Myers: Wild-Canucks work overtime in order to make things exciting
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Two decades ago, this would have been a 2-2 tie, called after 60 minutes.
A decade ago, this would have been a 2-2 tie, called after 65 minutes.
Each team would've gone home with a point. The sellout crowd would have filed out after seeing a lot of hockey that settled nothing. What's the fun in that?
Instead, the Minnesota Wild's 3-2 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday showed just about every reason the NHL rightfully changed the post-regulation format after the 2005 lockout. The teams - formerly division rivals and memorable playoff combatants in 2003 - slogged through 40-plus minutes of hockey with the Wild trailing 1-0 and 2-1. Even the guys who get paid to watch these games weren't exactly thrilled.
"I thought most of the game, up until the overtime when we're trading chances, I thought the game was boring," said always brutally honest Canucks coach John Tortorella.
Then Charlie Coyle scored for the first time in a long time, making it another rough night for Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo - known for his nightmarish games in St. Paul - and all of a sudden, everything changed. The end of the third period and the four-on-four overtime were everything hockey marketers dream of when they look for ways to get fans into the seats on snowy winter nights.
"Once we started to shoot the puck a little more in the third, that's when we started to generate some offense off rebounds," said Zach Parise, whose power-play goal in the first period tied him with Jason Pominville for the team lead with 15. Pominville would later end the game, scoring the only goal in a shootout.
"Teams scramble when you shoot the puck," Parise said. "When you keep it on the perimeter it's pretty easy to defend. But once we started shooting that's when we started to open it up."
Once the first 60 minutes were done, the teams went from five-on-five to four-on-four for overtime. The thinking is the extra space on the ice opens up the game and prevents teams from clamping down defensively and playing for a tie.
That was the case on Tuesday, as the teams exchanged eight shots in the five minutes, bringing the crowd to its feet again and again, and forcing Luongo and Wild goalie Josh Harding to work harder than they had for much of the regulation time.
"You never know how it's going to go, but four-on-four tends to open up the play," said Luongo, who hadn't started a game in Minnesota in more than three years, and was pulled from his previous three starts in the Wild's home rink, giving up five goals or more each time. "That was a pretty exciting OT."
While the four-on-four hockey serves its purpose opening up the ice, some players feel they could go even further. Canucks star forward Ryan Kesler, who will skate alongside Parise and Ryan Suter for Team USA in February at the Olympics in Sochi, thinks four-on-four is a good start, but three-on-three overtime would be even better.
The shootout, still much derided as a needless "skills competition" to break ties and award an extra point, saw Pominville beat Luongo and Harding stop a trio of Canucks, lifting the Wild to their second consecutive come-from-behind shootout win.
It was all according to a plan, except for the fact that Pominville admitted there was really no plan when he skated in on the Canucks goalie in the shootout.
"I honestly had no idea what I was going to do. I had something in mind. It wasn't what I did," Pominville said, after improving to 3-for-6 in shootout attempts this season. "I had looked at a little bit of what he does before the game and thought I could do something else. And then Zach went and kind of made me change my mind, so I wasn't too sure what I was going to do going in. But as I got closer, (I) decided to shoot and was able to find a hole."
Just like that, the Wild found another home win, improving to 14-3-2 at the X. And while the shootout and the four-on-four overtime may still be derided and tinkered with to no end, the exciting offensive hockey they produce has clearly found a place in the NHL, and in the hearts of most fans.