention of two Ottawa players. Still, he was able to shuffle the puck into the slot where Chris Kunitz slammed it home to establish a three-goal leading heading into the third.

Ottawa can't find a player to shut him down, which must be incredibly frustrating and troublesome for the Sens. Tonight, Crosby has controlled the game with the puck on his stick. At one point, he had a shift where he juked and jived behind the Ottawa net and left two different defenders tripping over their own feet. The play did not result in a goal, but it did illustrate the problems he can cause a defense.

Plus, Ottawa can't score when Crosby has the puck on his stick -- and the Penguins are controlling play.

With the four points tonight through two periods, Crosby is on a point-per-period pace, putting up 11 points in his first 11 periods of playoff hockey this spring.

International incident averted

04.20.10 / 8:04 p.m.

The end is near -- both literally and figuratively for me and the 8 Games in 8 Nights tour.
Tonight I am in Ottawa and tomorrow I end this incredible 2,400-mile journey with Game 4 in Montreal.

And it can be told now that this almost became an abridged version of the 8 Games in 8 Nights tour. This roadie almost ended after Day 6 in Boston. And, no, not because I went to jail.

It seems your trusty narrator, in his absentminded best, forgot to pack his passport when he left a week ago this afternoon for the trip to Pittsburgh that started this wacky adventure. It didn’t even cross my mind that I would be crossing the border later in the trip.

But most fools have a guardian angel watching over them. Fortunately, mine just happens to be my patient and loving wife. Not only is she the one that advised of my faux pas as I motored up 95 to Boston blissfully ignorant of the looming disaster, but she is also the one that dug the document out of hiding and trekked it over to the Fed EX place for super-duper express delivery. (Thanks again, baby!)

I won’t even tell you what it cost to get my passport from Jersey to Boston by 8 a.m. this morning but it was money well spent when I wandered down to the concierge desk at 8 a.m. this morning to find a package waiting for me. I hope the early risers at the Liberty Hotel enjoyed the happy dance I performed.

With that disaster averted, the trip was once again a go.

I’m not going to lie; Tuesday was a tough day of driving. I left at 8:30 a.m. and did hard time in my Honda Accord Cross Tour. I stopped just twice -- once for gas and once for a quick fast-food lunch -- and still took 8 hours to pull into my hotel a couple of miles from Scotiabank Arena.

Fortunately, the scenery is amazing throughout the trip as you cut through the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont and then across the farmlands of Quebec.

The last 45 minutes of the trip, though, were more of a mental toll than the first 7-plus hours put together. I got stuck in the legendary traffic on the 417 -- which I remember well from the Entry Draft here a few years ago -- and took almost an hour to go the final 17 miles.

Trust me, you don’t want to be stuck in traffic when you’re at the end of your driving effectiveness. Fortunately, I had the tail end of the Bloody Roots tribute to Peter Steele and the first half of the Devil’s Dozen countdown on Liquid Metal. A little Machinehead and Dillinger Escape Plan can get you through almost anything, I guess.

With the Honda Accord Crosstour parked safely at the hotel (I begged my colleague Adam Kimelman to pick me up and drive me to rink because I could not face the two-mile drive to the rink), I can update the stats on my trip now that the penultimate day of the trip is complete.

Destination: Boston, Ma. to Ottawa, On.
Miles to destination: 472 miles
Total miles travelled on trip: 2,207 miles
Weather: Gorgeous again, except for weird sun shower outside Montreal
Caffeine consumption: Two 12-ounce cans of Pepsi.
Food Highlight:  None. Who had time for food today? Too much driving
Top-five tunes during trip: Tony Iommi (featuring Peter Steele), Just Say No to Love; Buck Owens, I Don’t Care; Patsy Cline, Fall to Pieces; Iron Maiden, Aces High; Motorhead, Hellraiser.

Homecoming of sorts

04.19.10 / 8:56 p.m.

I’m so happy to be in Boston tonight.

This is where my career as a hockey writer was born. I fell in love with the game as a wee lad down the road in Rhode Island. To me, the old Boston Garden was the coolest place I could imagine as I watched the games on WSBK. And Terry O’Reilly was the coolest person I could imagine.

I knew then hockey was something I wanted to do with my life. Of course, like all kids, I thought an NHL career was in the cards. As my father drove me to those 6 a.m. practices as a squirt, I could see myself as the next Gerry Cheevers.

But there aren’t too many NHL teams looking for a goalie with middling reflexes and a healthy fear of a puck shot with menace.

Journalism seemed like the next best thing and the combination of having a face for radio and an accent to be an extra in Good Will Hunting doomed me to a life as a print journalist. It is a fate for which I am grateful every day because it has provided me with so much.

It’s been a long strange trip since I saw my first game in the old Garden 30 years or so ago and my affinity for the Bruins has wavered since I became involved in the business of covering hockey in the early 90s.

With that said, it is always special to come home and cover hockey here for several reasons.

Usually I can stop at the old homestead to visit mom and dad. They are the biggest reasons why I am here. They believed in me and supported me as I chased what, at times, must have seemed like a foolish dream. I was able to get in a quick visit this afternoon on my way up from Philadelphia and I’m glad I could include them in this journey.

Plus, the game is in the blood of the people here. They get its importance and they keep deeply for the game and their part in it. They are like me.

And, as a result, I have seen some great hockey here as a journalist.

My second or third year on the beat, back in the early 90s, the Devils, the team I covered, played the Bruins in the last year of the Garden. It was the series in which Cam Neely got so sick of being shadowed by Claude Lemieux that, at one volatile point, he picked Lemieux up by the scruff of his neck and the seat of his pants and began ramming Lemieux head first into the Boston Globe sign on the half wall. It was also the series in which Mike Peluso fought Jamie Huscroft and ripped the spoked-B logo right of his jersey and skated over it. As Peluso sat in the box, fans threw beers at him to protest his desecration of the logo. Afterward, Peluso laughed and complained that it was light beer.

