My friend Don, a sports fan with impeccable credentials, invited me over the other night to watch the game at his place. I’m not a huge hockey fan, but of course I’d be rooting for the Rangers. The Rangers are his passion and they were beginning a playoff series against the Washington Capitals. Over twenty years have passed since they’d last won the Stanley Cup, but Don was clearly upbeat. The Rangers had just vanquished the Pittsburgh Penguins four games to one and had won the season series against Washington.
He was upset but not overly concerned when the Capitals scored the first goal via a blistering slap shot by their superstar Alex Ovechkin. The Rangers were playing at Madison Square Garden and would soon, he hoped, feed off the energy generated by the hometown fans. Period two, however, passed with no scoring by either team. The Rangers though had several scoring chances which prompted Don to announce, what most thoughtful fans acknowledge, i.e., scoring opportunities not cashed in can be an ominous sign, foretelling ultimate defeat.
Meanwhile, taking place at the same time is the NFL draft. So there’s Don watching hockey on his enormous flat screen TV while holding a radio to his ear listening to CBS coverage of the football draft. Now, Don is also a rabid Giant supporter and had, by his own admission, studied the draft prospects very closely. The Giants, he explained to me, are sorely in need of a standout offensive lineman, one who can provide vital pass protection for ElI Manning. Don knows exactly who can fill the bill – Brandon Scherff, a top-rated offensive tackle out of Iowa. The Giants had the 9th pick and Don is clearly nervous, is praying that Scherff will still be available then. But soon enough the news comes through that the Redskins, who had the 5th pick, have selected Scherff. Don is absolutely distraught and more or less concedes that Giant prospects for the upcoming season have diminished considerably. (Fans tend to ride emotional roller coasters – for them it’s often all or nothing.) Just as Don is absorbing the news and expressing great disappointment, he gets a phone call from a friend. He too has been following the draft and is equally upset. They commiserate with each other, both apparently prepared to write off the 2015-16 season.
Period three begins with the Rangers moving the puck around aggressively in the Capitals’ zone. Still, their goalie Braden Holtby meets the challenge, turns away every threat. Meanwhile the Capitals have neutralized Ranger speed and are physically dominating the New York team. Don, noting the large number of failed scoring opportunities, seems to be preparing himself for a Ranger defeat. But then, with just 4:39 left in the game, they tie it on a tip in from Kevin Hayes. Don shouts, pumps his fist, offers me a wrist wrenching high five. Momentum has shifted finally to the Rangers. But they can’t capitalize. With the clock winding down, overtime seems certain. But with just seconds remaining the Rangers Dan Boyle is hit hard in the back by Nicklas Backstrom (probably a penalty, but none is called) surrenders the puck behind his own net, whereupon it is taken up by Ovechkin who passes it to the goal mouth where teammate Joel Ward is perched. Ward instantly slides it under the pads of goalie Henrik Lundquist. The score comes with less than two seconds left! An absolute shocker. Don is speechless, sinks into his seat. Disaster has struck. Could the Rangers snap back in Game two, after such a demoralizing defeat? Who knows?
Hoping for better news Don now changes channels, tunes in the Mets game. He’s been a Mets fan forever, but has suffered through lean times in past years. Nevertheless, early in the season there’s reason to cheer. The Mets have gotten off to a fast start. But they have lost their last few games. Are they returning to recent form? Sure enough, the score, we discover is 8-2 in favor of the Washington Nationals. Worse still, Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom, presumably one of their best, has been roughed up.
Actually, Don predicted, the Mets would be losing. Sports fans sense instinctively when the tide turns against them. His Rangers had lost, his Giants had missed out on a top pick, so it was unlikely the Mets would provide any relief from the gloom. Altogether it had been a dismal few hours – a terrible trifecta.
Actually, it was even worse than that. Don, when the Knicks aren’t in contention (which lately is most of the time) roots for the San Antonio Spurs. Wouldn’t you know it – they lost as well in a playoff game, falling to the Clippers.
I barely mumbled ‘good night’ as I left his place. What after all is there to say? The next day I didn’t call him, either. It’s best, I figured, to allow the pain to subside. April 30, 2015