8 games, 8 days blog

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a grueling test of physical, mental and emotional strength. So, NHL.com has come up with its own test of those three strengths. Welcome to the NHL.com 8 Games in 8 Days Tour, presented by Honda.

Simply, NHL.com managing editor Shawn P. Roarke will drive – in his 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour - to each of the eight Eastern Conference cities hosting Stanley Cup Playoff games this spring. It is a grueling trip that will cover almost 2,400 miles in 192 hours.

Along the way, it will celebrate all that is great about playoff hockey – the places, the people and, most important, the game itself, that make the next two months the most demanding and memorable on the year’s sporting calendar.

Please join us for this ultimate road trip, which begins Wednesday in Pittsburgh. Shawn will have all the details here in the 8 Cities in 8 Days Tour blog and will also provide updates on twitter: sroarke_nhl.

The 8 Games in 8 Days Tour is as much about discovery as it is about hockey.

Part of the idea behind this crazy journey was to see parts of the country I never -- or rarely -- see. Thursday was such a day.

I had never driven the stretch between Pittsburgh and Buffalo. It is the simplest of drives -- 212 miles split almost evenly on two major interstates -- 79 and 90. it is a beautiful ride through rolling farmland used for many different purposes -- dairy farming, livestock farming, agricultural farming and, more recently, as vineyards.

To say that I enjoyed it would be an understatement, especially because I never pushed my Honda Accord Crosstour past the posted speed limit. The police on the two roads were almost as thick as the herds of cows I passed today in my journey.

But as much as it is nice to discover some new scenery, this trip, for me, is also about self-discovery.

When you spend multiple hours in a car by yourself, there is plenty of time for the mind to wander. And, my mind wandered all over the map -- excuse the pun.

Of course, I thought a lot about hockey. I tend to do that anyway, but when you throw yourself into the playoffs, it happens more and More. Plus, I was listening to NHL Live! on XM Radio for part of the trip and really enjoyed the spot with Mike Commodore, who reminisced about his run to the Cup with Carolina.

Remember, Carolina lost the first two games of the first round to Montreal and looked bad in doing it -- especially Game 1 -- but then found its way and negotiated the treacherous playoff road all the way to the final destination. That is an interview that should be played in the dressing rooms of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks today. As well as the Washington Capitals, who somehow lost a game they should have won at home on Thursday night.

But I thought about a lot of other things, as well.

One of those things is how amazing it is that people you don't know and will never likely meet can have an impact on your life.

Hockey fans encounter that all the time. I didn't meet Bobby Orr until I was 40, but he shaped much of my childhood through the stories I heard told about him.

For me, though, those influences also come from the musical world, as should be obvious to anyone that has a passing knowledge of this blog.

I have never met Peter Steele, but have always admired him. He died today, at just 48. It left me incredibly sad -- sadder than it should, I thought -- as I made my way to Buffalo.

I'm sure some of you are wondering who Peter Steele is, right? Well, Steele was the lead singer and bassist for Type O Negative, a goth-metal band out of Brooklyn.

I first heard Type O Negative shortly after I moved to New Jersey in the 1990s and just loved their sound. Steele had one of the deepest and most unique voices in heavy metal. If I had to describe it, I would probably say it is a cross between Glenn Danzig and Jim Morrison. He also played an amazing bass. With Type O Negative, the bass was never as dominant as it was with Primus. Yet, I consider Steele to be in the same league with the legendary Les Claypool, the famous bassist for Primus.

It surprised me that Steele's death affected me so profoundly because I had seen Type O Negative just once and only really knew him through his records. But, as I listened to the tributes come across the radio from fans, I realized everybody has these famous people that help shape their life merely through the artistic gift with which they have been blessed and have presented to the public.

That, I guess, is the best legacy of all for these artists or athletes when they pass. I spent much of the rest of the drive listening to Type O Negative as my own tribute to Steele and his life.

Then, it was off to the arena for the game and back into my comfort zone. I will say, though, that I appreciated the game maybe just a little bit more after spending the afternoon lost in my own head.

I wonder what nuggets of introspection I will find early tomorrow when I slice through New York to get home to Jersey to see my family -- I miss you guys! -- before heading to Friday night's game at the Rock between Philly and Jersey?

I plan to leave by 7:30 a.m. at the latest to give myself as much time as possible at home before the game. It should be a solid 7-hour drive. I'll try to keep you updated, but may not check in until I get to the rink tomorrow night.

Enjoy your Friday.

As part of the running account of those blog, I plan to provide a summary of each day's drive. Here is the rundown of Thursday's drive:

Destination: Pittsburgh, Pa., to Buffalo, N.Y.

