Lighting the Lamp, with Rick Ackerman
The NHL's second season, the Stanley Cup playoffs, is replete with drama, intrigue and passion that makes it the best tournament in the sporting world. It is also the most difficult competition in the world, now taking sixteen total victories in four rounds to win a championship. Each round intensifies the personal involvement felt by both players on the ice and fans in the stands as the do-or-die mentality extends into a religious fervor that encompasses the physicality and psychology of the game and turns it into a metaphor for life itself.
One of the most discussed and debated topics in the playoffs is officiating. As in real life, there are objective rules called laws codified into a system to protect everyone. Of course, it is the interpretation of these rules that causes all the trouble. Just about every fan of every team in the playoffs feels there is an officiating vendetta against his/her team and certain teams are favored over others. There are countless examples of this. Blues' fans can easily point to inconsistencies and phantom calls like the interference penalty assessed to Barret Jackman in game two that led to Dustin Brown's five-on-three power play goal. Significant non-calls also abound. Those with long memories will recall the mere two minute penalty assessed to Kings' ruffian Dwight King last year in game two of the playoff series, which left a boarded, bloodied Alex Pietrangelo in limbo. Perhaps the most egregious non-call in Stanley Cup history occurred in game six of the 1993 Campbell Conference Finals between Toronto and Los Angeles. Superstar Wayne Gretzky clearly clipped the Leaf's Doug Gilmour in the head with his stick, yet referee Kerry Fraser declined to make the call, despite blood dripping from Gilmour's chin. To add insult to injury, the Great One scored on the power play only moments later to win the game for the Kings. Fraser later admitted he made the wrong call and still hears about it to this day.
Of course, fans of the Buffalo Sabres will say the single worst call in Stanley Cup playoff history occurred in the wee hours of June 10, 1999 in Dallas when Brett Hull scored the Cup winning goal in triple overtime of game six. Right before Hull scored over a sprawling Dominik Hasek, his foot was in the crease, but the puck was not, a clear violation of 1999 NHL Rulebook, Rule 78-b: "Unless the puck is in the goal crease area, a player of the attacking side not possessing the puck may not stand in the goal crease. If the puck should enter the net while such conditions prevail, the goal shall not be allowed." The NHL tried a semantics tap-dance around the issue by claiming a memo had previously been issued that would allow a goal when the scorer had control of the puck prior to his skate entering the crease, yet that rather dubious claim was immediately discounted by irate Sabres' players, management and fans as a c.y.a. fabrication.
To many, the best part about playoff hockey is that not a single game will be decided by a shootout, despite the NHL's claim that the fans just love shootouts. And the parity of today's teams guarantees that a significant number of games will end in a tie score and require as many 20-minute overtimes as it takes until a deciding goal is scored. Another superb feature is that there are no commercial breaks during overtime. So far through Sunday, over one third (eight of 22) of the games have been decided in overtime. There have been many memorable overtime games in Stanley Cup history, the most recent in May, 2008, when it took four overtimes until Dallas' Brendan Morrow scored against San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov to break a 1-1 tie. Nabokov made 53 saves while the Stars' Marty Turco had 61. In April 2007, game one between Vancouver and Dallas also took four overtimes until Henrik Sundin scored to give goaltender Roberto Luongo his first ever career playoff victory. Luongo made 72 saves in that game. May 10, 1970, will forever be remembered by Blues Nation as the date on which Bobby Orr scored the "in flight" goal (with a little help from the stick of Blues' defenseman Noel Picard) against Glenn Hall in overtime to win the series for the Boston Bruins.
In 1964, Bobby Baun of the Toronto Maple Leafs scored the game winner against Detroit in overtime of game six of the Finals to tie the series at three games to three. Previously in the game, Baun had broken his ankle and after it was taped and frozen, he was able to return to claim his place in Stanley Cup playoff lore. Toronto old-timers will also remember with relish the 1951 Cup Finals against Montreal in which all five games went to overtime, with Bill Barilko netting the Cup winner in game five, giving the Leafs the championship, four games to one. However, the most notable overtime game in NHL history was on March 24, 1936, a 1-0 win by the Detroit Red Wings over the Montreal Maroons in six overtimes. Little-known rookie winger Mud Bruneteau scored the only goal of the game at 116:30 of overtime, ending the longest Stanley Cup game ever.
The individual NHL player with the most career overtime goals is Joe Sakic of the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche with eight. The 1939 Boston Bruins' Mel "Sudden Death" Hill holds the record for most overtime goals in a single series with three. Surprisingly, star players such as Mark Messier (109 playoff goals), Mario Lemieux (77) and Gordie Howe (68) never scored a playoff overtime goal.