‘All Access’ highlights: Following NHL playoffs

On Friday night, Showtime debuted its new ducu-series, All Access: Quest for the Stanley Cup which provides an unprecedented look behind the scenes of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The series is following the four teams currently playing in the Eastern and Western conference finals, going into their locker rooms, getting microphones on players and coaches, and catching moments in a game that won’t always be found on broadcast.

The debut episode had plenty of fodder from the early games of these two series, starting with Game 1 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning in the East, and ending with Game 3 between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues in the West.

Fans that followed the 24/7 series on HBO that went behind the scenes of various Winter Classics are going to have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the look and narratives of All Access, but there are several key differences.

First off, the show is way shorter, going down from an hour to a half hour and fans are probably going to like that better. There’s no time for filler. Even player interviews are not the sit-down, documentary style fans are going to be accustomed to. They’re more quick and to the point, but continue moving the narrative along.

The show darts back from series to series, typically hitting all of the most important points and moments from each game. If you watched any of the games as they happened, you’re already going to know the basics, but there’s plenty left in the little details.

Road can be seen on Showtime (check listings) and Showtime.com. There are also versions on NHL.com and Showtime Sports’ YouTube channel that have the candid language edited.

You can watch the full first episode (edited for language) here:

Here are the five must-see moments from the debut episode, listed in chronological order as they happen in the show:

1. The Intro

If there’s one thing producer Ross Greenburg has really brought to this series, just as he did to the previous behind-the-scenes show, it’s building a narrative. With the Stanley Cup, there are endless directions to go, but the show begins with a three-plus minute intro that plays up the history and mystique of the Cup. By intertwining historical imagery and videos from past Stanley Cup winners with images of these playoffs, it really sets up the show and reminds even the casual viewers that there’s something particularly special about the Stanley Cup Playoffs and how hard a battle it is to win the ultimate prize.

2. Referees discuss Ryan Callahan’s hit on Kris Letang in Game 1

refereesletang.jpgReferees discuss the severity of the penalty they should give to Ryan Callahan. Showtime

The first game of the Eastern Conference finals provided a few of the best moments of the entire episode. One of the biggest moments of that game happened just minutes into it when Ryan Callahan drilled Kris Letang with a dangerous hit.

Letang took the blow right where one of the All Access cameras were situated. The referees then gathered to discuss the penalty. They were pretty quick to agree that it was a hard hit, Letang knew or should have known he was going to be hit, but they felt it was not from behind. That’s how they arrived at a five-minute major and not a game misconduct.

Incredulous about the major penalty, Jon Cooper voiced his complaint. This was also captured by the show. The referee asks Cooper how he would feel if one of his players was hit the way Letang was. It took Cooper a little bit to come up with an answer, one that the referees didn’t seem to think much of.

3. Ben Bishop’s injury gets a lot of attention

bishopstretcher.jpgBen Bishop’s injury was a key storyline in the first episode of the show. Showtime

In what could end up being one of the most important moments in the Eastern Conference finals, Ben Bishop’s injury looks just as agonizing in this show as it did when it happened. The difference this time around is that we get a better look at how the rehab was going.

A little later in the episode, cameras were with Bishop as he received treatments. They also were there when he tested the leg out with some workouts with the athletic trainers and when Bishop tests things out on the ice the first day after the injury.

Bishop reveals that he is still in a lot of pain during the workout, which runs counter to what he said when addressing the media that same day. Injuries are guarded almost as closely as the nuclear codes during the playoffs. To have the access to a player’s rehab sessions and on-ice workouts away from what the media usually covers may have afforded the show one of its most compelling moment.

4. Inside the beard fight between David Backes and Joe Thornton

thorntonbackesbeardgrab.jpgDavid Backes and Joe Thornton’s beard duel led to some verbal barbs as well after. Showtime

One of the more memorable moments from Game 1 between the Blues and Sharks is when David Backes and Joe Thornton got a handful of each other’s beards. After that whole ordeal, Backes shared a little trash talk as well.

Based on the angles on this show, Backes got a pretty solid hold on Thornton’s awfully long whiskers and does not have a high opinion of the future Hall of Famer apparently.

5. A look at the different coaching styles

sullivanlockerroom.jpgMike Sullivan celebrates the Penguins’ Game 2 overtime win with some encouraging words to his team. Showtime

Another good thing that the show has been able to do is to get in the locker rooms before games and between periods. Hearing how coaches speak to the players and how they motivate will be interesting for a lot of fans.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper’s laid-back style that always comes through during his press conferences is generally how he approaches his team. However, when things are going south, he’s not afraid to let the players have it on the bench. The mix between the laid-back nature and the seriousness when it’s required is a unique balance.

Blues coach Ken Hitchock seems to have more of an old school approach. The players are never going to be wondering what Hitchcock is thinking about them or how they’re playing. He’s direct on the bench, but especially so between periods.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has that tough, but fair vibe about him. There’s not a lot of yelling, but there’s plenty of direct feedback delivered to the players. He also had an interesting exchange with one of the referees after the hit that briefly took defenseman Brian Dumoulin out of action in Game 1.

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer didn’t get as much airtime from the locker room, but his bench style is probably a little closer to Hitchcock’s.

Some of the other memorable moments from the episode include a few minutes at home with Penguins forward Matt Cullen and his three boys, some trash talk between Cullen and Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison on the ice, postgame celebrations and MVP awards. Lastly interviews with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau about their push to get to the first Stanley Cup Final of their long careers gives you a glimpse into their psyche heading into such big games.

If you’re a fan of the NHL, there’s plenty for you to chew on in the first episode and more to look forward to as the others debut.

All Access: Quest for the Stanley Cup will air Fridays at 9 p.m. ET through the Stanley Cup Final.

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