The Devils won that series and closed out the Boston Garden. When I was done writing after the final game, I snuck down onto the ice and had my picture taken with the small boxy scoreboard hanging in the background, displaying the 00:00 and the final score. I still have that picture somewhere, I hope. I should dig it out.

More recently, I have been here for every home game of last year’s playoff run and this year’s Winter Classic. Plus, I was up here for a regular-season game that featured the mites-on-ice fight this year. Who could possibly forget that?

Each of those events provided so many memories for an already overflowing bank. Now, tonight, we head into the third period of this game 3 of the Eastern conference Quarterfinals between Boston and Buffalo tied at 1-1 -- the same place the series stands, by the way -- and more memories will surely be made.

I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.

By the way, my Honda Accord Crosstour is safely ensconced at the hotel, so I can update my trip after Game 6.

Destination: Philadelphia, Pa., to Boston, Ma.
Miles to destination: 322 miles
Total miles travelled on trip: 1,735 miles
Weather: Sunshine and mid-60s. Another great travel day!
Caffeine consumption: Two 12-ounce cans of Pepsi.
Food Highlight:  Carnitas tacos from a road-side stand off of 95 on the New Haven waterfront. Just pork, onions, cilantro and hot sauce on a soft tortilla. Better yet, they were $1 each.
Top-five tunes during trip: New Order, Blue Monday; Wall of Vodoo, Mexican Radio; Armored Saint, Left Hook from Right Field; Golden Earring, Twilight Zone; Suicidal Tendencies, Join the Army.

The ultimate sin bin!

04.19.10 / 8:00 PM

One of my goals on the 8 Games in 8 Nights Tour was to stay out of jail. A modest goal, you say. Well, I failed!

Fortunately, I don’t need the boys to pass the hat to bail me out. The jail of which I speak is my hotel. And, I don’t mean that in a figurative sense -- like the walls are closing in on me. No, my hotel, the Liberty Hotel, on the corner of Charles and Cambridge, is a former jail.

It seems it used to be Charles St. Jail, the jail for Suffolk County until 1990 when overcrowding was deemed to be an affront to the Constitutional rights of the inmates housed there. Several famous inmates called my home for the night their home for much longer stretches. Malcolm X, James Michael Curley and Sacco and Vanzetti were all inmates, according to Wikipedia.

The hotel has retained much of the charm of the old jail -- if it is possible to call a prison “charming” -- including the giant granite edifice that looks out on the Charles River. Plus, the hotel maintains a distinct and defined link to its former life. The restaurant is called “The Clink” while the main lobby, including a beautiful rotunda, is called the “jail.” I am staying in the adjacent “tower.” Inside my room, there is a big metal church-style key that is supposedly the solitary confinement room.

This is one of the coolest hotels I have stayed in during my journalistic travels. I can’t believe it took me this long to find it. Wish I was staying longer. Maybe next round -- if there is a next round in Beantown.

But tomorrow, Ottawa beckons. It is going to be the hardest leg of the journey so far. It will test all of my playoff reserves, but I believe I am ready for it.

Into the belly of the beast

04.19.10/12:05 AM

Another great night finished on the tour.

Dan Carcillo steps up and plays hero this time, scoring the winner in the fourth minute of OT. Basically one non-empty net goal separates these two bitter rivals after three games. It should be nip-and-tuck the rest of the way, and I am sad that I am missing the rest of the series.

But the road beckons again. Tomorrow it is Boston and the journey begins in a little more than eight hours.

Remember how earlier in this blog, I said I had to plan better for these trips? Well, I haven’t learned.

Guess what Monday is in Boston? Give up?

It’s Patriots’ Day. No, not a celebration of the New England Patriots; but rather, a civic holiday that commemorates the Battle of Lexington. It is also the day on which Boston always runs its famous marathon. Oh yeah, it’s also the day on which the Boston Red Sox host an 11 a.m. game at Fenway.

How do I know all this? Because I am a good New England boy from Rhode Island. I used to love Patriots’ Day. But, I’m not so excited about it tomorrow. Patriots’ Day is one of the biggest party days in The Hub, only slightly behind St. Patty’s Day and New Year’s Eve. The place will likely be a traffic nightmare and I am heading right into it.

This may well be the Perfect Storm for the 8 Games in 8 Nights Tour. I hope I fare better than George Clooney or Mark Wahlberg!

We’ll find out soon enough. Till then, here is a summary of Day 5.

Destination: Washington DC, to Philadelphia, Pa.
Miles to destination: 169 miles
Total miles travelled on trip: 1,413 miles
Weather: Sunshine and cool, another perfect driving day. Knock on wood!
Caffeine consumption: Two 12-ounce cans of Pepsi, one cup of tea
Food Highlight:  Nutterbutters for breakfast; Turkey and Gouda cheese sandwich for lunch and a Chipwich ice-cream treat at Wachovia Center. I want it noted I had salad with dinner!
Top-five tunes during trip: Cat Stevens, Cats in the Cradle (also heard Ugly Kid Joe version); Rick James, Superfreak; Mike Stinson, Stop the Bar; Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, Smoke Along The Track; Cypress Hill, Insane in the Brain.

Bring on OT

04.18.10/ 8:47 p.m.
Hmmm, maybe this OT will be longer than last night’s. I’ve now drawn extra-session hockey for a second straight night as Philadelphia and New Jersey finish regulation at the Wachovia Center in a 2-2 tie.

On Saturday night, Washington and Montreal finished regulation tied at 5-all, but Nick Backstrom scored just 31 seconds into OT to finish off a hat trick and send Washington to Montreal with an all-important win in Game 2.

