BOSTON (CBS) — The NHL no longer has any excuse for the shootout — not after what took place in Boston on Thursday night.
Opinions on the shootout vary. Some
weirdos folks still love it. Others are sick of it. Many hated it from the very beginning. Claude Julien, for one, thinks “they suck.”
Solutions to the shootout have been debated for some time. A longer 4-on-4? A 3-on-3 period following that if it’s still tied? Goalie Deathmatch? (What, that last one was just me?)
Well, after Thursday night’s overtime contest between the Bruins and Lightning, there should be no more debate.
It’s time to embrace the 3-on-3 overtime.
Just 51 seconds into OT, Chris Kelly got a hand on Alex Killorn, who flopped to the ice in an effort to draw a penalty. He did, but he also got called for embellishment in the process, thereby creating a 3-on-3 scenario.
And it was glorious.
After about a minute of getting their bearings (I’m not sure how much practice time is dedicated to 3-on-3 scenarios), the teams got to work. David Pastrnak took the puck deep in his own end. The 18-year-old rookie looked up, in a position where he normally tries to make a breakout pass, and what he saw in front of him was a nearly unoccupied sheet of ice. Even through the television cameras, you could see the sparkle in that kid’s eye as he pushed the puck forward, turned on the jets and went to work.
He carried end-to-end, crossed the blue line and crossed up defenseman Victor Hedman and flicked a backhand toward net.
His shot went wide, but with so much free ice, the Bruins were able to gather the puck. Matt Bartkowski carried it out to the blue line before sending a cross-ice pass to Ryan Spooner. With Hedman closing in on his space, Spooner kicked the puck to his blade and sent a pass to a streaking Pastrnak in the slot. The rookie deked to his backhand, and goaltender Ben Bishop managed to somehow make a save whilst falling upon his tuchus.
The rebound popped out to Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, and just like that, the team with the most goals scored in the entire NHL quickly transitioned into attack mode. Kucherov waited for Hedman to break free over center ice before making a pass that sent Hedman on a partial breakaway in the Bruins’ end. Bartkowski, in desperation, was left with nothing else to do but tackle Hedman, knocking the net off its moorings in the process.
All of this happened in about 15 seconds of game time. It might have been the most electric 15 seconds of the season.READ MORE: Laundry Detergent Spills On I-495 After Rollover Crash In Wrentham, Causes Significant Delays
Just watch the second half of that sequence. It’s fantastic.
And all of this happened with Steven Stamkos, arguably the league’s most exciting player, on the bench.
Unfortunately, it was short-lived, as Bartkowski went off for holding. But it was enough to convince anyone watching that it’s time for the NHL to make this a regular occurrence, like it is in the AHL, where it’s 4-on-4 for three minutes, 3-on-3 for four minutes).
No matter where you stand on the shootout, the fact is that it has run its course. The novelty wore off … about five years ago. Ultimately, the additional point decided via shootout doesn’t do a whole lot to shake up the standings. Any outrage about the impact of the shootout in that regard is misguided.
But that doesn’t mean the shootout is fun anymore. Fans watch a hockey game for 65 minutes, and then they see it come to a crashing halt so that skaters can try to reinvent the wheel. At this point, after roughly a decade of seeing the skills competition as the decider of hockey games, we’ve seen just about every possible move there is to be made. The marathon 10-plus-round shootouts should theoretically be wildly exciting. Instead, they take on a “come ahhnnnn, can’t anybody score?” type of vibe. (People in Boston can tell you about this, given recent events.)
Plus — and this, to me, is the worst impact of the shootout — it has completely stripped the penalty shot (aka the most exciting play in sports) of all of its drama. You used to see one, maybe two penalty shots all year, and those moments became absolute must-see-TV. (That is, unless you have a Kangaroo Song to watch.) Now, a penalty shot is nothing new. That’s a sin. Curse you, shootout. Curse you.
The winds of change may already have been upon us. People seem to like the AHL system, and it’s possible that the board of governors would welcome such a change next year in the NHL. The minutes might have to be negotiated with the NHLPA, but the players would have a hard time arguing that the change would not be better for the game.
Thursday night, just 15 seconds of hockey should be enough to remove any apprehension from the decision-makers. The 3-on-3 may be gimmicky, but it’s a whole lot closer to real hockey than the shootout is.
It’s time for a 4-on-4 period, followed by a 3-on-3 period, followed by a
goalie deathmatch at center ice shootout. Sure, we’ll still get some shootouts, but after what will be a thrilling 3-on-3 period of insane hockey, we’ll likely be too exhausted to even be mad.
The NHL made a subtle yet outstanding tweak to overtime this year in forcing teams to switch ends of the ice following the third period. The long change leads to D-men getting caught on the ice longer than they want, which in turn leads to offensive onslaughts and exciting plays when one team is hemmed in its own zone. It was a genuinely great first step toward providing better hockey as opposed to stale shootouts.
Now, if the NHL can adopt a 3-on-3 element for overtime, we might actually be all out of things to complain about.*
*Just kidding, referees. We’ll never be happy with you.