One of those odd unwritten rules of pro hockey is that your entire life revolves around winning the Stanley Cup, but when you’re one game away from actually doing it, you have to pretend like you haven’t noticed. You have to claim it’s just another game, and maybe even feign some degree of surprise that anyone would treat it any other way.
So Monday, hours away from a chance at capturing their third Stanley Cup in six years, that’s what the Blackhawks did. After their morning skate, player after player swore that the night would be like any other game. They repeated it like a mantra, almost robotically. Just another game. No big deal. It’s only a championship on the line. For their part, the Lightning were just as coy, shrugging off any suggestions that having their very playoff lives on the line made this game any sort of big deal.
The charade lasted all morning, right up until Lightning coach Jon Cooper addressed the media. He was asked whether this was, indeed, just another game.
“No chance,” he replied, incredulous. “The Stanley Cup’s in the building. I can’t believe they would say, ‘Oh, it’s just another game.’”
“We know it’s just not another game,” he continued, gaining steam as he went. “This is much different than Game 1. You got to win or you go home. On the other side, you know what happens if they win.”
“No. I don’t like to sugarcoat anything. This is the reality of the business we’re in.”
He’s right, of course, even if he’s not supposed to say it. This wasn’t just another game. As it turns out, it would be the last game of the series and the season, and the one that saw a new dynasty crowned. And it would be the night the reality Cooper spoke of finally caught up with the Lightning.