UNIONDALE, N.Y. — I never saw the way Justin Schultz scored his goal. I saw the pass to him, I knew there was a shot, but I was waiting on a redirection or cleaned up rebound from the guys around Robin Lehner.
Instead, Sidney Crosby threw his arms up and I was suddenly searching for Schultz and his celebration.
In that moment, there was hope and a chance to photograph scenes that could last well beyond the time on the game clock. A tie meant overtime, overtime meant a chance. That chance could snowball into a win, a series win, a Stanley Cup ... Whatever came, it would start with Schultz's goal.
I found Schultz at the same time Kris Letang did. No. 58 threw his arms around the goal scorer, they celebrated and the rest of the six attacking Penguins joined them for a group hug. I photographed away and then did my best to channel Hall of Fame voice Mike Lange:
It wasn't just a game-changing goal, it was a potentially playoff-changing goal -- if the Penguins pulled off a win. Without a Penguins' win, however, the Schultz goal and photo largely become forgotten.
In its place ...
ISLAND OF OPPORTUNITY
Mathew Barzal created space for himself. A lot of space for himself. It went something like this ...
Cut toward the center of the ice and away from sliding Brian Dumoulin:
[caption id="attachment_804577" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
Find yourself in a sea of space. A giant sea:
[caption id="attachment_804578" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
Get body position on Letang, who coasted back from his turnover to take you down and take Matt Murray out of the play:
[caption id="attachment_804579" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
Go hard to the net and then celebrate:
[caption id="attachment_804580" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
Of course, it wasn't Barzal's goal, but he did the leg work -- literally. Josh Bailey scored the winner by banging in the rebound created by Barzal's effort. And then he celebrated, celebrated some more and then took a curtain call as the best hockey crowd I've ever been around rained cheers onto him:
TWO SHINING MOMENTS
The Nassau Coliseum crowd was undeniably the best hockey crowd I've ever been around.
Columbus can do it right in the playoffs. The music is great, the cannon is extra but the crowd is rowdy and loudy. Nashville does things with a certain theatric feel and a charm to the Predators' fans harassment of goaltenders.
On Long Island, though, the fans create decibel after decibel of ear-bleeding noise.
No moment in my history of covering sports has ever been louder than when Tom Kuhnhackl beat Murray when the game was barely underway. The play was found to be offside, but the damage was already done in the crowd.
Yeah, the game-winner in overtime was loud, but the Kuhnhackl's disallowed goal happened so early in the game that the crowd never had a chance to calm down.
Arrowhead Stadium was a loud experience -- one I thought would be improved with earplugs. After one game in Nassau, I'll be wearing ear buds of some kind on Friday when the teams meet for Game 2.
I enjoyed photographing Kuhnhackl in the 2016-17 Stanley Cup run, and I thought it was entertaining, if not predictable, that he got on the sheet first before he was taken off.
The next loudest moment? Well, when Kuhnhackl scored again just to be denied ... again. This time, it was called "no goal" on the ice and then upheld.
Kuhnhackl undressed Olli Maatta, was being chased by three Penguins and went right through Murray on his chance. The crowd, again, went insane:
Pretty stereotypical, right? He didn't end up on the score sheet, but Kuhnhackl did damage to his former team. Further proof that damage doesn't always have to translate to goals and assists on the score sheet. Chances, crowd hype, getting in a goaltender's head and forcing them to make saves ... it all adds up.