It's playoff time! As Penguins announcer Mike Lange would say, "Get in the fast lane Grandma, the bingo game's ready to roll!" Or as Lightning announcer Dave Mishkin would say, "(INDECIPHERABLE SCREAMING, MAY BE SPEAKING IN TONGUES)"
Since the Bolts haven't been in the playoffs since 2007, it's been awhile since Lightning fans were treated to, hands down, the best part of playoff hockey -- sudden-death overtime. No more 4-on-4. No more shootouts and "wacky" lineups from Guy Boucher. No more lame arguments about whether Martin St. Louis' spinorama move is legal or not. Just period after period of 5-on-5 hockey until someone scores... for however long it takes.
Some people can't handle the pressure of overtime. They get tense and nervous and start watching the games through the gaps in their fingers as they cover their eyes. I live for overtime games, especially the ones that drag on forever. I don't even need a team to root for. They're always exciting because you never know what shot, what moment, or what player will decide the game. I will stay up much later than I should to watch a West Coast playoff game that goes to double or even triple overtime, just for the drama and the adrenaline rush. I guess I'm an overtime addict.
A lot of Lightning fans aren't used to this kind of excitement. In their 18 seasons, the Bolts have only had a total of 12 playoff overtime games, and most of those were over pretty quickly. Fortunately my playoff overtime experience has been supplemented by the Dallas Stars. After I moved to Texas, I watched them play in three of the longest games in NHL history. So I think I'm pretty well qualified to explain to the hockey newbie how you should prepare for your next overtime session.
-- Don't go anywhere when the whistle blows. Just don't do it. There are no TV timeouts in overtime, and play starts up pretty quickly after it stops. There's only one scheduled stoppage in play, at the first whistle under the 10:00 mark of each overtime period. But that's only to scoop up the snow that's built up around the goal posts, in the crease, and along the boards. It doesn't take very long. You might make it to your refrigerator and back. Might.
-- Don't burn off all your energy too quickly. This happens to the players, too. Sometimes the teams try so hard to end the game in the first five or ten minutes of overtime that they wear themselves out and the game ends up dragging on and on and on because no one has any juice left. Treat overtime like a marathon, not a sprint. Then go nuts when the game's over.
-- Don't expect a bunch of penalties. In the old days, before the lockout, you pretty much had to kill someone to get called for a penalty in overtime. The refs still do their best not to decide the outcome of the game, but they'll call at least a few penalties nowadays. Basically whatever you had to do to get a penalty during regulation time in the pre-lockout NHL is what you have to do to get a penalty during overtime now.
Actually what you'll see a lot, especially if the game drags on, are too many men on the ice penalties. Guys get tired, they can't skate to the bench as fast as they did earlier in the game, they have to make line changes from the far end of the ice, someone makes a mental error, and bam. Suddenly you're trying to kill a penally with the game, and maybe your season, on the line. It's how the Lightning got their first playoff series win in 2003, in triple overtime against the Washington Capitals.
You may also see the dreaded delay of game penalty for shooting the puck into the stands from your defensive zone, but fortunately one of those penalties hasn't yet decided a crucial playoff game that I can remember.
-- If you're in the arena, don't plan to do anything time-consuming during an overtime intermission. You can't get beer during overtime because alcohol sales are shut off. The stands are going to stay full for at least one and probably two overtime periods, so you won't get in and out of the bathroom any faster. And you don't want to be the poor sap who's running through the concourse to get back to their seat when the game-winner is scored.
True story -- the first hockey game I ever took my future wife to (and probably the first one she had ever watched) was a Stars playoff game. We had lousy seats way up in the top of the upper deck of the American Airlines Center, and when the game went to overtime she ran down to get concessions. Unfortunately, she didn't make it back before the extra period began. Which meant she missed this:
Even though she didn't know anything about hockey at the time, she knew she had missed something really neat. Now, the only way we're leaving the arena during overtime is if an usher throws us out.
And I might remind everyone the most dramatic moment in Lightning history happened 33 seconds into an overtime period.