I’ve seen a lot of games during my 30-plus years in press boxes all over North America. The craziest one I’ve ever seen was played just over two months ago.
On March 5, I watched Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad score five goals — including the game-winner in overtime — to power the Rangers to a 6-5 win over the Washington Capitals in front of a delirious crowd at Madison Square Garden. I’ve seen plenty of hat tricks, and even the occasional four-goal game. But five goals? No, never saw that before. Not in hockey, anyway.
Now, I’ve witnessed some great/ amazing/bizarre sports moments in my career. I was there for Game 6 of the Rangers-Devils series in 1994, when Mark Messier promised a Rangers victory, then scored a hat trick in a 4-2 win that forced Game 7. And I was there for Game 7, when Stephane Matteau scored that double-overtime goal that sent the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final against Vancouver.
I was in the overflow press box for that one, just below the old blue seats. And when the Devils’ Valeri Zelepukin tied the score with 8.3 seconds left in regulation, I remember a young boy in front of us turning around in exasperation and saying, “I feel like hitting that Zelepukin in the head.’’
I also was there when Roger Clemens threw Mike Piazza’s broken bat at him as he ran out a foul ball in Game 2 of the 2000 Subway World Series at Yankee Stadium. And I was there the night Odell Beckham Jr. made that still-unbelievable one-handed catch against the Cowboys that made him the biggest star in the NFL at the time. (That catch was the sickest single thing I’ve seen in a sporting event, by the way.)
But five goals, including the overtime winner, against one of the top teams in the league, in the thick of a playoff race? Now that’s just plain crazy.
Zibanejad completed his hat trick to put the Rangers up 4-3, and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin tied it. Zibanejad’s fourth goal made it 5-4, and Ovechkin tied it again in the final minute of regulation.
But Zibanejad was simply not to be stopped. He won it on a breakaway backhand shot 33 seconds into the three-on-three overtime. I get the feeling that if the OT hadn’t been sudden death, Ovechkin would have tied it again — and Zibanejad would have won it in the shootout.
Zibanejad had a stunned look on his face in the locker room afterward. He simply couldn’t believe what he had just done.
“I don’t understand it,’’ he said. “I feel like I’m speechless.’’