Disclaimer: This was an article I wrote a few months ago as a piece of game journalism.
This Shit’s a Playoff
The last time I saw Daniel we were heading out on separate planes from YVR (Vancouver) Airport. He was leaving back to school in Ontario as I was heading to Hawaii to enjoy the sweet life being a university dropout. My family doesn’t like me using the term because it wasn’t like I had failed out, I just left. I consider myself at least a bit of a dropout though: I still quit school.
Daniel and I didn’t have just any regular rivalry, this shit was serious, and this shit was the NHL series by EA Sports. The last time that he beat me I almost broke a controller. I’ll admit when I was younger I had a bad temper, but I got better with it and I barely act out anymore.
Except for when I play NHL.
Daniel is the master at mind games though; I’m quite sure he often loses the first few games just to lift me up so he can even up our games and beat me in the final game. He’s a bastard, and he knows my weakness.
As an agreement neither of us ever uses the Vancouver Canucks because of the team’s importance to both of us, as lifelong fans. If I chose Chicago and he chose Vancouver I don’t know if I could beat him if only on principle, so the team is disallowed.
Like usual we take a minute to go through the teams and try to decide and if we couldn’t decide we’d randomize teams and stick with them throughout our series (risky business.)
This time around we decided to choose teams: Daniel chose Chicago and I chose Los Angeles. Daniel likes Chicago’s fast-paced play-style and their speed; their transition game (from defensive zone to offensive) is exceptional and they have two lines full of players capable of a two-game night, each. Los Angeles’ team however is quite a bit different. While their transition game is also above average it’s led by their defense over their offense, which I prefer. I like to deke past a few players in the neutral zone (center of the ice) to carry it into Daniel’s zone instead of pass it in, that’s just what I’ve found useful against him. On the goalie side, our teams were fairly even. Chicago has Antti Niemi (strong goalie under pressure) while I’d have Jonathan Quick (young solid goalie for a long series.)
The teams were chosen and the games had begun.
The first four games with us are always just feelers. We get a taste of how we’re playing that day and the tactics that we each fall back on as they usually change over the span of time between these series of ours. As usual, our first four games split two-all (2-2) and the real games were about to begin. We also got a lot of our mistakes out in the first few games (the first was 7-2 for me and the second was 5-1 for Daniel) and a lot of our high scoring games, consequently. Now that we felt each other’s style out and we learned how to hold our own end defensively, we were about to start game five.
The first period was split 1-1 with a small number of shots, but still quite a bit of possession time. I knew I’d have the edge throughout the rest of the game if this continued because of my strong defensive core (hard and accurate shots) and my team’s affinity to powerplay possession (5-on-4 play.) Daniel however is a “rusher” and prefers to score off of a 2-on-1 breakaway or a 3-on-2. Daniel’s play has always revolved around one-timers (immediate shot after receiving a pass) from a rush and once I hold him in either zone he begins to lose his visibility. Of all things though, he ended up scoring a powerplay goal from the side of the net through possession, taking the score to 2-1 in his favour.
The rest of the second period proved to be pretty slow, as I was trying some new tactics such as “dump n’ chase” (shooting the puck in the enemy’s zone and chasing it in) and lead-passing (manually directed pass in front of another player) to try and break up his defense. Because of this he began to take a lot of his time coming back into my zone as I often had a few more players in the neutral zone than him, and was changing quite often to keep up stamina.
The end of the second period seemed to come all too soon as I landed a powerplay after he injured one of my players against the boards. I chose to keep the player on the ice, but it was a dirty hit either way and I was awarded with a two-minute powerplay.
The period ended about halfway in though, which I never like to see as then my momentum on the powerplay has to pick up again in a whole new period, the last period. The rest of the game went pretty fast. Daniel let me go from the neutral zone and didn’t turn around his last defenseman fast enough as I flew past Duncan Keith (one of the best defensemen in the league) with Dustin Brown (my captain) and roofed a deke past his Niemi. After tying up the game I scored a powerplay goal through a possession in his zone. I figured out that Daniel is at ease and plays better defensively after about 10 second in his zone, as he begins to find a pattern. To counter it I held in on the top of the zone for those ten seconds and then threw it behind his net and worked a passing game down low to make him anxious. Once he began to bring up his players and the top of the zone in towards to net to help, I tossed one out to Drew Doughty (youngest player on the Canadian Olympic Hockey Team) and slapped one past Niemi.
The game ended 4-3 after a pair of even strength (5-on-5) rush goals.
I was up by one and needed only one more to close the series, but I knew that Daniel has something up his sleeve. Right away he went into his lineup and changed around his powerplay. He moved all of his fastest players (regardless of skill) onto the first powerplay, including putting a forward on the defensive line to move the puck up the ice faster.
Daniel also moved a player from his second line to his third to even out his lines more and give himself more quality chances when he had them, no matter which of the three top lines of his were on the ice.
