Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bleachers' Brew #371 Fire on ice (an old time hockey fan feels life in his bones with the New York Islanders alive once more)

This appears in the Monday, May 5, 2013 edition of the Business Mirror.

Fire on ice
An old time ice hockey fan feels life seep into his old tired bones with the New York Islanders playing for the game, the series, of their lives.
by rick olivares pic by greg shamus/nhl

For the casual sports fan, he’d dismiss ice hockey as too odd and maybe too brutal. As a long time ice hockey fan, I never liked the fighting even if one may say that it is a part of the game (as it is the one major sport that allows a modicum of fisticuffs for players to vent out during a game). I never did although there are some teams and players who I dislike. However, on occasion, I can appreciate the gloves coming off.

When New York Islanders alternate captain Kyle Okposo delivered that devastating overhand right to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Matt Niskanen at the 7:37 mark of the second period, it sent a strong message to the Eastern Conference’s top team – to steal a line from glam rockers Twisted Sister – ‘that we’re not going to take it’. Anymore.

The finis has yet to be written in this first round series but this is a feel good moment for the downtrodden Isles, long suffering, and like my other favorite club in the world, Liverpool, who have been living on old and fading glory. After all, they’re back in the playoffs for the first time in six years and now have a chance to make a real statement. To create new heroes who will pick up the mantle from the sainted Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies, Butch Goring, Ken Morrow, and Bob Nystrom, and Pat LaFontaine to name a few.

Niskanen delivered two rights to Okposo before the officials separated the two. The Penguins’ defenseman might have won the fight, but Okposo’s willingness to stand up to Pittsburgh (not to mention that he bloodied Niskanen) who they’ve shared a contentious history served as inspiration for a late Game Two push. And that Okie scored the game winning goal is going to gnaw at the Pens.

Now maybe after New York’s 4-3 comeback win over Pittsburgh to level the series at 1-1 (after that ugly ugly 5-0 Game One loss), everyone will have to take the New York Islanders seriously. What looked to be sure doom as the Penguins and the returning Sidney Crosby staked their team to an early 2-0 lead in the game and a possible 2-0 lead in the series has now opened up a different plot twist.

Last March 24, New York was at 13-15-3 when they went on a late season tear. They won three straight before the Penguins sent them crashing back to earth with a 2-0 win at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. However, the Islanders won two in a row to set up the final push for the playoffs with an 11-7 record to close out the strike-shortened elimination round.

That the Penguins are the first round opponents guaranteed an intense series.

New York took the first meeting of their four-match series of the regular season; a 4-1 win at the Consol. But Pittsburgh bounced backed to win the last three head-to-head matches of the season. The Penguins believe they have the advantage while the Islanders have something to prove. And there’s the matter of the memory of February 11, 2011 that still haunts the history between these two Atlantic Division teams.

On that day, was a day of victory for New York but is was also one infamy. The Islanders won by the incredible scoreline of 9-3 but no one really remembers the final result as the match is more known for the 65 penalties assessed by game officials. And that included 15 fighting majors, 21 game misconducts, and 346 penalty minutes. For a while it resembled the notorious Hanson brothers of Slap Shot fame.

The Penguins will also have something to say about the rivalry as they seek to gain revenge for the concussion Crosby suffered during a November 2011 match with the Islanders that took a toll on their title defense.

“We wanted to let them know it was going to be a battle,” an overjoyed Okposo said in the aftermath, “and we’re not going to roll over.”

After Crosby, the best player in the NHL, scored his second goal for a 3-1 Penguins lead, it looked like this was going the way of Game One. Then came the Niskanen-Okposo scrum.

The fight seemingly reinvigorated the Islanders who despite the score line, had outplayed their foes for much of the game. Colin McDonald and Matt Martin equalized before the end of the second period to set up the nerve wracking final period.

Okposo scored the game winner when his shot caromed back into the crease and rolled off the back of Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury and into the goal to give New York a 4-3 win; its first playoff triumph since April 14, 2007 against the Buffalo Sabres.

And so the plot thickens as the series moves to Long Island where the next two games, beginning today, Monday, could be the last to be played at the old Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island. Next season, the Islanders are moving into their swanky new digs at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. 

It’s going to be loud. The blue and orange faithful will howl and stamp with paeans made to the old hockey gods. The old saints will be trotted out and the crowd will bellow for Niskanen’s head and an Islanders win.

The gloves are off.

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