A Split Second
By Neil Huss

Sweat ran down his nose , collected on its point, and fell through the bars of his mask. He was physically and emotionally exhausted, but had to stay sharp. His team needed him. His eyes shifted from the other end of the arena, where a face-off was taking place, to the scoreboard above center ice at the United Center in Chicago. Two minutes and thirteen seconds remained in regulation, ten seconds on the Chicago power-play. Everyone on the ice, in the stands, and at home watching the game on TV knew how important this game was. It was game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. The score was tied, 0-0.

Shawn Briere considered himself to be a merely mediocre goaltender, a solid back-up. When the Blackhawks starting goalie went out with a torn ACL at the beginning of the playoffs, he was catapulted into the number one spot, whether he was ready for it or not. His teammates did an outstanding job of giving him support, making him feel like the only goalie for them throughout the playoffs. But Shawn was not ready for the pressure that was amassed on him now. He was a first-year rookie to the NHL, called up from the Toledo Storm to the Detroit Red Wings only five months ago. The Red Wings sent him to Chicago for two draft picks. An immediate trade is bad enough, but to be traded for draft picks? That was a shot that made him think that he would never find himself where he was now. He returned his focus to the other end of the ice.

The Blackhawks gained control off of the face off and the team set up the power-play box, passing around, looking for that ever so important opening in the defense. With two seconds remaining on the power-play, Sylvain Kusinsky, a defender for the Blackhawks, found it, and ripped a high speed, rising slap-shot into the corner of the net. The red light behind the goal lit up, along with the faces of the entire Blackhawk bench. The crowd seemed to stand up in unison, yelling with their arms in the air, hugging the person next to them, celebrating the upcoming Stanley Cup Championship. The fog horn seemed to be a quiet bug-like buzz in Shawn’s ears. He had to show his composure, to make sure that he didn’t lose track of his concentration. After all, there was still two minutes left in the game, and he knew that the Bruins would be throwing every thing they have at him, including a man advantage when they pulled their goalie.

The face-off was won by the Blackhawks and the puck was headed into the Boston end. Chicago set up its power-play box, this time to just burn time as the players passed the puck in the opposing end. The only problem with this strategy, every man was covered. The play worked for roughly ten seconds, then Boston gained control and took it back behind their net to set up an advance, Chicago was changing lines.

The Bruins charged out of their end and crossed the center line. The Boston forward dumped the puck into the Chicago zone and the wings chased it. Briere was focused, keeping all his attention on the puck as it was passed from behind him to the point at the blue-line, where a Bruin forward ripped a one-timer. The puck was coming in high glove side, and fast. Shawn ripped his arm up, his glove slicing through the air. His head could not turn fast enough to see the puck, so he only had luck on his side now, no longer the skill which he felt so confident with. As he felt a pull on his trapper, he thought the puck deflected off of his glove and into the net. But the look on the Bruin forward’s face told him that he did catch the puck. His teammates swarmed him as tempers ran high and Boston players began taking shots at the goalie after the whistle.

Briere looked up, hoping for that scoreboard to show triple zeros in the time slot, but saw no such thing. One minute and two seconds remained, and he looked to the Boston bench, and saw the Bruins goaltender skating to his teammates on the pine, and a forward coming out to replace him. Sylavian Kusinsky skated over to him and shot him a line of encouragement. Briere set himself for the face-off. The Black hawks won the faceoff, and immediately dumped the puck towards the Boston empty net. It was sliding straight for the goal, two Chicago forwards began celebrating in front of Shawn as the puck gently coasted toward the goal. The Bruins on the ice gave up and began to stop as they saw their Stanley Cup fade away. It seemed as if the Blackhawks would seal the deal on the NHL Championship, but fate would play a cruel joke on the team.

The puck came to a halt one inch form the goal line. A Bruin defender raced up to get it, and checked the time as he took control of it and headed up to the Chicago end, his team with a one man advantage. With only thirty seconds left, the Bruins were going to use their one man advantage to its full potential. There was no reason to rush a shot, miss, and have the puck dumped out by Chicago, they wouldn’t have enough time to start another push. The Bruins set up in a five-man box and a screener in front of the Blackhawk goaltender. The puck was at times blocked from view, but Briere was doing his best to stay square. The Bruins snapped impeccable passes with surgical precision through the Blackhawks defense. A Bruin forward looked up at the time, and seeing only six seconds left, called for a shot. Briere was pulled out to the left, and the Boston forward saw an open teammate with a clear line of fire to the empty right side. He slid a pass between the defender’s legs, and the wing ripped a one-timer.

Briere knew that he could not get back in time. He laid on his stomach, eyes wide, sweat pouring, watching the puck. He always saw shots as a smudge of black slicing through the air, but this one, this one seemed to be floating. For a split second the puck seemed to tease Briere, hovering just out of his stick’s range. He felt like the entire world was falling apart. After all, it was his fault if this goal sent the game to overtime, where they could possibly lose. The puck seemed to wobble in the air, and with only one second left, it made the glorious sound of hitting the crossbar. The noise was amplified by the silence in the arena. As soon as the buzzer went off, ending the game, the players and crowd snapped out of it, and the celebration began.
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