Rangers fans can scream, but the shootout belongs even in playoffs
Indifferent midseason play, not the shootout, cost the Rangers a playoff berth
The NHL still seems mildly embarrassed by this circus freak sideshow gimmick
If the shootout is good enough for the Olympics, it belongs in the postseason
The New York Rangers lost the final Eastern Conference playoff berth to Philadelphia on Sunday because of a gimmick, to which we say: Boo and hoo.
Yes, the shootout remains a gimmick, but only because the NHL hasn't truly committed to the exercise since its introduction after the 2004-05 lockout. The league leaves so much damn wiggle room in the form of the loser points, the consolation prize awarded to teams that fall in overtime or shootouts. Because the loser point offers a relatively soft landing, the shootout is the NHL's circus freak, a sideshow to the real spectacle, which helps explain why some teams still don't treat it with the proper gravitas. (Consider how much practice is devoted to shootouts. Trust me. Precious little.)
The problem for the Rangers is not that they were squeezed out of the eighth spot by a dodgy system, but that they ran out of their own wiggle room in a season that was lost by indifferent play for the middle four months. Then in the skills portion of the NHL beauty pageant, Flyers goalie Brian Boucher shockingly was one save better than New York's Henrik Lundqvist.
(Famously, Rangers coach John Tortorella's philosophy is Safe is Death. Sure, Lundqvist in a shootout looked like the way to go for New York, but those teams couldn't have played a more discreet five minutes of overtime if Miss Manners and not the retiring Kerry Fraser had been wearing a striped shirt.) You can long debate Tortorella's decision to use Olli Jokinen instead of Marian Gaborik in the third spot -- better shootout numbers vs. 42-goal season -- but the only reason to debate the way the game ended is that, on an institutional level, the NHL still seems mildly embarrassed by its concoction.
If it had faith in the shootout, the NHL would increase the number of shooters to make it more of a team exercise. Then the league would ditch the loser point in favor of a fan-friendly, transparent standing table that reads W, L and maybe GB.
And if it truly trusted the shootout, we would eventually see it in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Feel free to cringe, but this is where the 21st century is heading. Life should move fast, to borrow from umpire Cowboy Joe West, so how much of a good playoff hockey game is too much? Three overtimes? Four? A Keith Primeau five? If somebody scores at 2:05 a.m. and nobody is awake to see it, is it still a classic?
I understand the sanctity of playoff overtime as much as the next fellow who bought a scalped upper-balcony, end-arena ticket to watch Bobby Orr as a rookie -- $5, double the face value -- but I would not take it as a personal affront if the evening concluded with the drama of a shootout. (Right ... you turned off the set on Sunday because you think the shootout is a fluffy confection that should not decide a season.) Well, the shootout works okay for Olympic hockey.
It also is viewed as a legitimate game-ender in World Cup soccer, except for Italy's Roberto Baggio in 1994. (Spare me a basketball analogy. Those overtimes are five minutes, not one-third of a regulation game.) So cheers to a more robust shootout. After one or maybe two overtime periods of the standard five-on-five, the NHL should again revisit the idea of a four-on-four playoff overtime period. And in the unlikely event that three overtimes (an entire extra game) don't produce a winner, turn five shooters loose to decide matters.
Now that would be must-see TV.
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