New Jersey’s Brian Rolston is the only one who can finish a hat trick in OT, but that seems unlikely after a third period in which Philadelphia completely dominated play. New Jersey was atrocious in its own end in the third period and made several turnovers that put its goalie, Martin Brodeur under duress for long stretches of time in the third. Philadelphia outshot New Jersey 12-3 in the period and had a 28-18 advantage in shots for the game.

This has been a vintage game for Brodeur. He has made several highlight reel saves and has kept his team in a game it really has no right being in at this point. It will be interesting to see if his teammates reward him for the bail-out job he has performed.

If they don’t and Philadelphia scores the winner, it is likely that Brodeur will be knocked for not delivering in the clutch again, just as he has been for the past five years or so. Such criticism tonight, though, would be unfounded.

He is, literally, the only reason the Devils are still playing hockey tonight.

At the other end of the ice, Brian Boucher has been quite the revelation for Philadelphia. Nobody was sure what Boucher would bring to the table when he was forced into the starting role. But so far, so good. He looks a lot more like the goalie who took Philadelphia to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000 than the guy that has been performing backup duties across the League for the past several years.

I mention the goalies because they are always the focal point when sudden-death is reached.

I’m excited and intrigued to see how this will play out – even if it ruined the extra hour of sleep I planned on because of the early start to the game. Oh well, there is a price to be paid for playoff memories.

I am ready to pay it. Bring on OT!

Phanatical about Philly

04.18.2010 / 6:16 PM ET

There’s no place quite like Philadelphia for hockey in the spring.

Philadelphia gets a bad-name as a sports town because of some of the lunatic-fringe behavior here that is so celebrated -- not only in the City of Brotherly Love but across the country.

There’s something special about pulling into Lot F to cover a game here -- something I have done more than 50 times in my career now -- and checking out the party as it revs up into a dull roar. These boys and girls know how to tailgate and that compliment comes from somebody who takes his tailgating seriously.

But, as much as they love to party in the parking lot, they love their team even more. Philadelphians bleed orange in the spring and green in the fall and a more natural red during the summer. And, they are not afraid to shed blood to support their team.

It can be a hostile atmosphere, but I have found it all to be in good fun. I have invaded the Spectrum, the Wachovia Center and Lincoln Field as a supporter of the opposition on game day. And I have survived to tell the tale each time.

If you are smart, passionate and, most importantly, deferential, you can survive a trip to Philly. There's a few Devils fans giving it a try Sunday night. I saw them tailgating in the far corner of Lot E as I pulled into the parking lot at about 4:20 p.m. I wish them luck tonight and hope they enjoy the game.

You know, everybody talks about the rivalry between the Devils and the New York Rangers as being one of the best in the game; but, for my money, the Devils and the Flyers is a biggest rivalry for each team. The closeness of the two teams -- a 90-minute trek up or down the Turnpike -- and several playoff meetings has taken this neighborhood squabble to a higher level.

I was covering New Jersey for a newspaper back in 2000 and the Turnpike series between these two teams is still one of my favorite experiences. The Devils went on to win the Cup that year, but first they had to claw back from a three-games-to-one deficit against these Flyers.

It was near impossible, but someone the Devils figured out a way. I can still remember being shocked when I heard about Larry Robinson’s garbage can-throwing tirade. He almost never raised his voice in the whole time I covered him. I still remember the puck stuck in Brian Boucher’s grill –- something I have not seen before or since. I can still see Scott Stevens hitting Eric Lindros in Game 7 as 88 tried to carry the puck over the blue line.

I still remember the silence that fell over this building and the image of Lindros on the ice. I also remember Stevens being very upset after the game, one of the few times I ever saw him conflicted about something that happened on the ice.

But, most of all, I remember Patrik Elias scoring the game-winning goal in Game 7 at the Wachovia Center.

Flyers fans, this is not a trip through the past to open up old wounds, trust me. Rather, it is another reason why playoff hockey is so special. Almost anything can, and will, happen.

I have some great Flyers memories from this building -- and the Old Spectrum. The Run to the Stanley Cup against Detroit stands out, as does Keith Primeau’s amazing playoff run a few years back, one that ended a round too early against Tampa Bay.

This is a great building to watch a playoff game and these are great fans that make it even more special. I'm glad my 8 Games in 8 Nights tour has brought me here tonight.

Enjoy the game!

Don't try this at home

04.18.2010 / 12:16 AM ET

If you don't think 1,200 miles in four days, combined with four games that resulted in one unforgettable OT, three one-goal games and another that would have been a one-goal affair if not for an empty-netter, think again.

This is what happens when sleep deprivation begins to take its toll. Check out the blooper reel about halfway through this update. I'm not ashamed to say it is time to get some sleep. See you in Philadelphia.

OT comes to DC

04.17.2010 / 10:55 PM ET

Well, it was bound to happen.

You can't tempt the hockey gods with a ludicrous proposition like this 8 Games in 8 Nights tour without dealing with the repercussions.

As a result, overtime finally arrived for me on this trip. It took until Game No. 4 on the docket, but come it did.

Unfortunately, it did not last long.

Nick Backstrom, finishing a hat trick, scored 31 seconds after the drop of the puck to give Washington a 6-5 victory and send this best-of-7 series against the Canadians to Montreal in a 1-1 deadlock.

The score line does not do justice to the game that played out before my eyes Saturday night.

The Capitals never led until they skated among the hats that littered the ice after Backstrom ended it in OT. The top seed had to overcome deficits of 2-0, 4-1 and, finally, 5-4, to set the stage for the win.

Young defenseman John Carlson extended the game by scoring a brilliant goal with just 1:21 left in the game. It was a wrister from between the circles and just above them that somehow eluded Jaroslav Halak.

Clearly, Carlson has something special about him. Remember, this is the same kid that scored the gold-medal goal for Team USA at this winter's World Junior championship.