Miles to destination: 212 miles

Total miles traveled on trip: 577 miles

Weather: Sunshine and mid-60s

Caffeine consumption: Two 12-ounce cans of Pepsi, two cups of green tea

Food highlight: Goyzo dumplings and spicy tuna rolls from a small sushi place just outside of Erie, Pa.

Top-five tunes during trip: Type O Negative, Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All); Biohazard, Punishment, Skip James, Hard Time Killing Room Floor Blues; Pantera, Art of Shredding, Fugazi, Suggestion.

Bruins and Sabres get their hate on04.15.2010 / 8:57 PM ET

Wednesday morning, when I was in Pittsburgh, the Penguins' Max Talbot was talking about how hate needs to be a part of a series. He was talking about how he liked a series to delve into an antagonistic give-and-take as early as possible.

Well, he would love to be a part of this series in Buffalo. It did not take long for these two teams to get their dander up. After all, they saw each other six times during the regular season and each team plays a grinding, patient style that can get on an opponent’s nerves.

From the first shift of the game, bodies were being thrown around with abandon. Not surprisingly, it did not take long for tempers to boil over. And, it was even less surprising that Boston’s big man, Zdeno Chara, was in the middle of it all.

With 4:46 left in the first, he twice ran a Buffalo player into the end boards, which sent Buffalo’s Steve Montador into histrionics. Before you could say powder keg, all 10 skaters on the ice were involved. Raffi Torres came barging into the fray and then Milan Lucic found himself tied up with Toni Lydman of all people. That didn’t stop Lucic from taking a few swats at the Finn, much to the displeasure of the Sabres.

The referees handed out a few roughing minors, a crosscheck and a boarding minor and a 10 minute misconduct to Patrick Kaleta and then let the teams get right back at it.

When it was over, Buffalo had handed out 16 hits against the Bruins. Boston was credited with six, but that may have been the product of definition here in Buffalo. Plus, it wasn’t the quantity, it was the quality of the hits that mattered. And, many of them were of the board-rattling, teeth-clattering variety.

It has more of the same in the second period. Cagey veteran Mark Recchi showed no compunction about hitting giant defenseman Tyler Myers. He was rewarded for his efforts later iN the period when he scored Boston’s goal. Mike Grier took a healthy run at Chara, much to the delight of the jammed house here. Kaleta came back from his 10-minute misconduct and found himself cut open in a fracas along the side boards. He went for repairs without complaint.

The first 40 minutes of this game have been played with the truculence I remember from my early days in the game. It suggests that this may just be the series to watch in the first round. I’m sure glad I am here for the start of it and will be in Boston for Game 3.

I’m going to delay the recap of the trip until after the game, so I can concentrate more on what is happening here at HSBC Arena tonight.

I promise a full update later with a summary of the mileage, caffeine consumption and the like. Let me just say this before I move on to game stuff, I need to better prepared on this trip. I took today as an as-she-comes kind of day and missed several good opportunities – including a side trip to Niagara Falls (I have never been) and taking in a Buffalo Bisons afternoon game (they played Pawtucket and Dice K pitched in a rehab assignment)  -- to add to the memories of this trip.

Plus, I cut it too close to really give the Party on the Plaza here in Buffalo its due. I did have to cut through the gathering to get to the security office and was able to take in some of the entertainment. The band, Strictly Hip, was rocking and the place was packed with fans decked out in Sabres’ jerseys, with quite a few hoisting homemade Stanley Cups. It might be a little early for that sentiment, but we appreciate the optimism.

One of the local radio stations here is billing this as the Boston massacre of 2010. I don’t see that, personally. I think this is going to be a low-scoring, fiercely contested series that could easily go seven games and feature several periods of overtime before it is decided.

Speaking of overtime, I was just reminiscing with a few of the boys on press row that the last time I was in Buffalo for a playoff game, it went four overtimes without a goal before Dave Hannan snuck one past Marty Brodeur on the backhand 5:43 into the fourth overtime period to win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, 1-0. That game, though, was at The Aud, which has finally been razed this year.

In fact, I walked past The Aud on the way here this evening. I was a little sad to see the ugly scar in the ground where the building once stood. I have a lot of memories of that place and the four-OT game tops them all. It is one of my top-10 hockey memories in fact. The image of Brodeur, stretched out on the trainer’s table, exhausted, in the cramped visiting room hasn’t left me yet.

Who knows, maybe we will have a four-OT night tonight. That’s the thing with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you never know what will happen. I’m sure looking forward to it all playing out here Thursday night, though.

You can follow my in-period updates on Twitter at sroarke_nhl

We're here in Buffalo. I just pulled into my hotel a few minutes ago and did a 15-minute radio interview with 93.7 FM in Pittsburgh, talking pucks and the 8 Games in 8 Days tour with my good friend Joe Starkey.

There seems to be a little panic in the city of Pittsburgh, judging by their questions to me, but I think that the Pens will be fine. Wednesday might have been just the wakeup call the defending champs needed. And, the loss of Milan Michalek is a huge blow for the Sens.

