The NHL couldn’t have dreamed up a better scenario for the week leading up to the Bridgestone Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. Last Thursday, the first meeting of the season between the Penguins and Capitals went to a seven-round shootout before Pascal Dupuis (who incidentally has been one of the stars of “24/7”) finally scored the winner for Pittsburgh. Then, last night Sidney Crosby’s 25-game point scoring streak was finally snapped, meaning he and Alex Ovechkin will go into Saturday’s game with exactly 571 points apiece. And finally, last night’s episode of “24/7 Penguins/Capitals Road To The NHL Winter Classic” did a phenomenal job of building the excitement for Saturday’s game with behind the scenes footage that revealed the true emotion behind this rivalry.
The episode had other highlights: the grapefruit-sized welt on the side of Ben Lovejoy’s face, Bruce Boudreau trying to buy ice cream early in the morning and not knowing what to get his wife for Christmas, and Dan Bylsma asking his son for feedback on the coach’s choices for the shootout, but the real magic behind this episode was the drama built around last Thursday’s game.
Pittsburgh went into the game oozing with confidence, and why not, they’d won 14 of their last 16 games. But Washington had finally started to sniff success again with two consecutive wins and the Capitals players seemed to be feeling far more pressure than the Penguins.
We got a completely unique look at the coaches unveiling their game plans to their players as Boudreau told his players to constantly hit Evgeni Malkin because the Russian loves to retaliate, and Bylsma told his men that they all knew where “No. 8 is going to be.”
Once the game started we were presented with stunning on-ice footage of crunching checks, players screaming at the referees, and the unusually high joy players feel when sticking it to their rivals.
In between periods of the tense game we got to see Bylsma tell his players that they needed to keep shooting because Washington’s goalie, Michal Neuvirth, “isn’t that good.”
It was a stunningly candid look at how players actually feel and react when going against an opponent they genuinely don’t like. And it was a reassuring example that not all players are in the NHL just for the money; they actually do care about what happens on the ice.
But most of all, it made anyone who’s ever played a sport realise that though these guys are infinitely better at their craft than the average human, they still interact much as we do during games. They discuss strategy, what happened on the last play, who the weak links are on the other team, and how the referees are blowing the game. We may have assumed that this went on, but we were never presented with such proof.
The third episode of “24/7” will make the Winter Classic all the more entertaining as we imagine what must be going on behind the scenes, and the best part is that we’ll find out the truth next week. After the masterpiece that was episode No. 3, maybe the unspoken goal of getting casual viewers to watch the outdoor game on Saturday will come to fruition.
Here’s what other people had to see about the third episode:
- “Thank you @HBO and @NHL. This was the greatest 24/7 yet. I hope this becomes a yearly occurrence. Maybe an @NHL Hard Knocks?” – Eric, 5holeblog
- HBO’s 24/7 is a triumphant depiction of life in the NHL. After watching episode 3, thinking “Hockey, the greatest sport in the world!” – Allan Walsh
- “Hey, @NHL and @HBO – Take 1 game every month. Do what you did for Capitals/Penguins. We will watch it. Promise.” – Greg Wyshynski
- “Another great 24/7 tonight on HBO. Hockey may never be on the map in the U.S. so this is about as good as it will ever get.” – Steve Simmons
- “We’re seeing uncensored, all-access coverage of an NHL game like never before on #HBO247. It’s awesome.” – Wyshynski
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