Alex Ovechkin was good, too. He figured in each of Washington's final four goals in regulation, scoring one and assisting on two by Nick Backstrom and Carlson's game-tying tally. He was a wrecking ball throughout.

It's quite the statement game by the Caps, who overcame horrendous goaltending by Jose Theodore and atrocious defending by Mike Green and Jeff Schultz to win a game even Washington coach Bruce Boudreau says his team might have had no business winning.

For Montreal, Saturday's result has to be a bitter pill to swallow. The Habs could have flown home with a stranglehold on the series. Instead, it is a whole new hockey game, so to speak.

I can't wait to catch up with these two teams for Game 4 on Wednesday in Montreal. It is the last stop on my eight-day tour. But three more stops must be made first - in Philadelphia, Boston and Ottawa - before the return date with this series.

Each has a chance to be a better game than the one I just witnessed, but the bar is set pretty high now, for sure. Just the possibility of seeing a game even close to this one will get me in my car sometime tomorrow to head up 95 to Philadelphia.

I will tell you one thing, though. I'm glad I have to walk just a few blocks back to my hotel and not drive anywhere tonight. I'm spent.

Company does a soul good

04.17.2010 / 08:55 PM ET

Man, do I feel refreshed.

A night at home, breakfast with the kids (Daddy made cinnamon-raisin French Toast) and some kitchen-to-office races with Alex and Erin are enough to restore me. Manchester United's win in the Manchester Derby - on an injury-time goal from Paul Scholes -- sure helped, as well. How can you not smile when both your children are singing "Glory, Glory Man United" like seasoned fans after the goal that saved United's season - for at least another few days?

Plus, an "easy" 3-1/2 hour trip to DC helped, too. This trip is one of the trickiest on the journey because it can take anywhere from 3-1/2 to six hours, depending on the traffic on 95. Saturday, traffic was light and I made amazing time. It was an easier drive than the Friday night one from The Rock back to my house. It's usually a 25- or 30-minute affair, but driving rain and my own exhaustion made it a bit longer and made it feel like a two-hour slog.

After reading the dispatches of colleague Dan Rosen, who has been covering this series since Day 1, I can't wait for the start of Game 2 to see how the Red is Rocked. I'm told it is an experience to behold. But, so far, Buffalo holds the top spot for crowd enthusiasm and the bar is pretty high. That place was rocking for Thursday's Game 1.

Alex Ovechkin is the big story here today after his ineffectiveness in Game 1. But, I expect the Russian to come out like a bear fresh from hibernation and run roughshod against the Canadiens. Can Jaroslav Halak hold the fort? I believe so. But, I'm still not sure it will be enough.

I just have a feeling that Caps will bring their A game tonight and that A-level game is too much for the Canadiens -- even with Halak's heroics and Theodore's foibles. I can't believe he got pulled after not making a save on either shot he faced. It seems the Caps are going regroup, though. We'll see,

Regardless, I'm looking forward to this game because of the company in the press box tonight, as well. It is a who's who -- supposedly there is more media for this game than there was for Game 7 last season between Pittsburgh and Washington.

The aforementioned Mr. Rosen is here, but so is Corey Masisak, who freelances for us on occasion. Tarik El-Bashir, the Caps beat writer is a few seats down. Puck Daddy, Greg Wyshynski, is also in the house, sitting a row behind me. Plus, the legendary Scott Burnside is working his magic just a few seats away. All are good reporters and storytellers. As importantly, all are great guys. It's always nice to cross their paths.

That's one of the fun things about hitting the road when you have been covering the game for a while. I have been at this - in one form or another - since 1994. For those weak in math, that's 16 long years (I used a calculator). Now, I am confident I will find a friend in any building I walk into. It makes being on the road a lot easier.

Who knows, we may even getting around to telling a few stories tonight after our work is done. But that is a long way off -- there's still two periods left here.

Seeing that I have already parked my Honda Accord Crosstour at the hotel for the night, I can update my driving stats for the day now. I can't believe I am past the halfway mark in mileage. Wow!

Destination: Matawan, N.J. to WashingtonD.C.
Miles to destination: 218 miles
Total miles traveled: on trip: 1,244 miles
Weather: Sunshine and cool; a perfect driving day.
Caffeine consumption: One 12-ounce can of Pepsi, one Big Gulp of Pepsi.
Food highlight: The aforementioned French toast for breakfast and the grilled chicken sandwich from the club level at the VerizonCenter.
Top-five tunes during trip: Nena, 99 Luftballons; Elvis Costello, Alison; New Order, Love Vigilantes; Slayer, Bloodlines; Black Sabbath, Electric Funeral.

Ready for a roadie?

04.17.2010 / 08:50 PM ET

The most popular question I get when people find out about the 8 Games in 8 Nights Tour I am doing for is almost invariably the same.


Some ask out of genuine curiosity, but almost as many ask out of utter perplexity.

For the life of them, these perplexed people can't figure why a sane human -- at least I am assuming they believe me to be sane -- would subject himself to such a road trip, a trek that encompasses almost 2,400 miles across two countries.

I guess they just don't get the magic of a road trip.

I was thinking about this Friday as I hurtled down Route 81 back to Jersey after taking in Thursday night's game in Buffalo, wondering myself why I was up at 7:30 a.m. to make sure I could get the seven-hour drive under my belt early enough to get home and see my family for a bit before heading to the Rock before Friday night's Game 2 between the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers.

But, then it hit me as I traveled down 81, a road that became all too familiar while I was at university in Syracuse. That road, along with 90, were the primary arteries for any trips we took from SU, be it weekend jaunts home, runs to Montreal to party or, most importantly, trips to see sporting events.

While I was at Syracuse, I often caught rides from various friends to make trips to see games. Occasionally, we went to see the Buffalo Bills - usually when they played the Patriots - in OrchardPark. But, more often, it was minor-league hockey. Anybody that has spent time in that area knows that it is rich with hockey.