But, we're in Buffalo now and we will move our attention to this series between the Sabres and the Boston Bruins. It looks like the city has playoff hockey as I drove in here today. The tailgating festivities were in full swing in the lots around the arena and everywhere you look, you'll find somebody in a Sabres jersey.

I'm going to do a quick change from my driving clothes to my hockey clothes (shirt and tie) and take a walk over the the arena. I'll join up with you agaion when I arrive and have a full post about Thursday's journey to Buffalo.

Until then, you can watch this preview video we shot this morning in Pittsburgh before I took off (I've also embedded it below). You'll get a good idea of what my Honda Accord Crosstour looks like by checking out the video. I'm almost on the verge of calling it KITT (you know, from Knight Rider) because of all its bells and whistles.

Wow! What a great way to start of the 8 Games in 8 Days Tour.

The underdog Ottawa Senators played a near-perfect playoff game (they could have used some better goaltending for sure) to spring a surprise on the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 at Mellon Arena.

It is a result that should give Ottawa some tremendous confidence. At the same time, it should have the Pittsburgh Penguins asking some questions about themselves – which may not be a bad thing.

Plus, the game had a bit of everything.

Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin had two power-play goals and had flashes where he was showing the form that made him the Stanley Cup MVP last season. Sidney Crosby made one of the sweetest passes you will see – a behind-the-net, no-look, backhander right on the tape of Alex Goligoski for a one-timer past Brian Elliott. Craig Adams, who hadn’t scored in 11 regular-season games, scored on a pretty rising backhander.

On the other side, Anton Volchenkov played a great game in his shutdown role. He also blocked three shots. Each member of Ottawa’s third line – Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil – scored a goal in the game. Playoff rookies Peter Regin and Erik Karlsson played like vets and scored goals in their debuts. And Neil, who is known for using his hands for more nefarious means, made a pass on Ruutu’s goal that rivaled the brilliance of Crosby.

Things should only get more interesting from here, beginning with Friday’s game 2. Unfortunately, it is time for me to move on as I head to Buffalo tomorrow morning. I will catch up with this series in Ottawa next week, though.

I’ll check in tomorrow morning before I leave for Buffalo. Now, it is time to grab a bite to eat and maybe drop into our favorite local haunt, Shales, which is a hot spot post-game. I’m sure the atmosphere will be a little more somber than usual, though.Ottawa shows its mettle04.14.2010 / 09:17 PM ET

While everyone is wondering what is wrong with the Pittsburgh Penguins, let’s give some credit to the Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa is a solid defensive team and that has proven to be the case here in Game 1. Other than an occasionally rampaging Evgeni Malkin – remember he was the MVP of the playoffs last year – no Penguin has been able to string together dominant shifts.

Defenseman Anton Volchenkov has been great in his shut-down role and the forwards have done a good job on the Crosby line. Often, it was Ottawa’s third line – Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu – entrusted with the duty and they responded brilliantly. Both Neil and Kelly, on the power play, had goals.

Ottawa was also good in protecting its rookie goalie, Brian Elliott. The youngster looked awful on the first shot of the game, almost allowing a long-rance shot trickle past him and wasn’t very good on Malkin’s power-play goal at the 2:03 mark. But, Pittsburgh went more than 16 minutes without another shot.  Amazingly, Pittsburgh had just 12 shots in two periods.

And, its untested players delivered. Not only was Elliott just good enough, but two playoff novices – top-line forward Peter Regin and defenseman Erik Karlsson – scored in their postseason debuts.

All in all, that is not a bad first-night showing on the road for a team that is the acknowledged underdog in this matchup.

This is why the playoffs are amazing.

It's a few minutes into the second period of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins are already facing a crisis of confidence.

It's not just that they trail 3-1 to an Ottawa team few pundits feel are in the same league as Pittsburgh, it is the manner in which they have fallen behind.

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been horrendous. So good for long stretches last spring, Fleury has looked more shaky than Ottawa's Brian Elliott, who has never played in a postseason game. Fleury has allowed three bad goals – two on awful rebounds allowed off harmless shots and the third on an unfortunate misplay of a dump-in by the Senators.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Penguins haven't been much better. An offensive juggernaut, Pittsburgh went more than 16 minutes between shots in the first period. Both shots, by the way, were by Evgeni Malkin, who scored Pittsburgh's only goal on the game's first power play. Sidney Crosby doesn't have a shot and the Pens also don't have any shots from their defensemen. Thirty minutes into the game, Pittsburgh had just five shots on net -- not exactly the kind of pressure the home team wanted to put on Elliott, who looked shaky in the game's first two minutes.

Plus, both Pittsburgh penalties have been unnecessary slashes, the first leading to Kelly's power-play goal.

