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San Jose Sharks right wing Devin Setoguchi (L) celebrates his game-winning goal with team-mate Ryane Clowe during overtime of Game 3 of the NHL Western Conference semi-finals hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit, Michigan May 4, 2011. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)
San Jose Sharks right wing Devin Setoguchi (L) celebrates his game-winning goal with team-mate Ryane Clowe during overtime of Game 3 of the NHL Western Conference semi-finals hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit, Michigan May 4, 2011. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

ERIC DUHATSCHEK

NHL overtime all the time Add to ...

In 1993, the Montreal Canadiens lost the first game of the opening playoff round to the Quebec Nordiques in overtime - prompting goaltender Dan Bouchard to speculate his team had figured out their provincial rivals and especially their all-world goaltender Patrick Roy.

Oops. Little bit of a faux pas there.

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In the days after, all Roy and the Canadiens did was rattle off 10 consecutive overtime victories, setting playoff records for most OT wins in one season and most consecutive OT wins. In all, 28 out of the 85 playoff games played in 1993 went to extra time, smashing the previous record of 16.

Eight years later, the NHL's playoff overtime record was threatened again when - who else? - Roy was the goaltender of record in the Colorado Avalanche's seven-game Stanley Cup final victory over the New Jersey Devils.

For reasons that have analysts puzzled, it is under siege again this spring, after 20 of 63 games have gone to extra time (before Friday's action). The total is the third-highest for the first two rounds (compared to 23 in 2001, and 21 in 1993), according to figures supplied by Elias Sports Bureau.

Last year, there were only 18 overtime games throughout the entire playoffs.

There is a certain randomness to overtime and virtually all of it is laid at the feet of parity.

The gap between the top five teams in the Eastern Conference was just four points this season. In the West, only one point separated the No. 3 Detroit Red Wings from the No. 2 San Jose Sharks in the standings. First-round opponents Nashville Predators (No. 5) and Anaheim Ducks (No. 4) were tied.

Accordingly, it wasn't much of a reach to suggest the games would be tight and would turn on small breakdowns.

Until Thursday, when the Vancouver Canucks won in regulation against the Predators, at least one game had gone into overtime in 15 of the previous 16 nights.

Thus far, the Sharks have been the most successful OT team, going a perfect 5-0 prior to Friday's game in Detroit.

"The teams are so evenly matched," Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said in his post-game press conference the other night. "It's a break, a bounce, a save."

It's funny, too, that San Jose - a team that notoriously has come up short in playoffs past - is the club finding ways to win by getting a break, a bounce or a save.

Historically, the Sharks have a reputation of losing all the close ones and getting ousted in the playoffs by teams that finished below them in the regular-season standings, a mantel they have thoughtfully handed over to the Washington Capitals.

This year's Sharks, with a Stanley Cup-tested goaltender in Antti Niemi between the pipes, have finally found the emotional maturity needed to deal with the pressures of sudden death, according to defenceman Dan Boyle.

"I just like our locker room, I like the calmness in here," he said. "I just like our approach to the game."

Their six-game opening-round victory over the Los Angeles Kings also involved three OT wins, with team captain Joe Thornton accounting for the series-clincher in extra time. Thornton, who celebrated the goal with a backward slide along the ice reminiscent of Theo Fleury in the 1990s, echoed Boyle's thought about composure.

"I don't know what it is, but we're very calm in the dressing room before overtime. We know we've got a lot of guys who are capable of ending the game and that gives us a calmness, a confidence that we're going to get it done," he said.

Going into Friday, the Sharks were 7-0 in one-goal games this spring, and had found ways to win, even on nights when they were the second-best team on the ice - as was the case Thursday, a game Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard thought the Red Wings were flat-out unlucky not to win.

"It just shows how fine a line it is between both teams and it can go either way," he said.

Based on how the matchups are shaping up in the conference final - the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the West on a collision course, and a pair of 103-point teams (Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning) looking likely to meet in the East - it's a pattern doesn't figure to change any time soon.

 

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