Hockey Fights Cancer night is always one of the great promotional nights at the rink. Pittsburgh, in particular, gets a chance to appreciate what some of the city's greats have overcome away from the rink.
It's not just the Mario Lemieux and Phil Kessel types, though. Olli Maatta skates every night having beaten cancer. And across the city, Jameson Taillon pitches every fifth day, while James Conner scores touchdowns on Sundays.
Cancer is tough. It hurts everyone. And it's a wonderful thing to have heroes in this city who give those fighting it inspiration every day. Not to become top tier athletes, but just to beat the dang thing and live each day to the fullest like these guys are.
But Pittsburgh is just a part of the whole. Cancer forces battles to be fought in all cities, including the many Brian Boyle has played for during his NHL career.
Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia at the start of last season's training camp. Not a full two weeks ago, he had the chance to announce that his leukemia was in remission and that it would likely be an 18-month time period before he could really move on, but that he was feeling great.
Monday ... Monday, he scored his first NHL hat trick ... on Hockey Fights Cancer night.
The home team's fans would have preferred if it was Phil or Olli, any other Penguin or even just a win. But as the crowds cleared out in the third period and Devils fans got louder, it was clear that this special moment was transcendent of typical home and away fan rivalries.
"Bri-an Boy-le ... clap, clap, clap clap clap." Over, and over, and over from a group of Devils fans seated near the penalty box. They were loud the whole game, but they acquired more and more voices during the third and echoed his name throughout the building.
"Boyle is my hero," one would proclaim, many times.
A Penguins fan at one point turned to his friend and loudly rebutted, "What has Brian Boyle done lately? I'm sick of fans who haven't won anything recently cheering for teams who aren't any good." He was politely informed that Boyle had a hat trick in the game ... and, well ... and that he was doing a great job beating cancer. That was the last rebuttal I heard from those seated near me.
One of the relentlessly cheering Boyle fans even got a pretty cool moment in the game's final seconds. When Boyle was booked and sent to the box with fewer than 2:00 remaining, the fan cheered, pointed, clapped and took a selfie against the boards as Boyle got into the photo for him. That got a great cheer from the remaining fans.
What a night for the big guy.
The big moment happened just about 20 full game minutes before the photo with the fan. New Jersey acquired a man advantage and Boyle took the ice on the power play. I turned to an always welcoming home fan and said, "If Boyle is going to get the hat trick tonight, and he is, it would be nice to see it right now."
Just like that, No. 11 was posted up in Evgeni Malkin-like fashion and teeing off a one-timed blast past Matt Murray. He found a knee on the follow through and admired the puck into the twine. I found it a bit odd that so many cheers came for the guy without a single hat falling, but hey ... he made me look good on a prediction, made a pretty photo and made for a heck of a story on a special night.
The image of the follow through and that shot is above. His second goal is my personal favorite, but leads Chris Bradford's piece ... let's take a look at that next.
For more than two seasons now, I've been waiting to get one of those patented Sidney Crosby deflections or baseball swings around the cage. There have been a few nice photos. I snapped one of him watching in a puck on a near goal from a deflection just a week ago, but nothing that really sings.
Of course, on a special night for Boyle, I found another pretty frame of a Penguins opponent. Boyle got squared up in front of Murray, watched the puck in, deflected it from between his towering legs and up over Murray's butterflied position.
Take a look at the image above ... Murray's eyes are locked on the puck. He tracks it through Boyle, but a perfect deflection sends the well-tracked puck over the shoulder and into the netting. What. A. Goal.
I knew it would at least make a solid photo because there was no one else around the net, and I knew it was in focus. I was just hoping I'd get a solid frame with a visible puck. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find all the elements line up on it. Goal scorer, interacting goaltender and a not only visible puck, but a puck noticeably redirecting and spinning from Boyle's stick.
That's when I first knew the big man was going to turn a great night into a truly special occasion.
IN THE ROOM
It's one thing to say a night was special, another to show evidence of it. Let's hear about it from Boyle himself. First, he answers reporters on scoring a hat trick on Hockey Fights Cancer night ... then about inspiring those around him after being the one needing inspiration:
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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