And, we took advantage of it. Trips to Utica, Rochester and Binghamton were regular affairs as Syracuse did not have a team at the time.

I guess those trips - a first taste of the freedom to come as an adult, filled with laughter and teenage hijinks - fostered what has been a love affair with road trips.

My circle of friends knows that if you want to take a road trip to seeing a sporting event, I'm in.

The USA soccer team playing a World Cup qualifier against El Salvador in Foxborough? Sign me up. Manchester United playing Celtic at Lincoln Field? I'll bring the food. The Red Sox playing against the O's in Baltimore? I'll buy the gas. A three-day tour of minor-league baseball parks in August? I'll set the itinerary.

So, I find nothing unusual in the idea itself or as I took it through the process of bringing it to life and convinced others of the same.

I still don't.

Has the trip been more taxing than I thought? Sure. But, that is part of the fun. It is starting to become a test and I still have more than half the trip remaining. Who doesn't like a challenge, right?

Do I wish I had company to share the driving duties and the time-killing chores? You bet. At times, I wish I was sharing this with my family -- giving my young son and daughter a sense of wanderlust or spending time with my wife, who has the patience of Job during my annual playoff sojourns.

Instead, I rely on the mental images of my family and memories of past road trips - and the special people I shared them with -- to keep me company.

I'll admit; I was tired when I stopped by my house to visit with the family Friday afternoon. I even took a quick 30-minute nap - just resting my eyes - before I headed back up to Newark. I was also nervous that Friday's game would go into OT when it was tied after 40 minutes.

But, reminding myself why I undertook this mission has me reenergized. Suddenly, the trip to Washington D.C. tomorrow morning doesn't seem quite as daunting.

Destination: Buffalo, N.Y. to Newark, N.J.
Miles to destination: 449 miles
Total miles traveled on trip: 1,026 miles
Weather: Sunshine and cool, turning into overcast and rain in the evening.
Caffeine consumption: One 12-ounce can of Pepsi, One Big Gulp of Pepsi. Bottle (12 oz) of Pepsi at game.
Food highlight: None, although cupcakes at pre-game meal were not bad. Looking forward to wife's mac 'n cheese when I get home.

Top-five tunes during trip: Machinehead, Hostile (Pantera cover); Falco, Der Kommisar; Big Audio Dynamite, Rush; Psychedelic Furs, Pretty in Pink; Sick of it All, Death or Jail.

Devils more aggressive in Game 2
04.16.2010 / 09:50 PM ET

There was a lot of talk about how boring the New Jersey Devils were in Game 1. I even trotted out that line on Thursday while I was on Pittsburgh's 93.7 talking playoffs with Joe Starkey and the boys in Steeltown.

Well, the Devils have been anything but boring tonight in Game 2 against the Flyers. They hey have taken chances all over the ice and it produced entertaining hockey on Friday night.

It is becoming more obvious by the game that Zach Parise is the engine that runs this team. He has that special blend of high-end skill and unbridled enthusiasm that so few players have. Friday night, he decided he wouldn't play a safe game, and the Devils fed off his aggressiveness.

Parise scored a shorthanded goal by pressing the play when Patrik Elias gained control of the puck on a kill, and then outraced Chris Pronger to haul in a pretty saucer pass from Elias and beat Brian Boucher with a nifty backhand.

Several times, he stopped the Flyers power play at the attacking blue line by stepping up unexpectedly and making an aggressive play on the puck. Twice, those gambles sent the Devils off on shorthanded breaks.

Early in the game, he also went after big, bad Pronger behind the net and asked for no quarter as the two men jostled.

Not surprisingly, the rest of the Devils stepped a little out of character.

Ilya Kovalchuk showed a ton of fire - although it burned him a few times. The Russian - 0-for-5 in playoff appearances - took three penalties. But he also had a pair of assists in the first two periods and his running feud with Mike Richards throughout the game was highly entertaining.

Colin White, the stay-at-home defenseman, scored a goal, his first playoff goal since the 2000 Stanley Cup run and just his second in 108 career playoff games. Defenseman Matt Corrente made his playoff debut, but not on the blue line. He was slotted in as a fourth-line winger and actually had a halfway decent scoring chance in limited time.

Surely, little of this fire-wagon hockey is sitting well with the notoriously conservative Devils coach, Jacques Lemaire. But it has provided for an entertaining game, which hangs in the balance - 3-3 - as we enter the third period.

A day of discovery

04.15.2010 / 11:57 PM ET

The 8 Games in 8 Days Tour is as much about discovery as it is about hockey.

Part of the idea behind this crazy journey was to see parts of the country I never -- or rarely -- see. Thursday was such a day.

I had never driven the stretch between Pittsburgh and Buffalo. It is the simplest of drives -- 212 miles split almost evenly on two major interstates -- 79 and 90. it is a beautiful ride through rolling farmland used for many different purposes -- dairy farming, livestock farming, agricultural farming and, more recently, as vineyards.

To say that I enjoyed it would be an understatement, especially because I never pushed my Honda Accord Crosstour past the posted speed limit. The police on the two roads were almost as thick as the herds of cows I passed today in my journey.

But as much as it is nice to discover some new scenery, this trip, for me, is also about self-discovery.

When you spend multiple hours in a car by yourself, there is plenty of time for the mind to wander. And, my mind wandered all over the map -- excuse the pun.

Of course, I thought a lot about hockey. I tend to do that anyway, but when you throw yourself into the playoffs, it happens more and More. Plus, I was listening to NHL Live! on XM Radio for part of the trip and really enjoyed the spot with Mike Commodore, who reminisced about his run to the Cup with Carolina.

