There's no use in putting much stock into anything that happens in game No. 3 of the regular season. Heck, just ask the Rangers and Sharks, who met in a lopsided affair in early October -- one that saw the Sharks pants the Rangers in a 9-2 laugher.
The Rangers would fall out to a horrid 3-7 start, while San Jose, with the same nucleus that's seen them consistently be a top team in the cutthroat Western Conference, continued to excel. When it was all said and done, however, the Sharks coughed up a 3-0 lead in the opening round against the eventual champion Kings, while the Rangers caught fire and met that Los Angeles team in the Cup Final.
But even if that box score-popping result as the season opened carried little weight, it did serve as a coming out party for one of the league's top rookies, and a dynamic offensive talent.
He is Tomas Hertl, who didn't turn 20 until over a month later, and this is the top goal of the 2013-14 NHL season.
Joe Fortunato, Blueshirt Banter: Tomas Hertl was in what some athletes like to call "The Zone." It's an astoundingly difficult to describe moment when everything is clicking for a player and they have just the right amount of confidence to try (and usually pull off) something of this caliber. My guess would be nine times out of 10 he misses the net if he tried that again. But on that night, in that moment it worked. And it was horrifying beautiful to watch it happen.
Hertl had already recorded a hat trick when the third period was winding down. The Sharks were comfortably ahead 7-2. And then, the magnificent happened.
The best goal of the 2013-14 season
How it unfolded
When you're trailing by five goals late in the third period, in the midst of a nine-game road trip to open the season, playing on the opposite coast, all there's left to do is watch the seconds tick off the clock. And that was pretty much what the Rangers were doing as the game against San Jose closed in on eight minutes remaining.
After a long shift, Derick Brassard skated the puck to center ice, and dumped it deep into the Shark's end. Only he and Brad Richards were past the center dot, and while the Rangers would make a whole sale change, they were in good position to do so.
San Jose went back to retrieve the puck, as Antti Niemi teed it up for Jason Demers. The Sharks changed all three forwards, as there were five new Rangers on the ice, and all behind the puck. But the gap between New York defensemen Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto was a bit tilted toward the near side of the ice, while Hertl, fresh off the bench, was picking up steam on the far side, near the benches.
Derek, Fear the Fin: An (understandably) overlooked part of this play is the breakout pass by Jason Demers that initiates the whole thing. Granted, he isn't dealing with much in the way of forechecking pressure with the Rangers in the middle of a line change but perfectly stretching the neutral zone to hit a streaking forward on the tape is something we saw pretty frequently from Demers in the 2010-11 season then much less so the two subsequent seasons. This was the third game of what turned out to be a career year offensively for the young defenseman and early plays like this one provided glimpses into what was to come.
Meanwhile, as Hertl accepted the stretch pass, Del Zotto was flat-footed, and in no position to impede the charging forward's progress.
Del Zotto quickly was in a disadvantageous position. Hertl, taking that Demers pass on the move, scooted past the stationary Rangers d-man. Del Zotto was reaching with his stick to make a play on Hertl, which, in a best-case scenario, would have ended in a trip.
As Hertl descended in on Martin Biron, who had relieved Henrik Lundqvist after the Rangers starter allowed four goals, he was breaking in on an angle. With Biron was square to Hertl's approach, the angle would force Biron to move right-to-left, which would allow Hertl to execute his move.
And then, the unthinkable; the unfathomable. Hertl went Marek Malik on the team that knew firsthand of Marek Malik. He somehow managed to raise the stakes with a goal that turn a five goal lead into a six goal lead. Biron was stunned, the Rangers were stunned, the announcers were stunned; heck, Hertl was probably stunned.
The aftermath of this goal in the following days would almost foreshadow the immenseness of the goal itself. Biron would appear in one more game, allowing four goals on 17 shots against the Blues, before getting pulled, and subsequently retiring. (The reasons for Biron's retirement were not immediately clear, while Biron would say it had been a decision he mulled over for some time, and wanted to spend more time with his family.)
And finally, there was Joe Thornton, then-captain of the Sharks, who came to Hertl's defense when he overheard a question asked to teammate Patrick Marleau days later in Vancouver. To quote directly from Thornton: "I'd have my cock out if I scored four goals. I'd have my cock out, stroking it." (It's kind of ironic that Thornton is now looking to reclaim his 'C' after being so forthright about his 'C'.)
Mike Murphy, Blueshirt Banter: Thomas Hertl's between-the-leg-dirty-career-ending goal on Martin Biron felt like cruel and unusual punishment. It felt seeing someone picking the pocket of a homeless man. It felt like giving someone a lottery ticket as a cheap present and having them win enough money to stock an 80 foot yacht with bald eagle servants and vending machines that spit out caviar and truffles. It felt like running into a busy street to save the life of an adorable kitten and, while you are nuzzling it and telling it that everything will be okay, it looks up at you and just f*cking dies right before it mutters out a bit of hate speech. Okay, that last one was a bit too far.
Way to go Hertl, you don't even have chest hair and you ended someone's hockey career because you wanted to be cute and flashy in a game that was already won. It's a good thing Marty Biron landed on his feet and became a very capable analyst or I would never forgive that baby-faced Czech or his sweet, filthy hands.
Derek, Fear the Fin: Obviously it ignited a ridiculous firestorm (thanks Adam Oates!) and may or may not have ended poor Marty Biron's career but the guts it took to even attempt this move is inconceivable. Granted, the fact that Hertl had already notched a hat trick for five goals in his first three NHL games and the Sharks were already up 7-2 made the potential consequences of missing here less embarrassing. But, still, it's a long skate back to the bench if you botch that move. Hertl had the confidence to try it and you have to love that (unless you're Biron, I guess), especially since that seems to be a trait shared by a lot of the new wave of young NHL stars particularly seeing as these players grew up with shootouts being a meaningful part of the game.
As we learned shortly afterward, this was nothing. The real fun will come when Joe Thornton goes between the legs in an entirely different way during his four-goal game.
Joe Fortunato, Blueshirt Banter: Hertl is a jerk. He ended a player's career. If you walked into work tomorrow, and you got a co-worker fired without any motive behind it, you'd be a huge jerk. Like, the biggest jerk ever. What, you just go around getting people fired for no reason? You're just forcing people to retire now? Who even gave Hertl that power? Who thought it was a good idea to allow a rookie forward in San Jose to decide who can and cannot play in the NHL? Why does Gary Bettman even employ someone to do this? Are we even sure that the lockout wasn't caused by the two sides coming to agreements before Hertl threw the contracts into the furnace between his legs and forcing the two sides to start all over again? No, I don't think we are. So basically, Hertl hates both humanity and hockey. What a jerk.