The tension in playoff hockey is thicker than the puck the players battle to control. Make it a game seven and it kicks up another notch.
Go to sudden death overtime and it becomes palpable. And if you really want to make sure every fingernail you have is bitten away, go to a second OT. That's what the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators did last night in the Steel City. The last team standing would earn the right to play for Lord Stanley's Cup in the finals, and in the end it was Chris Kunitz scoring his second goal of the game to put Pittsburgh back in the finals for a second consecutive year.
Kunitz' game winner came off a feed from Sidney Crosby in the high slot, as Kunitz one-timed a slapper that came off the stick more like a change-up, fluttering a bit, and that may have thrown off the timing of Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, who watched it soar over his right shoulder and into the net. Kunitz is a 37-year old veteran who may be in his last pro season and he's got a chance to go out a hero if that's the case. He finished off a two on one with Conor Sheary in the second period to put the Pens up 1-0, but Ottawa tied it just 20 seconds later on a goal by Mark Stone, and after the Penguins had gone up 2-1 and carried that late late into the third, the Sens tied it up again with just over 5 minutes left in regulation to force not one, but two overtimes before Kunitz sent the Pittsburgh fans home happy. The Penguins now have a chance to be the first team to win back to back Cups since the Detroit Red Wings did it in 1997 and 1998. Hoping to keep that from happening will be the Nashville Predators, playing in their first ever Stanley Cup final, which begins Monday night in Pittsburgh. My heart is with Nashville, my head with the Pens, but I'm going heart on this one: Predators in six, with former Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban getting the Cup winner in an overtime frame.
No such drama in game five of the eastern conference NBA finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers just ran roughshod over the Boston Celtics in a 135-102 victory to take the series and set up what the league might just as well schedule before the season even begins: a rematch with the Golden State Warriors for the NBA championship. This will be the third year in a row that LeBron James and Steph Curry will lead their respective teams in battle against each other. The Cavs won last year, the Warriors the year before. Golden State has Kevin Durant added to their already impressive arsenal this time around, and in the end I think that may be the difference, despite LeBron being the best overall player in the game, who, by the way, passed Michael Jordan for all-time career playoff points with the 35 he scored last night. But the call here is Golden State in seven.
The lefty had his curve ball biting, fast ball location was pinpoint, and the occasional cutter was thrown in to keep hitters off balance and flailing at air. With 11 strike-outs and just four hits allowed over six innings in a 6-2 Red Sox win over the Texas Rangers, you might think Chris Sale had been on the mound for a second consecutive game, but instead it was Drew Pomeranz pitching his best game in a Red Sox uniform since being acquired from San Diego last year.
The 11 strike-outs tied a career high for Pomeranz, who left after the sixth to a standing ovation from a crowd braving a cold and wet night at Fenway, and this is the kind of performance the team hasn't really seen from Pomeranz to this point. The biggest problem for Pomeranz has been high pitch counts that have forced him to leave games early and that have taxed the Boston bullpen, even while recording good strikeout numbers. But last night he was the model of efficiency, allowing just two runs and one walk to earn his fourth win of the year, and he also recorded his 500th career strike-out along the way. In all, Red Sox pitchers struck out 20 Rangers on the night, including four strikeouts in the 9th by Craig Kimbrel, and if you're wondering how that's possible when you only need three outs to end an inning, it's because Kimbrel's first strikeout included a swinging strike three on a ball that got away from catcher Christian Vazquez and the runner reached first. Kimbrel, who's been nothing short of amazing this year, retiring 53 of the last 56 batters he's faced, simply shrugged it of and struck out the next three to end the game.
On offense, Xander Bogaerts finally got off the home run schneide, hitting his first of the season, a two-run blast in the third, and the Red Sox have now won four in a row as they go for five with the Seatte Mariners in town to begin a series at Fenway tonight.
The NY Yankees were rained out in the Bronx, but in Queens they got in a game between the Mets and San Diego Padres despite some pretty soaky conditions. The Mets would rather have sat it out as their crosstown counterparts did, losing 4-3. Pushing back the scheduled starter Jacob de Grom, the Mets sent Rafael Montero to the hill instead and he threw 45 pitches in a first inning in which he also gave up two runs, including a bases loaded walk. Montero couldn't get out of the third, while for San Diego rookie Dinelson Lamet was making his first big league start and went five innings, giving up just one run for his first ever win. Lamet impressed with his fastball, clocked consistently in the high nineties. The Mets have now dropped 8 of their last 11 in a season that's looking as gloomy as the weather in New York was last night.
Finally, the Vermont City Marathon and Relay has moved up the start time for Sunday's race to 7am, just as a precaution because of what happened with the weather in last year's race.