The “Willis Reed Game” has grown in proportion as an epic through the decades, as these things tend to do as the years tick off. By this point, it wouldn’t be a surprise if a lot of younger fans assume that Willis Reed hobbled out of the Knicks locker room missing a leg, hopped around for 65 points, and knocked the Lakers’ starting lineup unconscious in the 1970 NBA Finals before carrying the trophy off and ascending the Brooklyn Bridge with it using only his left hand.
The reality is that Reed played 27 minutes, scored four points (though they were the Knicks’ first four), and essentially was “there” while Walt Frazier “only” put up 38 points and 19 assists. Thankfully, if you’ve ever seen “Clyde” do a Knicks broadcast, you can be pretty sure he’s not taking the misplaced attention personally.
Still, every time a star player returns from injury in the playoffs, Reed’s name gets evoked. So it was on Wednesday night as Steven Stamkos, who has braved 55 days in the bubble without playing thanks to surgery on his core and then an ensuing leg injury. It’s important to keep reminding yourself that the Lightning have essentially marched their way to the Final without a former 60-goal scorer, of which there are currently all of two in the league (Ovechkin is the other).
Of all the returns that get the Wills Reed treatment, Stamkos’ compares closer than most. He only skated 2:47, and appeared to tweak something at the end of the 1st period. He sat on the bench for the rest of the game, but he could do so happily thanks to this:
In fact, it could be easily argued that Stamkos’ one goal is massively more important than Reed’s four points. Either way, the appearance and goal of their captain seemed to spark the Lightning, who absolutely dog-walked the Stars all night for a 5-2 win. The Bolts outshot the Stars 21-4 in the second period, and held them without a shot for 18 minutes from near the end of the first period to the middle of the second. Other than a brief spurt in the first, the Lighting simply smothered Dallas in the same fashion as you saw in the Cuckoo’s Nest. Victor Hedman racked up his 10th goal of the playoffs, the most by any D-man since Brian Leetch managed 11 in 1994, while continuing to push both teams against the Dallas end-boards with ease.
Of course, this being hockey, the Stars couldn’t get their dick knocked in the dirt without some late-game, pretty much shameful and sad cheap shots, running around for any blindside hit they could find and some they couldn’t. Alex Radulov nearly sent himself to dreamland with this:
A pretty prime metaphor of the Stars’ whole effort on the night.
Only in hockey is being a sore-ass loser considered “sending a message.” In any other sport, with this kind of behavior the only message you’d send is “We’re going to be figuratively pissing blood getting our ass kicked this hard so we’re going to see if we can make our opponents actually piss blood for being better than us because we’re desperate, whiny children.” Remember this next time you feel an urge to complain that hockey players don’t share your social views.
It would seem illogical, even silly, to credit Stamkos’ barely two minutes of time with the win. But we love sports partly for the stuff that is intangible, unquantifiable. Given the bounce in the Lightning’s step tonight, there has to be something to it. Check out this reaction to his goal and you’ll believe it more. And these days, it’s important to believe in something positive, no matter how trivial.
It would also be balancing for Stamkos to contribute to a Cup win. He was captain the last time the Lightning got this far, but didn’t score once in the 2015 Cup Final loss to Chicago. He even missed on a breakaway in the clinching Game 6 with the game scoreless. Considering goals were so scarce in that series and the Lightning were the better team for a large swath of it, it could have easily swung that series another way. It’s probably something Stamkos has been aching to put right since, and the injury keeping him from doing so personally must’ve been utter torture as the Lightning progressed.
Still a long way to go, and Anton Khudobin is unlikely to be so easily pilfered again. But Tampa Bay is the superior team by some distance in this series, and tonight looked every bit of it.
The Miami Heat got a Herro’s performance last night to take a 3-1 lead over the Celtics last night in the Eastern Conference finals. Rookie Tyler Herro came off the bench to score 37 points in the 112-109 win. Herro drilled five threes in the win as Miami has pushed the Celtics to the edge of The Bubble.