“You’re as cold as ice, you’re willing to sacrifice our love.”
-Foreigner, “Cold As Ice”
It was a marathon on ice. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning battled for nearly three games to earn one win. The Lightning’s Brayden Point ripped a wrister over the right shoulder of Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo in the fifth overtime to give the Lightning a 3-2 victory in the first game of the series—and also the first game of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
What a moment for the NHL; what a moment for the fans; what a moment for society.
Tuesday’s match at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto was the fourth longest NHL playoff game in history, clocking in at 150:27 of ice time. It was exhausting to watch the players; they skated with heavy legs, their backs bending more during each sudden death session, their sight either reaching the ice or ceiling during the few moments they were relieved to catch their breath. Yet, they played and fans watched—at home—pondering if they would have to call into work today—at least residents of Raleigh and Boston have excuses at the moment. The Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins were slated to play on the same sheet of ice after Columbus and Tampa Bay, but their game was postponed until this morning (ongoing at the time of this post).
The puck dropped at 3:09 p.m. ET. Grayish-blue covers stretched over each section of seats, bright banner graphics filled dark spaces opposite the cameras and crowd noise was filtered in to simulate the aura of playoff hockey. By 9:22 p.m. ET, at the 10:27 mark in the fifth extra period, the fact there were no fans present was forgotten. The Lightning celebrated with a burst of energy from the bench and the Blue Jackets suffered through bittersweet devastation, the skaters leaning helplessly at the waist and letting their momentum slowly coast their worn bodies to the locker room.
It was a fairly normal game to start. Pierre-Luc Dubois gave the Blue Jackets an early first period lead on the power play, but Point evened the score four minutes later. Oliver Bjorkstrand heaved a shot from the boards late in the second that squeezed past perennial Vezina finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy in what should have been a routine save. The Lightning trailed 2-1 at intermission, and a recollection of 2019 was looming.
Last year, Tampa Bay was the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, and the city, players and staff believed they were due. The franchise won their first and only championship in 2004, but had made the Eastern Conference finals four times since 2011. They reached the Stanley Cup final just once, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015. It had been long enough; it was time—until the John Tortorella-led Blue Jackets swept their dreams right out of the playoffs in what was considered one of the bigger upsets in playoff history. Tortorella coached Tampa Bay to the title in 2004.
The rivalry is there and it’s fresh, but the Lightning were on the brink of letting it be one-sided last night. They desperately needed this win for morale. A little luck helped the cause 23 seconds into the third period. Ryan McDonagh fired a shot on net and Yanni Gourde’s resilience in the crease caused the puck to trickle under Korpisalo’s torso and touch off his leg, barely crossing the goal line.
Then it got less normal.
Korpisalo ended the evening with an NHL record 85 saves, at least one short of what he hoped, and some skaters on both teams eclipsed 60 minutes of ice time. With 17 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime, when normal people probably would have been hospitalized from exertion, Liam Foudy and Mikhail Sergachev raced each other in full sprint for an icing call. It was seemingly a meaningless play, but it showed something vital in regard to social attitude.
Despite the fatigue, the immense pressure these athletes put on their bodies last night for their glory and our entertainment, they gave it their all until the end, and the adrenaline may be from the pure joy of playing again. Relevant sport is back as much as it’s allowed, and society, no matter if they follow sports or not, should be gracious for what that means. It’s progression; it’s getting back to normal; it’s showing we’re all relevant.
It just took an incredibly rare feat to prove that.
Game 2 of the series is Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. Clear your schedule, but there’s a chance it’s clear already.