"I think we've got a good shot in this series," I said. "The Lightning struggled against Dan Bylsma's team. Dan is young and hip, just like Guy Boucher. But the Capitals have Gabby Boudreau, who is old, bald and fat. Now look at Boston. Who's their coach?"
Carter J. Lizardman nodded his big freaky lizard head and croaked his reply. "Heh heh. Yeah. Claude Julien. I see what you mean. Old, bald and fat."
The Lightning's contingent of Toronto-based fans were lined up at the bar in Thunder's, Toronto's (Canada's?) only Lightning bar (motto: If you're asking for the address, you're probably coming to beat the shit out of us). The gang was all there, ready and waiting to watch Game One of the Eastern Conference Final.
"That don't matter a crap, ass-head," slurred Ramone. "Not like Gabby and Julien look anything alike. Gabby's head looks like a beach ball. Julien's looks like a thumb."
Ramone looked and smelled like blinding hell. In keeping with playoff tradition of not changing as long as you're winning, he'd been holed up in Thunder's ever since Game Five of the opening round, and he hadn't shaved, showered, or changed his clothes during that time. His sweat-pits were now showing through his cheap polyester jacket, and his curly black hair was matted with crud from sleeping on the floor of the bar.
"Baby-faced," I said. "Gabby is baby-faced."
"Baby-faced my hemorrhoids," said Ramone. "If my baby looked like that I'd ask my wife if she'd been humping a manatee behind my back."
"Too far," grunted the lizard.
"Shut up, clowns," snapped Mitoko. "Time for puck drop."
"Right," I said. "Everybody has drinks. Remember the rules?" Everyone nodded.
We'd come up with a drinking game to play during the game, and I was already worried about what shape I would be in afterwards. The list of reasons to drink was long, and there were several I was really fearing:
1. Any reference to Dwayne Roloson's age.
2. Any incorrect reference to either Roloson or Eric Brewer being "Trade deadline acquisitions."
3. Any mention of Martin St. Louis being the "heart and soul" of the team.
4. Any mention of Vinny Lecavalier's resurgence.
5. Any mention of Boston's "proud history."
6. Any use of the term "Big Bad Bruins."
7. Any time a check by a Boston player on a Lightning player is shown in replay three times.
8. Any time a Boston player does something overtly violent that is "not a hockey play."
9. Any time the Lightning "flip the switch."
The game started innocently enough, with several stiff drinks from Roloson age references, and we slugged down a few more after the Clark and Purcell goals, which were judged to be "flip the switch" goals. By the end of the first I was feeling wobbly, and I slipped out to puke in the back alley before coming back in for the second.
The second wasn't as bad as the first, but we were all roaring drunk by the time the third period started, which is of course when thing started to get crazy on the ice. The way the Bruins were throwing punches, I was practically pouring beer all over myself. I puked in the bathroom again with about four minutes to go, and actually fell off my chair before the final horn.
I woke up Sunday morning on a bench near the back of the bar. Ramone was sprawled, shirtless and spread eagle, on the never-used dance floor, snoring loudly. It seemed everyone else managed to make it out the door.
Myrtle, one of the weekend bartenders, was cleaning up and getting ready to open the bar, and she let me out. As I walked down the alley toward the street, I saw a green tail protruding from a dumpster. I peeked in, and sure enough Carter was in there, sleeping in the trash, sucking a thumb. I considered waking him, but I figured why bother. I needed coffee in a bad way.
The thought crossed my mind that I could watch Game Two in pretty much any bar in town and not have to get so crazy, but how the hell often do the Lightning make the Conference Finals? No, I would have to watch with the Thunder's crowd.
I was walking with a limp, and I noticed that at some point during the night I'd ripped the knee out of my pants. I stank of vomit. I had vague abdominal pains, and a sick feeling of guilt and shame about some of the things I'd said and some of the victory dance moves I'd tried out. The further the Lightning went in the playoffs, the more of a degenerate I became.
Hell with it. It was worth it, plain and simple.