As game six began I took the usual coaching approach and told me team (myself) that this had to be played as if our own lives were at stake, this had to be a game seven for us or we wouldn’t want the win more. Of course, as I was telling myself this Daniel simply looked confused as to why I was leaning forward in my seat lip syncing the speech from Any Given Sunday (“Inches” speech by Al Pacino, watch it.)
The first faceoff was easy enough, and I started off having a few good scoring chances but not hitting the back of the net quite yet. Daniel lucked out though as I got a tripping penalty about five minutes in, with the shots at 8-1 in my favour. Daniel punished me on the powerplay and shot almost every chance he had, bringing the shots within a few short minutes into his favour and nearly landing a one timer from the side of the net. I survived it though, and had a breakaway as well, but my deke got messed up and the shot missed the net.
Late in the first off an attempted clear (by me) Daniel picks up the puck at my blue line, keeping the puck in the zone, and throws it in front of the net. With Quick having moved out of the net already, thinking the puck was cleared, he makes a save but is left a good five feet out of the net, and sprawling out to make the save from the corner. The puck hits Quick’s pad and is knocked off to his left across the net and goes right to one of Daniel’s players. He takes the shot but gets cocky and tries to roof the puck in showmanship, and as the puck flies towards the net it hits the top crossbar of the net and it knocked nearly straight down to the ice and sits on the goal line as Quick moves back to hold the puck in his pads. This was the first of eight “posts” (when the puck hits the post) to come in the rest of the game.
Daniel had a few solid chances throughout the first period and had me sitting up, but it was clear after playing through the period that if it kept going that way I would be ending up on top. However, all either of us needed was a couple good chances or breakaways for this game to ramp up to extraordinary levels.
Right from the first faceoff Daniel’s playing much more aggressive. He moves his players right at mine to try to block passes and close off lanes between my players.
When Daniel plays aggressive it’s a gamble, for both of us. When he’s rushing my players he will either hit me successfully (end up with a rush on my goalie) or he’ll miss my players and I’ll be the one with the advantage. This is how we strategizes at the beginning of each series we play and it’s always what ends up with him losing by four or five goals in a game.
There was no doubt in either one of our minds at this point that the second period was going to be full of goals, on both ends. By half way through the period the game had gone from 0-0 to 3-2 for Daniel. It had been working for him, mostly, but he began to slow down his pace, hoping to wear me down through passing and some suave movements.
Going into the third period the score didn’t change, and he saw me sweating a bit.
However, I told myself to play this one like it’s a game 7, and I always play the third period the best when my life is on the line.
Starting the third I had two breakaways almost back to back, but missed on both of them. All I kept thinking was that the score should be 4-3 for me, and that missing those two shots cost me the game. What I didn’t realize was that Daniel was more worried about me missing those two chances than I was, and then he began to sweat a bit.
Taking advantage of it I drew a penalty, which is pretty easy against Daniel. He’ll spend half the time in his zone swinging sticks around hoping to hit the puck, and if you move properly in the zone you can trip yourself on his sticks and draw a minor (penalty.)
Moving into the zone with a man-advantage I threw the puck around the boards and to the man on the other side of the ice, and used him to toss it back around and move it out to the blue line. My possession had begun in his zone and I was moving the puck flawlessly around the ice, not giving him an inch. Finally I threw the puck on net and Niemi bounced it off to the side, and one of my players was there to get it. I made a lucky mistake though and didn’t shoot right away, as Niemi dove down to make the predictable save. However, my player went around the net and hooked it in from the other side into an open net with Niemi still lying on the ice.
The rest of the period went pretty fast as we both continued to dump and chase the puck into each other’s zones. Once the end of the period was coming we had a pair of penalties taken, one each, as a 4-on-4 ensued. Going into the overtime period it then became 3-on-3 because of the rule set we had. The game would also go into a shootout if we lasted through the overtime period, which doesn’t happen in standard playoffs.
But make no mistake, this shit was playoffs.
We both struck into the overtime hard and fast, getting a few quick chances. Once the penalties were gone and we were back to 4-on-4 there had been a total of 5 shots for either side.
About two minutes in I took drew doughty out of my own zone and pulled his patented spin around one of Daniels forwards attacking me. He drew out another forward to go after me and instead of tossing the puck to the free man I moved around the forward and with two men on my back I advanced towards his two defencemen standing right at the blue line.
After baiting the defender on the right to come at me I moved left in towards the other defender. Having room on my right now I pulled a deke to give myself space, and with three players sticking behind my skates I went to take a shot but deked left and held the stick on that side hoping to get around Niemi and bury the puck. The move worked perfectly as Niemi dove to the side to save it and I moved just around his glove and slid the puck on the ice into the net, nothing fancy.
Daniel cried out in pain as I jumped up off the couch and hollered aloud. I think his parents though we had gone insane as we created a larger ruckus than most of their family reunions. Needless to say this wasn’t quite as important to either of us as the current playoff run that the Vancouver Canucks are on, but as far as video games go for either of us we certainly love our NHL.