Without question it was the best hockey game played in the United Center, which opened its doors in 1994.
Before I get started, let’s get a few things clear: Monday night’s game was incredibly fun; it was exciting; it was the moment Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane officially announced their arrival on to the national scene; it will probably be responsible for converting more hockey fans in Chicago than any other game this year; it also offended nearly every hockey sensibility I’ve ever held.
The defensive play of both teams was at most times, atrocious. The puck was treated with the care of a hand grenade ready to explode at any moment. There were enough careless penalties that the late Roger Neilson probably spent the majority of the evening rolling in his grave. Roberto Luongo played the worst game of his professional career. Mattias Ohlund and Matt Walker went toe-to-toe in a battle royale of defensive mishaps.
Just for those simple reasons, I have a hard time acknowledging it was the greatest anything. Well, except greatest atmosphere.
I think that’s where people are making the mistake. From all accounts, the United Center was on absolute fire last night. It became fairly obvious on TV that the place was electric with about six minutes left.
The problem is, people are confusing the experience of being at the game with what actually took place on the ice.
A question I always ask myself before I start contemplating whether a game was the ‘greatest’ is this: Would I still think this was one of the best games if the team I was cheering for lost?
My answer for Game 6 would be a resounding NO. If the Hawks lost on Monday night, it would have taken years of therapy for me to forgive Dustin Byfuglien, Duncan Keith, Matt Walker, or Cam Barker for the costly mistakes they made last night.
Just doing about five minutes of brainstorming, here’s a list of games also played at the United Center that I found to be infinitely better, in terms of quality of play, than Monday night’s tilt. You’ll probably notice a trend pretty quickly.
June 6, 1995: Western Conference Finals, Red Wings 4, Blackhawks 3 (2 OT)— In regulation, both teams took turns giving up the lead. The Hawks tied Detroit midway through the third when Jeff Shantz beat Mike Vernon from the top of the circle. Then in the overtimes, Ed Belfour and Vernon make an incredible assortment of saves to extend the game. It ended late in the second overtime when Vladimir Konstantinov flipped a shot from the blue line that Belfour completely muffed.
May 6, 1996, Western Conference Semi-Finals, Blackhawks 4, Avalanche 3 (OT)— Jeremy Roenick beats Patrick Roy on a breakaway to give the Hawks a brief lead. Colorado comes back to tie it. In overtime, Sergei Krivokrasov barrels down the right wing and lets off a shot destined to hit Roy in the chest. Instead, the puck ricochets off a Colorado defenseman’s stick and ends up beating Roy over his shoulder. Hawks win and Roenick tells Roy after the game his jock is hanging in the rafters. Roy replies with, “I couldn’t hear him. My Stanley Cup rings were in my ears.” Who keeps rings in their ears?
May 8, 1996, Western Conference Semi-Finals, Avalanche 3, Blackhawks 2 (3 OT)— With the Hawks holding a 2-1 series lead over the favored Avalanche, Game 4 turns into a marathon. Roy gets the best of Roenick denying him on a couple of golden opportunities to end it. Belfour stands on his head for a while, then lets Joe Sakic beat him between the legs at the beginning of the third overtime.
May 13, 1996, Western Conference Semi-Finals, Avalanche 4, Blackhawks 3 (2 OT)— With the Hawks facing elimination and 3-2 deficit, Joe Murphy scores with less than a minute left to force overtime. In the first five minutes of the first overtime, the Hawks storm Roy’s crease with the fury of a thousand buffaloes. Roy denies them on every chance.
After the Avalanche weathered the storm and extend it to the next overtime, Sandis Ozolinsh pinches down low. He gets a feed from Peter Forsberg and his shot clanks off the cross bar. The rebound comes right back to him and he puts it into the net to finish off the Hawks. Roenick takes last lap wearing the Indian head and Blackhawk organization goes into 13 year hibernation.
Now, there’s a list of all-time great games.
First, that match-up with the Avalanche was probably one of the best second rounds in the history of the NHL. Four overtime games, two that extended past the first, and some serious star power with Roy, Belfour, Roenick, Chelios, Sakic, and Forsberg.
Next, to qualify as ‘the greatest game’, there has to be multiple key saves made by both goaltenders. Each of the aforementioned games had that; last night, only Khabibulin made the save when he needed to.
The game also has to have some staying power. It’s probably going to take a couple years before we truly know.
Will this game help lead Toews and Kane into the upper-tier of elite players the same way it did for Sakic and Forsberg? Will people look back on this game and say, “This is where it all started”? Hard to tell, but if it does, then we can re-open this discussion.
Ultimately though, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and for me, there were far too many mishaps and blunders to consider Game 6 against the Canucks “THE BEST GAME WITHOUT QUESTION”.
This has nothing to do with the above, but I had to find a spot for this because how relevant it will be for Blackhawk fans in the upcoming week. The following question was posed by the Sporting News to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman:
SN: But the fact remains that when I was in Chicago, I couldn’t get a playoff game in my hotel because it didn’t get Versus.
Bettman: That’s changing. That’s part of the evolution. They’re now in over one million hotel rooms. What you need to do in the future, when you make your reservation, call and say, ‘Do you get Versus?’ If they say no, then you should say, ‘You should get Versus or I’m not coming,’ and go to a different hotel.
The stupidity of that comment should echo in eternity.