Remember, Carolina lost the first two games of the first round to Montreal and looked bad in doing it -- especially Game 1 -- but then found its way and negotiated the treacherous playoff road all the way to the final destination. That is an interview that should be played in the dressing rooms of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks today. As well as the Washington Capitals, who somehow lost a game they should have won at home on Thursday night.

But I thought about a lot of other things, as well.

One of those things is how amazing it is that people you don't know and will never likely meet can have an impact on your life.

Hockey fans encounter that all the time. I didn't meet Bobby Orr until I was 40, but he shaped much of my childhood through the stories I heard told about him.

For me, though, those influences also come from the musical world, as should be obvious to anyone that has a passing knowledge of this blog.

I have never met Peter Steele, but have always admired him. He died today, at just 48. It left me incredibly sad -- sadder than it should, I thought -- as I made my way to Buffalo.

I'm sure some of you are wondering who Peter Steele is, right? Well, Steele was the lead singer and bassist for Type O Negative, a goth-metal band out of Brooklyn.

I first heard Type O Negative shortly after I moved to New Jersey in the 1990s and just loved their sound. Steele had one of the deepest and most unique voices in heavy metal. If I had to describe it, I would probably say it is a cross between Glenn Danzig and Jim Morrison. He also played an amazing bass. With Type O Negative, the bass was never as dominant as it was with Primus. Yet, I consider Steele to be in the same league with the legendary Les Claypool, the famous bassist for Primus.

It surprised me that Steele's death affected me so profoundly because I had seen Type O Negative just once and only really knew him through his records. But, as I listened to the tributes come across the radio from fans, I realized everybody has these famous people that help shape their life merely through the artistic gift with which they have been blessed and have presented to the public.

That, I guess, is the best legacy of all for these artists or athletes when they pass. I spent much of the rest of the drive listening to Type O Negative as my own tribute to Steele and his life.

Then, it was off to the arena for the game and back into my comfort zone. I will say, though, that I appreciated the game maybe just a little bit more after spending the afternoon lost in my own head.

I wonder what nuggets of introspection I will find early tomorrow when I slice through New York to get home to Jersey to see my family -- I miss you guys! -- before heading to Friday night's game at the Rock between Philly and Jersey?

I plan to leave by 7:30 a.m. at the latest to give myself as much time as possible at home before the game. It should be a solid 7-hour drive. I'll try to keep you updated, but may not check in until I get to the rink tomorrow night.

Enjoy your Friday.

As part of the running account of those blog, I plan to provide a summary of each day's drive. Here is the rundown of Thursday's drive:

Destination: Pittsburgh, Pa., to Buffalo, N.Y.
Miles to destination: 212 miles
Total miles traveled on trip: 577 miles
Weather: Sunshine and mid-60s
Caffeine consumption: Two 12-ounce cans of Pepsi, two cups of green tea
Food highlight: Goyzo dumplings and spicy tuna rolls from a small sushi place just outside of Erie, Pa.
Top-five tunes during trip: Type O Negative, Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All); Biohazard, Punishment, Skip James, Hard Time Killing Room Floor Blues; Pantera, Art of Shredding, Fugazi, Suggestion.

Bruins and Sabres get their hate on

04.15.2010 / 8:57 PM ET

Wednesday morning, when I was in Pittsburgh, the Penguins' Max Talbot was talking about how hate needs to be a part of a series. He was talking about how he liked a series to delve into an antagonistic give-and-take as early as possible.

Well, he would love to be a part of this series in Buffalo. It did not take long for these two teams to get their dander up. After all, they saw each other six times during the regular season and each team plays a grinding, patient style that can get on an opponent’s nerves.

From the first shift of the game, bodies were being thrown around with abandon. Not surprisingly, it did not take long for tempers to boil over. And, it was even less surprising that Boston’s big man, Zdeno Chara, was in the middle of it all.

With 4:46 left in the first, he twice ran a Buffalo player into the end boards, which sent Buffalo’s Steve Montador into histrionics. Before you could say powder keg, all 10 skaters on the ice were involved. Raffi Torres came barging into the fray and then Milan Lucic found himself tied up with Toni Lydman of all people. That didn’t stop Lucic from taking a few swats at the Finn, much to the displeasure of the Sabres.

The referees handed out a few roughing minors, a crosscheck and a boarding minor and a 10 minute misconduct to Patrick Kaleta and then let the teams get right back at it.

When it was over, Buffalo had handed out 16 hits against the Bruins. Boston was credited with six, but that may have been the product of definition here in Buffalo. Plus, it wasn’t the quantity, it was the quality of the hits that mattered. And, many of them were of the board-rattling, teeth-clattering variety.

It has more of the same in the second period. Cagey veteran Mark Recchi showed no compunction about hitting giant defenseman Tyler Myers. He was rewarded for his efforts later iN the period when he scored Boston’s goal. Mike Grier took a healthy run at Chara, much to the delight of the jammed house here. Kaleta came back from his 10-minute misconduct and found himself cut open in a fracas along the side boards. He went for repairs without complaint.

The first 40 minutes of this game have been played with the truculence I remember from my early days in the game. It suggests that this may just be the series to watch in the first round. I’m sure glad I am here for the start of it and will be in Boston for Game 3.

Ready to rock in Buffalo

04.15.2010 / 7:07 PM ET

I’m going to delay the recap of the trip until after the game, so I can concentrate more on what is happening here at HSBC Arena tonight.

I promise a full update later with a summary of the mileage, caffeine consumption and the like. Let me just say this before I move on to game stuff, I need to better prepared on this trip. I took today as an as-she-comes kind of day and missed several good opportunities – including a side trip to Niagara Falls (I have never been) and taking in a Buffalo Bisons afternoon game (they played Pawtucket and Dice K pitched in a rehab assignment)  -- to add to the memories of this trip.

