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NHL drama worthy of Broadway

by Brad Holland
NEW YORK -- A fan is heard shouting at the young forward, loud enough to elicit laughter from the surrounding sections.
The kid hears nothing, isolated within the playing surface as he is, so that by the time the laughter subsides, the kid already has spun around the blue jersey looking to contain him and passed the puck to his defenseman, now heading toward the net.
Suddenly, a shot. The kid already has position, waiting, with the same blue jersey on his back now, attempting to control his stick. The goaltender, too, is out, aggressive -- he knows who is on the ice and he is ready -- but he cannot withstand one, two, then three attempts at the puck from the kid.
The red light comes on, and a groan goes up from the crowd.
Sidney Crosby has just scored, at 15:59 of the second period, extending the Penguins' lead over the hometown Rangers to a seemingly insurmountable 2-0.
The crowd is upset, frustrated. The game is not going their way.
On a night when 15 cities across North America hosted 30 NHL teams, the bright lights of Broadway in New York City were chosen to play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins, to Evgeni Malkin and Sid "The Kid" Crosby.
The Rangers vs. the Penguins. Nothing more than a hockey game, but a hockey game in the world's most famous arena, under the bright lights of Broadway - a live-action drama played out in five acts, complete with heroes, villains, underdogs and bit players.
A script written live to the soundtrack of the voices of more than 18,000 spectators. And a dressing room full of players who would understand, only hours later, just how special the game they had just completed actually was.
"Pittsburgh, they won the playoff round against us last year, so for us to come out and show them that we're hungry and we want to beat them … we weren't happy with that series," said Freddie Sjostrom, an unlikely hero in the grand drama being played on Broadway's stage.
"I think we came out, and things weren't going our way the whole time in the game, but we talked about it in the second intermission … that if we get 20 shots on net, and grind them down, we're going to have a good chance to win."
The grind of the Penguins began in the early goings of the third period, but it did not pay dividends until almost the 19:52 mark, with only 8 seconds separating the Rangers from defeat.
Despite outshooting their opponents 44-29, and 18-2 in the third period, the Rangers found themselves in a desperate place, leading one final rush on Marc-Andre Fleury as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
It was that 18th Rangers' shot, off the stick of Nikolai Zherdev, that extended the game into extra time and gave the Rangers a shot at redemption.
It was that 18th shot that sent the MSG crowd into a frenzy.
"It was just amazing for us to come back," Sjostrom said. "We really worked hard in the third, we bombarded them with shots, and to get it late like that is obviously a great feeling and the place just erupted. It was one of the best moments I've had in here."
That moment was shared with all of the Rangers' fandom.
There was "Dancing Larry" riling up the crowd to his familiar refrain. There was the chants of "Let's Go Rangers!" and "Henri!" (clap) (clap) "Henri!" (clap) (clap) for goalie Henrik Lundqvist; and there was the Rangers, rewarding their fans for sticking it out, for waiting until the last possible moment before giving up hope.
"It was just amazing for us to come back. We really worked hard in the third, we bombarded them with shots, and to get it late like that is obviously a great feeling and the place just erupted. It was one of the best moments I've had in here." -- Rangers defenseman Freddie Sjostrom
When Zherdev scored, 12 NHL games were being played in 12 North American cities from coast to coast. Twelve arenas in hockey cities across the continent were going through the same drama, in various stages. But in the Garden on this night, only one game mattered. On this night, the fans were treated to something special. With overtime completed, the game moved to its fifth and final act.
First it was the goalies' time to shine, stopping the first four shootout attempts. Then it was Sjostrom deking, leaning left and then right, and sliding the first puck of the shootout behind the goal line, under the outstretched pad of Fleury.
And again, a frenzy in the Garden.
"Goosebumps," Sjostrom said. "Just looking at everyone, jumping up and down; those are the memories you take with you. It was the loudest I've ever heard it in here. It was just awesome."
Sjostrom scored, giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the shootout. Then, over the boards, jumped the focus of the Rangers fans' ire for most of the game -- Crosby, who had stung them once already, and who was more than capable of doing so again.
The elation over Sjostrom's goal soured quickly, devolving into jeers and boos. Boos rained down on Crosby, boos which equaled and overcame the crowd's earlier exuberance.
The jeers continued as he wound his way down the center of the ice, one-on-one with Lundqvist.
"I know Hank, he's probably one of the best goalies in the world 1-on-1, and if there's a time, I put my money on Hank," Sjostrom said.
Crosby, with a chance to extend the shootout for his Pens; a chance at earning the victory the Pens felt was taken away with only eight seconds remaining.
As Crosby wound his way in on Lundqvist, he weaved from side to side, lifted his back leg and dropped his forward shoulder in a feint, then pulled the puck back for an apparent shot and again looked to freeze the goaltender.
The Garden froze, but the goalie did not. Lundqvist's pads ended the game for Crosby and the Penguins, earning victory for the Rangers.
And for the third time in less than 15 minutes, the Garden erupted.
"Words can't even explain it," said Paul Mara, a Rangers defenseman. "(The fans) are extremely passionate. They love the Rangers and they love hockey, so it's always great to get two points for them."
Thirty teams and 15 games on one night. But on this evening, in New York City, on Broadway, only one thing mattered: a goaltender standing up to the chosen one with the game in the balance.

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