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The NHL Playoffs. The Stanley Cup Finals. It’s as exciting as anything in all of sports.
However when it comes to overtime for an NHL playoff game (like Monday night’s Game Five from Stanley Cup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings where the two squads skated through two full overtime periods lasting forty minutes with nothing but goose eggs on the scoreboard) the sport can transform from exciting and thrilling to burdensome and frustrating for fans. Last night’s contest was put to a merciful end when nine-plus minutes into last night’s third overtime period, Petr Sykora found the back of the net to keep his Smog city squad alive for one more game.
Extended overtime games-like last night- also become physically and mentally draining on for energy-depleted players who can sometimes only stay on the ice for thirty seconds before heading back to the bench for a much-needed breather and have other residual effects like turning casual fans away from the game and sabotaging last night’s NBC prime-time schedule.
In overtime periods of regular season games, the NHL first uses a four-on-four lineup which lasts for five minutes. If a game is still without a victor, a three player shoot-out system is utilized , where skaters from each team go one-one-one to challenge the oppositions goalie (hockey’s rendition of soccer’s penalty kick system) to determine the winner of the contest.
However during the playoffs, the NHL does away with that bastardized form of the sport and uses the sudden death system of the “first goal wins” which is the right way to determine the outcome of a playoff game. Certainly no sane hockey fan would want to see a Stanley Cup Final or NHL playoff game decided by a shootout, especially if their team is on the verge of clinching or being eliminated from a series. But it also unleashes a paradoxical effect which allows the fastest game on earth to morph into the most testing game on earth as last night showed.
Here are two suggestions I have for overtime playoff hockey contests to prevent them from turning into scoreless marathons where players turn into zombies on skates.
Suggestion One: Cut periods in overtime from twenty minutes down to ten minutes. This would give players more much-needed rest as a game continues to march on without a goal.
Suggestion Two: Play three to four periods of overtime which last ten minutes. If the game still has not been decided stop playing regulation hockey and replace the shoot-out system by combining the four-on-four rule with the shoot out system. My suggestion would be to award each team five power-play sessions lasting two minutes to determine the game’s final result. Of course there would still things that would be needed to figured out such as which players would have to sit in the penalty box and when. But I believe this proposal would certainly increase overtime scoring without having to exit the framework of normal hockey play to settle the outcome of a game, while being able to do it without completely exhausting the players, exasperating fans and horrifying television executives while keeping the sport’s excitement at a sky-high level.
I have a feeling a majority of players or fans who watched or played in last night’s game or was involved in a multiple overtime period game, such as the five-overtime game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins from eight years ago-would probably agree with me.