By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The thrill of three-on-three overtime hockey is really quite the sensation.
When the NHL came up with this overtime reform in June, it was hard to envision how the product would look. Well, with some early returns, it’s amazing — made even more majestic by the Blackhawks, whose talent fits perfectly into the new format. We saw this again Monday night at the United Center.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville sent out Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook after 60 scoreless minutes, and a 1-0 win came just 51 seconds later as Toews delivered his second straight game-winner in overtime, which followed Saturday’s game-winner from Toews just 17 seconds in. That time seems to fly by.
So, Jonathan, are you liking the new three-on-three overtime?
“So far,” Toews said with a smile. “I’m not going to complain.”
Any complaints should come from the rest of the NHL for how the Blackhawks can run out a forward pairing of Toews and Kane, Toews and Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov and Kane, Anisimov and Artemi Panarin or any combination of skill. Chicago is now 3-0 in overtime, with Kane scoring the other game-winner soon into overtime against the New York Islanders on Oct. 9.
Hockey’s new three-on-three overtime rule seems catered to the Blackhawks’ speed, skill and precision on offense.
“I didn’t know if there would be scoring at this rate,” Quenneville said of the new format.
The NHL came out with this new three-on-three overtime as a way to decide games in with actual hockey, as opposed to a shootout occurring, while adding a little boost of excitement. Nearly three weeks into the 2015-’16 season, there have been just six shootouts.
Chicago’s talented team is built for a three-on-three game of open ice. According to Toews, the key is winning the draw — entering Tuesday, Toews was fifth in the NHL with 94 faceoff wins — and then staying patient. Turning the puck over can bring devastating results, because it’s hard to get it back and you’re often out of position after a giveaway.
“Survive,” Toews said. “Survive until you get your chance.”
When the Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf lost possession in his own offensive zone Monday, Toews gave a burst of speed to attain the puck. He dished deep toward the blue line, where Kane was waiting. The best players in hockey passing through open ice is fascinating to watch.
From there, Kane entered the offensive zone, and rather than forcing a shot at Frederik Andersen, which would’ve come with a decent probability of scoring, he waited for an even better chance, firing a pass to Toews, trailing from his defensive play. From there, Toews pushed forward and found himself on an island with the net and one man standing in the way.
“You wait until you get your chance with the puck, try to create some open space and then see what happens,” Toews said.
Toews went top right corner, beating Andersen on his glove side. The goalie had no chance. Chelsea Dagger played, the horn sounded and the Blackhawks won again.
Chicago became the first team in the modern overtime era (starting in 1983) to win consecutive 1-0 overtime games. Corey Crawford was spectacular again, stopping all 39 shots to come his way. The Blackhawks’ defense delivered another strong performance in front of Crawford, but the attack faltered.
Fortunately for Chicago, its foes from Anaheim appear to be snake-bitten. The Ducks were shut out for the fifth time in eight games, with multiple scoring chances hitting the post or barely bouncing off Crawford’s pads.
A game that was sloppy from both sides came down to the thrilling three-on-three format, a deserving feat for the fans.
When Quenneville first learned of the new overtime format in June — shortly after winning his third Stanley Cup championship — he was unsure what to think. It remained unclear how hockey would be presented in the beautiful chaos that ensues.
“Anybody would rather see a game decided by playing hockey than by a shootout — me included,” Quenneville said.
But three-on-three hockey is just as enjoyable for Quenneville and the Blackhawks as it is for fans watching. There’s more open ice, greater talent on display and games ending in hockey — not a skills competition.
The excitement of this is a sight to behold, made even more of a sensation by the Blackhawks.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.