Plus, I cut it too close to really give the Party on the Plaza here in Buffalo its due. I did have to cut through the gathering to get to the security office and was able to take in some of the entertainment. The band, Strictly Hip, was rocking and the place was packed with fans decked out in Sabres’ jerseys, with quite a few hoisting homemade Stanley Cups. It might be a little early for that sentiment, but we appreciate the optimism.

One of the local radio stations here is billing this as the Boston massacre of 2010. I don’t see that, personally. I think this is going to be a low-scoring, fiercely contested series that could easily go seven games and feature several periods of overtime before it is decided.

Speaking of overtime, I was just reminiscing with a few of the boys on press row that the last time I was in Buffalo for a playoff game, it went four overtimes without a goal before Dave Hannan snuck one past Marty Brodeur on the backhand 5:43 into the fourth overtime period to win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, 1-0. That game, though, was at The Aud, which has finally been razed this year.

In fact, I walked past The Aud on the way here this evening. I was a little sad to see the ugly scar in the ground where the building once stood. I have a lot of memories of that place and the four-OT game tops them all. It is one of my top-10 hockey memories in fact. The image of Brodeur, stretched out on the trainer’s table, exhausted, in the cramped visiting room hasn’t left me yet.

Who knows, maybe we will have a four-OT night tonight. That’s the thing with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you never know what will happen. I’m sure looking forward to it all playing out here Thursday night, though.

You can follow my in-period updates on Twitter at sroarke_nhl

Welcome to Buffalo

04.15.2010 / 5:03 PM ET

We're here in Buffalo. I just pulled into my hotel a few minutes ago and did a 15-minute radio interview with 93.7 FM in Pittsburgh, talking pucks and the 8 Games in 8 Days tour with my good friend Joe Starkey.

There seems to be a little panic in the city of Pittsburgh, judging by their questions to me, but I think that the Pens will be fine. Wednesday might have been just the wakeup call the defending champs needed. And, the loss of Milan Michalek is a huge blow for the Sens.

But, we're in Buffalo now and we will move our attention to this series between the Sabres and the Boston Bruins. It looks like the city has playoff hockey as I drove in here today. The tailgating festivities were in full swing in the lots around the arena and everywhere you look, you'll find somebody in a Sabres jersey.

I'm going to do a quick change from my driving clothes to my hockey clothes (shirt and tie) and take a walk over the the arena. I'll join up with you agaion when I arrive and have a full post about Thursday's journey to Buffalo.

Until then, you can watch this preview video we shot this morning in Pittsburgh before I took off (I've also embedded it below). You'll get a good idea of what my Honda Accord Crosstour looks like by checking out the video. I'm almost on the verge of calling it KITT (you know, from Knight Rider) because of all its bells and whistles.

A perfect first night

04.14.2010 / 11:45 PM ET

Wow! What a great way to start of the 8 Games in 8 Days Tour.

The underdog Ottawa Senators played a near-perfect playoff game (they could have used some better goaltending for sure) to spring a surprise on the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 at Mellon Arena.

It is a result that should give Ottawa some tremendous confidence. At the same time, it should have the Pittsburgh Penguins asking some questions about themselves – which may not be a bad thing.
Plus, the game had a bit of everything.

Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin had two power-play goals and had flashes where he was showing the form that made him the Stanley Cup MVP last season. Sidney Crosby made one of the sweetest passes you will see – a behind-the-net, no-look, backhander right on the tape of Alex Goligoski for a one-timer past Brian Elliott. Craig Adams, who hadn’t scored in 11 regular-season games, scored on a pretty rising backhander.

On the other side, Anton Volchenkov played a great game in his shutdown role. He also blocked three shots. Each member of Ottawa’s third line – Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil – scored a goal in the game. Playoff rookies Peter Regin and Erik Karlsson played like vets and scored goals in their debuts. And Neil, who is known for using his hands for more nefarious means, made a pass on Ruutu’s goal that rivaled the brilliance of Crosby.

Things should only get more interesting from here, beginning with Friday’s game 2. Unfortunately, it is time for me to move on as I head to Buffalo tomorrow morning. I will catch up with this series in Ottawa next week, though.

I’ll check in tomorrow morning before I leave for Buffalo. Now, it is time to grab a bite to eat and maybe drop into our favorite local haunt, Shales, which is a hot spot post-game. I’m sure the atmosphere will be a little more somber than usual, though.

Ottawa shows its mettle

04.14.2010 / 09:17 PM ET

While everyone is wondering what is wrong with the Pittsburgh Penguins, let’s give some credit to the Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa is a solid defensive team and that has proven to be the case here in Game 1. Other than an occasionally rampaging Evgeni Malkin – remember he was the MVP of the playoffs last year – no Penguin has been able to string together dominant shifts.

Defenseman Anton Volchenkov has been great in his shut-down role and the forwards have done a good job on the Crosby line. Often, it was Ottawa’s third line – Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu – entrusted with the duty and they responded brilliantly. Both Neil and Kelly, on the power play, had goals.

Ottawa was also good in protecting its rookie goalie, Brian Elliott. The youngster looked awful on the first shot of the game, almost allowing a long-rance shot trickle past him and wasn’t very good on Malkin’s power-play goal at the 2:03 mark. But, Pittsburgh went more than 16 minutes without another shot.  Amazingly, Pittsburgh had just 12 shots in two periods.

And, its untested players delivered. Not only was Elliott just good enough, but two playoff novices – top-line forward Peter Regin and defenseman Erik Karlsson – scored in their postseason debuts.
All in all, that is not a bad first-night showing on the road for a team that is the acknowledged underdog in this matchup.

Time for panic?

04.14.2010 / 08:36 PM ET

This is why the playoffs are amazing.

It's a few minutes into the second period of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins are already facing a crisis of confidence.

It's not just that they trail 3-1 to an Ottawa team few pundits feel are in the same league as Pittsburgh, it is the manner in which they have fallen behind.

