“So do they do shootouts?”
“What about shootouts? Those in the playoffs or no?”
“Shootouts after five minutes, or do they just keep going, or what?”
These are the questions I was peppered with after regulation ended in a tie between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues Thursday night. As much of a hockey expert as I am not, it seems Blackhawks fans that were around me at the restaurant are less so.
Of course it’s not like we didn’t sort of go through this a year ago, but such is the casual Blackhawks fan that the diehards hate and the organization and league kind of need to thrive. And, in fairness, I heard no endorsements or calls for a shootout in a playoff game last night, which is reassuring.
Gary Bettman gets it wrong with (and not limited to) the regular season format of what seems to me always a quick overtime period followed by a deciding sideshow of nonhockey. It’s a format longtime fans really hate and one that I cannot say I’ve ever heard celebrated by people who pretend to care about hockey (which is why it was installed in the first place, so, yeah, fail). Luckily for fans, and via no credit to the NHL commissioner, overtime in the playoffs is taking all the sports drugs straight into the brain and stomach and colon.
I did not want OT in Game 1. I did not expect OT in the waning minutes of that game. It just felt like a Hawks victory 18:14 into the third period. Then it all went to pot when Jaden Schwartz (jeez, that name tastes awful to say) got one past Corey Crawford, and all the comfortable euphoria of a playoff win was immediately gone and turned to worry and gut-twisting and sphincter-puckering.
When it involves the team you’re rooting for, everything is amplified. Everyone who moves or talks around you needs to stop and shut up lest you chew their faces off. You confront your own mortality. Overtime hockey in the playoffs is the POW camp in The Deer Hunter.
But objectively, holy hell is it awesome because of all that stuff. If you like your sports warm and safe and presented in a pretty little package with the perfect bow and a greeting card with glitter sprinkles and opening the box to find the exact gift you asked for, good for you.
I appreciate the suspicious package wrapped in newspaper under the Christmas tree. I’m cool with the cold and finite. That’s playoff overtime hockey.
No “free (insert sport name)” flavor is better. The NBA has a fine OT format in that they have not tried to fix something that is not broke, but there is no immediacy of sudden death. The clock dictates and takes precedent over the points. There is a knowing in watching a clock. Scoring will go on until it is not allowed anymore by the ticking. The NHL’s overtime clock exists merely because we can’t have players literally dying in sudden death. Toward that second extra period it seemed more than a few players were about to start pushing themselves off the ice with their gloves.
The way baseball works, extra innings is tedious until it morphs into weirdness, and then you’re not appreciating sport so much as surreal and trivial. The walkoff is cool, but only one team can do it, and the road team scoring past the ninth provides no certainty. The game still goes on for at least three more outs. There is something emotionally lacking about one team being able to theoretically score ten runs in extra innings without guaranteed victory.
The NFL refuses to bow to logical thinking and get their format just right and give both teams an equal opportunity to score. And with the chesslike strategy the game involves for sixty prior minutes, sudden death after working cerebrally yet violently to a draw is anticlimactic, especially when it involves a kicker.
Overtime in the NHL playoffs is played in a mine field. The game is fast and more constant than the other major pro sports, and then the coaches, players, and viewers are suddenly amid the realization that everything will blow up at a point none of us know.
Thursday night was forty-plus minutes of pure, glorious hell. Yes, the outcome is not what Blackhawks fans would have preferred, regulation or otherwise, but if stepping out of biased fanship, one can appreciate the awesomeness of pro sports’ best extra frame. Constant nervousness and anticipation and ulcerative, eye-widening shots on goal and deflections and saves and ohmygoshhowdidthatnotgoin? Instant simultaneous joy and destruction, whether you are polarized to one of those two or seeing both as a third party.
It’s exactly what we watch sports for and why it draws the non-diehards the way stupid shootouts phallusly were supposed to. Exactly why the “fourth sport” is first in this regard.