When I was younger Any Given Sunday was one of my favorite movies. Part of that was because it was the first time I got to see nudity on television but as I got older I appreciated the movie for what it was: an amazing sports movie. Actually, it's one of my favorite sports movies ever.
Anyway, there's a scene where the Sharks are playing in the championship game and they have the ball on the one yard line with four seconds left. Right before the play Al Pacino (playing head coach Tony D'Amato) is on the sidelines and he screams:
Four seconds is a lifetime! We're a lifetime away!
In the NHL Playoffs Game 7 is an all-consuming fire. It will burn and scorch everything it touches until it's done smoldering and when the smoke finally clears the landscape is completely different than it was before. One team will be left standing, bruised and battered, the other one will be dead and buried; although closure will take some more time.
If the the legends of the game are grown then the seeds are planted in the soil of Game 7's. This is the realm where men become legends and dreams are left shattered on the side of the road. There is no in between. Remember: you can play cards with Death a thousand times, win 999 times and still be dead. Game 7 is a lot like that. It doesn't matter how many times you've survived, you only need to fall once to have everything come to an end.
And those moments happen in an instant. Overtime? It ends in a split second every single time. One mistake, one bounce, one moment of brilliance and it's over. It's almost like a balloon popping, a single moment of massive force followed by nothing. The air escapes the balloon and you're either dancing in the streets or laying in bed with glassy eyes looking up at the ceiling wondering what could have been. Four seconds might actually be an eternity in Game 7.
Sports is full of heartbreak, and like glimmering lights on a dark horizon they're always close enough to remind you they exist. That they happened. That you lived through that.
But then there are those moments. You know the moments. The moment where something happens and you'll never forget it. Martin St. Louis' overtime game-winning goal against Montreal in Game 4 last year? That's one of those moments. Walking through the corridors of MSG after the Rangers won Game 6 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final? Ball that moment in with the Dom Moore goal and that Henrik Lundqvist save? Yeah, that's one of those moments.
They come and go so quickly.
Which is why I'm trying really hard to savor this moment. Even this moment, right now, where I'm freaking out about what's going to happen in a few hours. Because we might crest that hill and have another game to prepare for tomorrow, or we might have a wake to attend.
For me, this game will go like all the others.
I'll get to The Garden for warmups, try and rationalize whatever the Rangers do as a good thing while I try to ignore the opposing team completely because watching them score (even on their own net in warmups) makes me nervous.
They'll Zamboni the ice and the lights will dim, they'll play that pump up video they play every game but dammit it gets to me every single time and I'll have goosebumps. The two kids will skate the flags around the ice to cheers, the camera will pan onto the New York Rangers logo and we will wait for Lundqvist to emerge. The National Anthem will be beautiful, The Garden will be loud. I will have chills.
And then the official will skate to center ice, wait a tick and drop the puck and the game will start. If four seconds is a lifetime, what's 60 minutes?
People always ask me if I'm ready for games like this. And my answer is always no. But that's the beautiful thing about this hockey team. I don't have to be ready.
Because I know they will be.