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been horrendous. So good for long stretches last spring, Fleury has looked more shaky than Ottawa's Brian Elliott, who has never played in a postseason game. Fleury has allowed three bad goals – two on awful rebounds allowed off harmless shots and the third on an unfortunate misplay of a dump-in by the Senators.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Penguins haven't been much better. An offensive juggernaut, Pittsburgh went more than 16 minutes between shots in the first period. Both shots, by the way, were by Evgeni Malkin, who scored Pittsburgh's only goal on the game's first power play. Sidney Crosby doesn't have a shot and the Pens also don't have any shots from their defensemen. Thirty minutes into the game, Pittsburgh had just five shots on net -- not exactly the kind of pressure the home team wanted to put on Elliott, who looked shaky in the game's first two minutes.  

Plus, both Pittsburgh penalties have been unnecessary slashes, the first leading to Kelly's power-play goal.

Fortunately, though, Pens have 30 minutes to figure it out in Game 1. If they can't, the pressure suddenly intensifies on a team hyped to make a third-straight appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.

What a perfect start to the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs!

Playoff Palooza in Pittsburgh

04.14.2010 / 07:26 PM ET

Much of the 8 Games in 8 Days Tour is about what makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs so special.

Of course, the games must take center stage, but the passion with which people embrace playoff hockey is a huge part of the story. Pittsburgh understands that as much as any city in the National Hockey League. This, my friends, is a hockey city.

Last night, on the ride home from dinner on the South Side, our cabbie was holding court -- cogently, I might add -- on the strengths and weaknesses of the hometown team. This morning, fans started camping out in front of Mellon Arena at 10 a.m. to stake claim to the best vantage points to watch tonight’s game on the big screen set up outside the arena.

At 5 p.m., the lawn was overflowing with fans taking advantage of a perfect spring evening in Pittsburgh to cheer on the defending champions as they open a new campaign to reclaim the Stanley Cup. They donned jerseys of their favorite players -- Crosby and Malkins dominated, but Staals and Orpiks were pretty prevalent, too -- painted their faces and waved homemade signs.

Pittsburgh's Party on the Plaza started a few years ago as an organic event and has grown into one of the great playoff traditions in the League.

Wednesday night, the Penguins repaid the enthusiasm of their fans in making the outdoor event such a success.

An hour before the game, the team started giving away seats for the game to fans outside through a texting contest.

"It's a way to say thank you to our fans, who have shown such passion for the playoffs," said Tom McMillan, VP of Communications. "It's been such a phenomenon. You were here today when the fans were streaming at 2 p.m., carrying chairs and settling in. It feels good to do something for those fans."

Sam Cantola, 19 and from nearby Harrison City, won the first pair of tickets given away. Cantola and here friend Brittny Ashton, also 19, showed up at Mellon Arena on a whim and then texted for a chance to win tickets.

The next thing they knew, they had seats inside Mellon Arena for Game 1.

"I still can't breathe," Cantola said. "There's no words to explain it. It's an experience like no other to be in that building."

The last time Cantola was at the Igloo, was last May 21, her birthday. The Pens won that night, beating Carolina in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final as Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist in a 6-2 victory.

Cantola was hoping for an equally memorable night on Wednesday. Ashton, though, had another goal in mind.

Off we go

04.14.2010 / 12:48 PM ET

Shawn Roarke's travels to 8 cities in 8 Days"Well the 8 Cities in 8 Days Tour trip is underway. I left my New Jersey home at 2:15 Tuesday afternoon and pulled into my Pittsburgh hotel at about 8 p.m., which was pretty good time considering the boondoggle at the 78 tollbooth in Easton Pa., where construction at the toll plaza resulted in a 30-minute delay. (It didn't help that I forgot my EZ Pass either.

But that's because I forgot to transfer that wonderful piece of technology (how anybody in the Northeast goes without EZ Pass is beyond me) in my personal car instead of transferring it to the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour, which the kind people at Honda loaned me for the duration of my 8 Cities in 8 Days Tour.

This is one sweet ride, boys and girls. It's got all the bells and whistles -- heated seats, sun roof, XM radio, rear-view camera -- you could want and drives like a dream. Plus, if I run into snow somehow this week, I have on-the-fly 4-wheel drive to tackle the elements. I'll provide more details on the car throughout the week, but suffice it to say it beats the Ford Focus I was given by the rental car agency last week to make this same drive.

As I pulled away from my house, I couldn't shake images of the Cannonball Run out of my head.  For those of you that aren't as old as I, Cannonball Run was a big hit in the early 80s, featuring an all-star cast competing in an illegal cross-country race. Unfortunately, though, I am not as good looking as Burt Reynolds (the star of the movie) and I don't have Farrah Fawcett for company.

Despite those limitations, I plan to enjoy the heck out of my travels, finding the people and places that make our sport so special, while also getting a good taste of all four Eastern Conference playoff series, which will only help me as the postseason progresses.

I hope you join me for this trip, following the blog and my posts on Twitter (sroarke_nhl).

As part of the running account, I plan to provide a summary of each day's drive. Here is the rundown of Tuesday's drive:

Destination: Matawan, N.J. to Pittsburgh, Pa.
Miles to destination: 365 miles
Total miles travelled on trip: 365 miles
Weather: Light rain giving way to sunshine
Caffeine consumption: One Big Gulp of Pepsi
Food Highlight:  Denino's Pizza (perhaps the best in New Jersey), Matawan, N.J., with the family right before departure; Oktoberfest Schweinshaxe (slow-roasted pork shank) with bread dumpling at Hofbrauhouse in Pittsburgh.
Top-five tunes during trip: Don't Take Your Guns to Town, Johnny Cash; 18 + Life, Skid Row, Mean, Mean Man, Wanda Jackson; Macho Man, Village People; Voices Carry, 'Til Tuesday.

View More