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Coldhearted: The Many Stages of Overtime Hockey

The Rangers-Caps drama and the rest of the week in the NHL playoffs

As with grief, there are many stages of overtime hockey. There is guilt: You knew you shouldn’t have written that cocky Facebook post during intermission. There is bargaining: Just please clear the puck from the zone. I’ll do anything! There is denial: Whatever, it’s only Game 3, this isn’t the end of the world. There is anger: I mean, this is hockey, so there’s always anger.

And there is even acceptance, though it typically doesn’t set in until deep into a third overtime period, when the teams have played for nearly twice as long as they were supposed to. Just let anyone win it, the acceptance phase goes. Just let anyone win it before there’s a freak knee injury or some confidence-shattering mistake or — oh god Dan Girardi is bleeding and Ryan McDonagh may have just broken his hand just will anyone please score now!!!

The sports betting house Bovoda set the overtime over/under at 17.5 for the entirety of the playoffs, and it only took a few games into Round 2 until no. 18 had been hit. But Wednesday night’s Rangers-Capitals game made all those prior outcomes, none of which went more than a few minutes into double OT, seem swift. It wasn’t until 14:41 of the third overtime that Marian Gaborik buried a pass from Brad Richards to give the Rangers the 2-1 win and the 2-1 series edge.

The same part of the brain that makes you think that an adjacent lane of traffic is better or that you’re always the one who has to get randomly patted down in airport security or that your iPod is plotting against you probably also believes that your hockey team never wins these sorts of games.1 But for the Rangers, this selective conclusion didn’t take much selecting: New York hadn’t earned an overtime victory in the playoffs since 2007. (And the last time they’d done it on the road was in 1997.)

“When you get into many hours of playing, it becomes a mental game,” John Tortorella said. “As the game got longer and longer, I felt that our team was at an advantage.”

Maybe so. As the game went on, the Rangers won more and more battles along the boards, keeping the puck out of the hands of the quick-striking Capitals, but New York almost didn’t have the chance to earn that advantage. It looked as though Alexander Ovechkin had ended things with five minutes to play in the first overtime — the goal light went on, the horn sounded, and the spotlight shone down — but the puck, like so many others last night, had ricocheted off the post. (Plenty of them connected with the netminders, too: The Capitals’ Braden Holtby finished with 47 saves, including 21 in the three overtimes, while Henrik Lundqvist earned 45 saves, 17 in OT.)

“I just want to lay down and relax and get a massage,” Lundqvist said. He was one of the few players on either team not openly bloodied after the game, though he did play his part in the carnage, tearing up Dan Girardi’s forehead with his errant stick.

Both teams were well-suited for the extra time: the Rangers because grinding, dump-and-chase hockey is the way they play by default — as Jonathan Willis points out, the three Rangers who earned points on the winning goal were the appropriate ones — and the Capitals because over the last several months they were constantly involved in what were essentially elimination games. (This is also why I have a feeling Washington will win Game 4: The March playoff race gave the team lots of practice at bouncing back from bad losses.) Faceoffs and blocks were all roughly even. Shots were as well. And for the Capitals, the game had the small positive benefit of putting a lid on the undoubtedly annoying Great Ovechkin Ice Time Debate, at least for the time being.2

“Whenever you lose in overtime it sucks, but when you lose in triple overtime it’s even worse,” said Washington’s Karl Alzner. “We had so many chances and they either blocked it or Lundqvist came up with the save, or we hit a post. That just makes it even more frustrating.”

So strong is the behavioral force of a long, drawn-out overtime that even animals are affected. When Alzner got home last night, his two dogs were there to greet him, having basically ransacked his place. (What’s with all the sponge brushes, by the way? Is he stenciling wall trimming?) I could completely understand the animals’ destructive frenzy. They’re just hockey fans who suffered through overtime, when it comes down to it. It’s basically what my living room looks like after last night, too.

