If ever you need confirmation of the theory of general relativity, just watch your team in a Stanley Cup clincher. After Lars Eller scored the go-ahead (and soon to be Cup-winning) goal with 7:37 left, time started doing funny things, depending on who you were rooting for. While those final minutes and seconds ticked away far too quickly for Vegas fans desperate for a goal, it lasted an eternity for Caps fans. And probably never so panic-inducing for everyone as when the damn clock broke.
With 1:49 remaining, with the VGK goalie pulled and after a couple of Caps icings, the in-arena clock froze. The players on the bench, who rely on the building’s video boards for the time, were vexed:
Viewers at home were no more informed. The arena clocks are what TV broadcasters use for their on-screen graphic, so just about everyone was screwed. Here’s the NBC feed of the game:
The clock jumps from 1:49 to 15:19 (my realtime reaction: “Uhh...”), ticks a second off, freezes again, goes to 14.9 (“Uhhhhhhh”), the graphic gets taken off the screen completely as NBC’s production truck is no doubt in a full panic, then returns with just the score but no time (“!!!”), which looks unsettlingly empty, and then returns with an alleged 51 seconds remaining (“???”) before play finally stops with the clock reading 28.6 seconds.
“The clock is moving,” Doc Emrick said at one point. “We don’t know if it’s accurate.”
And here’s the CBC graphic, which reflected the same skips and freezes (remember, it’s tied to the in-arena clocks), but was never taken off the screen completely.
I don’t think I noticed a single thing that happened on the ice during that stretch; I think my brain shut down with the clock. And because I am apparently very bad at estimating the passage of time, I genuinely could not have told you, even roughly, how much time had passed. Should the game have been over? Or were the Golden Knights getting shortchanged? I can only imagine how Washington and Vegas fans were feeling during this.
(The officials had to conference about it, but the game did resume with the correct amount of time. You can check for yourself by timing the video.)
There was one and only one person in the world who knew during the entire stretch how much time was actually left: the official Game Timekeeper, classified as an an NHL official and sitting along the glass. An entire rule, Rule 34, explains the timekeeper’s job, which, the vast majority of time, consists of two practicalities: helping TV producers sync with the electronic time, and telling the PA announcer to announce one minute remaining in the period.
But sometimes—sometimes with under two minutes remaining in the deciding game of the Stanley Cup finals!—the timekeeper becomes the hero. Rule 34 stipulates that in addition to the electronic timer, the timekeeper uses a “league-approved stopwatch.” That stopwatch was the only thing standing between last night’s game and total anarchy.
(Another fun rule I just learned; in a situation like last night’s when the electronic clock fails, or if the in-arena sound system goes down, it’s the timekeeper’s responsibility to alert players and officials to the end of a period or a game by blowing a whistle. I bet timekeepers spend their entire lives hoping to blow their whistles just once!)
The timekeeper and other officials thought quickly when technical disaster struck last night, and you can see their fast work on the CBC bug. The scoreboard operator reset the in-arena clock to 1:00 and held it there, and when the timekeeper alerted the PA announcer to announce one minute remaining in the game, the clock operator started time counting down again. It wasn’t precise—you can see little hiccups in the time over the next 10-20 seconds as it re-synced—but it was pretty damn close. Impressive work on everybody’s part.
You know, this might end up being what I remember the most from the actual game portion of Game 5, especially since the final seconds were anticlimactic—an icing, and a faceoff with too little time left to do anything with it. No, it’ll be that stretch when no one had no idea what was going on; pure panic, pure chaos. That’s always an appropriate takeaway from the closing moments of an NHL season.