Let’s explore a common sports cliche today. Hockey is a game of inches. Yes, pretty much every sport is a game of inches especially, as Al Pacino in his greatest performance reminded us, football*. This is a hockey website, though, so we’re going with hockey being a game of inches, or for our Canadian friends, a game of centimeters.
Let’s take a look at the inches that changes that make this a storybook goal instead of another random hockey play that ends in nothing exciting.
1. The pass from Victor Hedman.
That pass is right on the money for Stamkos to stride into. If it’s a few inches behind him he has to slow down to gather it in and loses his speed through the neutral zone. If it’s a few inches in front of him, he misses it and Esa Lindell clears it or it skitters harmlessly into the Dallas zone.
2. Evading Esa Lindell’s attempted hip check.
Because Stamkos is able to keep his pace going, he eludes Lindell’s hip check. Again, an inch or two is the difference in this play. A full hip check eliminates the play and probably produces some big cheers from the Dallas bench. Even if he doesn’t catch him cleanly, if he clips him just a bit, it slows Stamkos down possibly enough for the backcheckers to catch up, or for Anton Khudobin to align himself a little better in the net.
3. Khudobin is slightly off his angle.
The journeyman goaltender was so good in this series as taking space away from Lightning shooters. At 5’11” playing the angles correctly is even more important for him since he doesn’t have the advantage some of the larger goalies have in just taking up more space and making it harder for a shooter to see space. With a little bit of an opening on the far side, Stamkos snaps a shot in that direction. If Khudobin is an inch or two farther out, or an inch or two to his right, that space just isn’t there.
4. The shot.
The space was there, but it was far from a yawning net. Stamkos still has to fit into a spot under the bar, but between Khudobin’s right shoulder and the paddle of the stick. Again, an inch to the left and the puck hits the goaltenders shoulder. An inch higher it clanks off the goalpost. An inch to the right and it misses the net or hits the post.
If, in any of those instances, the inches go against the Lightning, it’s still just 1-0 and maybe the Stars tie it up and find a way to win the game. Don’t think so? Well let’s take a look at another rush from Steven Stamkos where the puck didn’t go in.
We’re heading back to the 2017 Eastern Conference Final. After a playoff run filled with “when will Stamkos return” stories, the Lightning captain makes it back from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome rehab to suit up in the deciding Game Seven against the Pittsburgh Penguins and their wunderkind goalie, Matt Murray.
Circumstances are a little different as the Lightning are facing elimination if they lose and they are trailing, 2-1, in the game. However, think of the boost they would get if their injured captain returned to score a pivotal, game-tying goal towards the end of the second period.
As you can see, or as you may remember, it didn’t happen. However, it was just a matter of inches.
1. The goals start with fairly similar entries.
Stamkos attacking down the right side of the ice with no one between him and the goaltender. Dallas at least had two players in the picture. In the case of the Pittsburgh play it was a pass from Alex Killorn that just slid by the Penguin player’s stick that sent Stamkos into the zone alone while the teams were skating four-on-four.
2. Stamkos’ angle of attack.
While the entry into the zone is similar to the one against Dallas, Stamkos is shooting from the other side of the face-off dot, closer to the slot. In this case, it’s a game of a couple of fee I guess. The angle he has to the goal isn’t as wide as it was against Khudobin. That makes it a little easier for Matt Murray to line up correctly.
3. Murray’s positioning.
Murray is a little further out from the net, in fact he is completely outside of the crease when Stamkos winds up for his shot. Khudobin was just at the edge of his crease when Stamkos let the shot go. The Dallas netmider could have come even further out due to the lack of a threat of a pass along with the fact that he had a defender close by to help out. With an extra five inches of height as well (Murray is 6’4”) the space to the left of the goaltender just isn’t there.
4. Stamkos chooses to blast it through Murray and it almost works.
The puck finds a little bit of room between Murray’s hip and his blocker and makes it way through. Unfortunately for the Lightning, Stamkos needed another inch of clearance or so to make it through cleanly. The puck’s path is altered just slightly. If only Murray’s waist size was one inch smaller.
5. The puck lands on edge and rolls away from the net.
It was a slight alteration in the direction of the puck, but enough for it to send the frozen bit of rubber skipping just a few inches left of the far goal post. If the puck is angled just a bit differently when it hits the ice, maybe it bounces to the right instead of the left and then into the net.
The Lightning didn’t get the bounces in this case and didn’t get the goal. Pittsburgh went on to win the series and the Stanley Cup, while the Lightning had to wait for a few more years.
That’s what makes sports, and hockey, so much fun to watch. No matter the preparation, no matter the execution, sometimes it’s just the way the puck bounces that can help determine the outcome of a game or a series. Sometimes it bounces the way you need it to, and sometimes it bounces off harmlessly into the corner.
*If you don’t think I didn’t stop writing for 20 minutes as I went into an Al Pacino overacting rabbit hole on YouTube, then you just haven’t been paying attention to my writing for the last four years or so. Here’s a quick list of my five favorite (in no order) line readings by the master. I cannot stress enough that I’m not talking about 1970s Al Pacino, one of the best actors ever, but the early 1990s second stage of this career.
Any Given Saturday
There should be an Oscar for a motivational locker room scene in a sports movie. He reached the pinnacle of the shout one line, whisper the next method of speaking in this one.
“Either we heal NOW AS A TEAM (long pause) or we will die...as individuals.”
Scent of A Woman
Really the beginning of the dial it up to 11 version of Pacino. The entire movie is a symphony of random speech patterns. Everyone remembers the “HO-HA” or the “You’re out of Order” parts, for me it was the random drawing out of guys with names that started with William.
“No, I’m just getting warmed up. I don’t know who went to this place..William Howard Taaafft, William Jennings Bryyyyant, William Tell, whoever.”
This tour-de-force never gets the credit it deserves. Al Pacino as the devil, sign me up all day long. Here he’s talking about god to a bewildered Keanu Reeves.
“It’s the goof of all time. Loooook, but don’t touch. Touch, but don’t taste (Pacino takes it to the next level with a little jazz hands shuffle). Taste, don’t swallow. (Insane cackle). AND WHILE YOU’RE JUMPING FROM ONE FOOT TO THE NEXT, what is he doing? HE’S LAUGHING HIS SICK, F— A— OFF!
One of my personal favorites of his early 1990s renaissance period. Love a good voiceover in a movie and Pacino is bang-on during his death scene at the end (spoiler!)
“Last of the Moh Ricans. Well, maybe not the last. Gail’s going to be a good mom. New, improved Carlito Brigante. Hope she uses the money to get out. No room in this city for big hearts like hers. Sorry baby, I tried the best I could.”
I honestly don’t think there was a script in this movie for him. Director Michael Mann just pointed at someone on the set and told Pacino to go yell at him. The entire movie is just one long, insane Al Pacino rant. And it’s some of the greatest cinema of all time (especially in contrast to the way Bobby Deniro underplayed the Neil McCauley role.
“You know you can b— my wife if she wants you to. You can lounge around here on her...sofa...in her ex-husband’s..dead tech, post modernistic b---t house if you want to. But you do not...get to watch MY. MOTHER. F—N. TELEVISION. SET.”