Lighting the Lamp: The Last Several Days’ Sickest Snipes

Hey, did you know the L.A. Kings have scored four shorthanded goals in their seven playoff games? That’s almost half the number they recorded over the course of the whole regular season. Dustin Brown has scored two of them and assisted on the others, including this dagger of a first-period man-down goal by Anze Kopitar.

After reading this dispatch from Philadelphia Flyers practice on Wednesday,3 I can’t help but wonder if one way to draw out the very best of Ilya Bryzgalov would be to stick a human gyroscope in the training room for him to mess around with. Of course the poor man wants to be an astronaut! All the weight of the humongous universe would finally be off his back.

Bryzgalov had been playing some of his best hockey of the postseason on Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils, facing 25 shots through two periods and stopping them all. In contrast to some of the flailing around he had done in the first round, he looked almost serene.

But the Flyers failed to give Bryzgalov much in the way of goal support — in the second period, while he turned away 13 shots, Philadelphia couldn’t manage an attempt of their own until just 1:28 remained on the clock. In the third period, he gave up three goals on nine shots, more than enough for New Jersey to tie the series at one game apiece.

It happened like this: First Adam Larsson, newly back in the lineup after having been scratched for eight playoff games, hit his spot with utter precision to tie the game. (Larsson, who was drafted fourth overall in 2011, has had an up-and-down season as a young defenseman; it was another Adam, Henrique, who ended up emerging as the team’s best rookie following an injury to Travis Zajac.)

Then it was winger David Clarkson’s turn for the go-ahead goal. After bros iced bros and before we Tebowed, there was planking. And it looked as if that was what Clarkson was doing as he lay balanced on his stomach atop the Philadelphia Flyers’ net celebrating the 2-1 lead. (Clarkson had his own name for it: “my Superman.”)

It was Clarkson’s first goal of the playoffs and a bit of a relief for a guy who had netted 30 in the regular season. “It’s nice for him to … score one of his typical goals,” deadpanned goalie Martin Brodeur. “Hard-nosed, jump on the crossbar, hold it for a second for pictures.”

Piling On the Pylons: The Last Several Days’ Worst Performers

Is there anything worse than vouching for someone who goes on to make you look like a fool? I went out on a limb once to hook up a beloved-but-totally-wayward ex-roommate with a pretty sweet job opportunity; on the eve of the interview she went home with some trader she met at a club, overslept the whole thing by several hours, and nonchalantly e-mailed me to ask if I thought that was bad. When I wrote back and said yes, she should call HR immediately, she replied that no, she was asking about the trader.

My point is I totally feel Nashville Predator GM David Poile’s pain. Of all the questions raised and answers given and words exchanged regarding the Tuesday announcement that Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn had violated unspecified team rules4 and would not be playing in Game 3, the most haunting was The Tennessean‘s Joshua Cooper’s report: “When Poile was asked if he second-guessed his decision to bring Radulov and Kostitsyn in, he paused for five seconds before answering, “no.”

The silence spoke volumes. Poile was one of the most active GMs at the trade deadline, acquiring Kostitsyn from Montreal and finally coaxing Radulov back from Russia with the lure of burning a contract year in just a few games. The upside was that the pair brought some offense to the Predators — indeed, in the playoffs the two have combined for 10 points — but the downside has become the way they’ve offended the franchise.

When Nashville defeated Phoenix 2-0 Wednesday night to cut the Coyotes’ series lead to 2-1, several Predators had pointed things to say. Mike Fisher spoke about how it was nice to see some players who had been benched in favor of Kostitsyn and Radulov get a chance to make contributions.5 Head coach Barry Trotz, asked what he would do for the Game 4 lineup, stopped just short of suggesting that the pair may not return. “It’s a privilege to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, to play for the Cup,” he said. “And these guys took advantage of the privilege of playing. I think that’s a sacred part of the playoffs, and it will be very hard to change a lot from that group [that played Game 3].”