Fortunately, though, Pens have 30 minutes to figure it out in Game 1. If they can't, the pressure suddenly intensifies on a team hyped to make a third-straight appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.

What a perfect start to the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs!

Much of the 8 Games in 8 Days Tour is about what makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs so special.

Of course, the games must take center stage, but the passion with which people embrace playoff hockey is a huge part of the story. Pittsburgh understands that as much as any city in the National Hockey League. This, my friends, is a hockey city.

Last night, on the ride home from dinner on the South Side, our cabbie was holding court -- cogently, I might add -- on the strengths and weaknesses of the hometown team. This morning, fans started camping out in front of Mellon Arena at 10 a.m. to stake claim to the best vantage points to watch tonight’s game on the big screen set up outside the arena.

At 5 p.m., the lawn was overflowing with fans taking advantage of a perfect spring evening in Pittsburgh to cheer on the defending champions as they open a new campaign to reclaim the Stanley Cup. They donned jerseys of their favorite players -- Crosby and Malkins dominated, but Staals and Orpiks were pretty prevalent, too -- painted their faces and waved homemade signs.

Pittsburgh's Party on the Plaza started a few years ago as an organic event and has grown into one of the great playoff traditions in the League.

Wednesday night, the Penguins repaid the enthusiasm of their fans in making the outdoor event such a success.

An hour before the game, the team started giving away seats for the game to fans outside through a texting contest.

"It's a way to say thank you to our fans, who have shown such passion for the playoffs," said Tom McMillan, VP of Communications. "It's been such a phenomenon. You were here today when the fans were streaming at 2 p.m., carrying chairs and settling in. It feels good to do something for those fans."

Sam Cantola, 19 and from nearby Harrison City, won the first pair of tickets given away. Cantola and here friend Brittny Ashton, also 19, showed up at Mellon Arena on a whim and then texted for a chance to win tickets.

The next thing they knew, they had seats inside Mellon Arena for Game 1.

"I still can't breathe," Cantola said. "There's no words to explain it. It's an experience like no other to be in that building."

The last time Cantola was at the Igloo, was last May 21, her birthday. The Pens won that night, beating Carolina in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final as Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist in a 6-2 victory.

Cantola was hoping for an equally memorable night on Wednesday. Ashton, though, had another goal in mind.

"Well the 8 Cities in 8 Days Tour trip is underway. I left my New Jersey home at 2:15 Tuesday afternoon and pulled into my Pittsburgh hotel at about 8 p.m., which was pretty good time considering the boondoggle at the 78 tollbooth in Easton Pa., where construction at the toll plaza resulted in a 30-minute delay. (It didn't help that I forgot my EZ Pass either.

But that's because I forgot to transfer that wonderful piece of technology (how anybody in the Northeast goes without EZ Pass is beyond me) in my personal car instead of transferring it to the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour, which the kind people at Honda loaned me for the duration of my 8 Cities in 8 Days Tour.

This is one sweet ride, boys and girls. It's got all the bells and whistles -- heated seats, sun roof, XM radio, rear-view camera -- you could want and drives like a dream. Plus, if I run into snow somehow this week, I have on-the-fly 4-wheel drive to tackle the elements. I'll provide more details on the car throughout the week, but suffice it to say it beats the Ford Focus I was given by the rental car agency last week to make this same drive.

As I pulled away from my house, I couldn't shake images of the Cannonball Run out of my head.  For those of you that aren't as old as I, Cannonball Run was a big hit in the early 80s, featuring an all-star cast competing in an illegal cross-country race. Unfortunately, though, I am not as good looking as Burt Reynolds (the star of the movie) and I don't have Farrah Fawcett for company.

Despite those limitations, I plan to enjoy the heck out of my travels, finding the people and places that make our sport so special, while also getting a good taste of all four Eastern Conference playoff series, which will only help me as the postseason progresses.

I hope you join me for this trip, following the blog and my posts on Twitter (sroarke_nhl).

As part of the running account, I plan to provide a summary of each day's drive. Here is the rundown of Tuesday's drive:

Destination: Matawan, N.J. to Pittsburgh, Pa.

Miles to destination: 365 miles

Total miles travelled on trip: 365 miles

Weather: Light rain giving way to sunshine

Caffeine consumption: One Big Gulp of Pepsi

Food Highlight:  Denino's Pizza (perhaps the best in New Jersey), Matawan, N.J., with the family right before departure; Oktoberfest Schweinshaxe (slow-roasted pork shank) with bread dumpling at Hofbrauhouse in Pittsburgh.

Top-five tunes during trip: Don't Take Your Guns to Town, Johnny Cash; 18 + Life, Skid Row, Mean, Mean Man, Wanda Jackson; Macho Man, Village People; Voices Carry, 'Til Tuesday.