The worst part of someone letting you down can be the smug responses from others: “Well, what did you think was gonna happen?” It’s so frustrating to watch someone play right into the negative perceptions of them that you never believed should exist. When Radulov is involved, this natural I-told-you-so instinct turns even uglier, though, thanks to his nationality. On Tuesday, Nashville’s news came out just as the New Jersey Devils were announcing that Ilya Kovalchuk was sidelined with a lower-body injury, and shortly after Washington Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov said he’d be staying in Russia until the Olympics rather than joining the NHL. So many dots to connect!

The reactions were swift: easy Soviet jokes yielding to poorly drawn conclusions, a Radulovulation cycle that is as discomforting as it is predictable. Given all these issues, perhaps teams ought to think twice before drafting Russians like Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk this summer, some suggested. Never mind that the supposedly “soft” Kovalchuk had just battled through a herniated disc; Kuznetsov’s spot on the Olympic team was probably threatened if he were to leave now; Galchenyuk is an American citizen, and, oh yeah, Andrei Kostitsyn isn’t even Russian — he’s from Belarus.

Who knows? This could all well end up being some vital cog in the Predators’ myth-making machine — how they Rose Above and Joined Together and Apologized and Put It All Behind Them and Never Let Themselves Get Too High or Too Low. Or it could be what halts production. Either way, it’s just too bad it had to come to this. I just thought things could be different this time. I’m not even mad, I’m just disappointed. And as we all know, that’s usually the worst way to be.

Taking It Coast-to-Coast: A Lap Around the League

  • Here’s a video of a beautiful Nashville Predators Ice Girl skating away holding a gross whiskered catfish that was tossed out on the ice. Your move, Kate Upton!!
  • The CBC did an investigative report on the world’s greatest half-secret Twitter account by an athlete, and the world’s greatest half-secret Twitter account by an athlete approved.
  • The Montreal Canadiens hired Marc Bergevin, a former NHL journeyman defenseman who more recently had been the assistant GM of the Chicago Blackhawks. (He’s one of three former Blackhawks assistants now with head GM jobs in the NHL; the other two are Florida’s Dale Tallon and Winnipeg’s Kevin Cheveldayoff.) Bergevin’s first order of business was to move interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth (that dreaded unilingual anglophile) back to his old role of assistant. He also said hello to the media, even managing to “charm” them, according to this amusingly arched-eyebrow account. In other Montreal Canadiens news, shadowy rumors surfaced that the team is considering buying out Scott Gomez’s contract. If they choose to do so, and then a few months later it turns out that the new CBA has some sort of amnesty clause, it will be proof that Bergevin fits seamlessly into the franchise.
  • Alex Pietrangelo is questionable for Game 3 … the Los Angeles Kings have been so good on the road these playoffs that they’re switching up their practice protocol to try to get some of that magic … Raffi Torres and the NHL Players’ Association are set to appeal his 25-game suspension for a hit on Marian Hossa … and Marian Gaborik wasn’t the only person to redeem himself with a big goal. David Legwand’s score against Phoenix helped him atone somewhat for this totally weird play in Game 2.

Chirping Like a Champ: The Best Mouthing Off

Trailing by three goals midway through the third period of Monday night’s game against Los Angeles, the St. Louis Blues amped up the physicality to try to knock the Kings, literally and figuratively, off their game. One man to go down was L.A.’s Dustin Penner, who was flipped over like a goddamn you-know-what by the Blues’ T.J. Oshie.

A bit of a kerfuffle broke out in the aftermath of the hit,6 but it was more so a reaction to some bonus slashy stickwork from Oshie & Co. Penner made this clear on Tuesday when he had nothing but praise to sing about the initial contact. “It was a great hit,” he said. “I haven’t been hit that hard in awhile. I can’t remember. It might have been Cincinnati in the [AHL] playoffs. It actually almost felt good, it was so pure.” Dude, puff puff give.

Hockey Haiku

Like Yogi, Booth is
Smarter than the average bear
And so he killed one.

Filed Under: Art, Events, General topics, Hockey, Movies, Stanley Cup, Tag, Ted

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes