When Brooks Laich was growing up watching playoff overtime hockey, he prayed for games to end early.
"My mom would make me go to bed after the first overtime," Laich recalled. "Rarely did I ever knew who won before I went to bed."
Laich would be fortunate this year. While the Washington Capitals' 2-1 triple-overtime loss to the New York Rangers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series on Wednesday night was the longest of this postseason, 11 of the 19 playoff games that have gone to overtime ended in the first six minutes.
Troy Brouwer called it a "weird phenomenon," and it's something players have a hard time explaining, though everyone has theories on why so many games result in an especially sudden death.
"I think it's a lot of things. The fatigue level's high. You've played a long, emotional game and you're fatigued. The nervousness is going," Caps forward Matt Hendricks said. "Guys are afraid to make mistakes and that's sometimes when mistakes happen, squeezing the stick a little bit. And, yeah, everyone's throwing everything they can at the net. Every time you get an opportunity in overtime to put it on net, you put it on net and hope for the best."
There's an aggressiveness at the start of overtimes that seems to be even more prevalent than in years past.
"Teams are going for it. I think sometimes in the past, you get in overtime and you're just kind of waiting, waiting, playing a patient game and waiting for the other team to make a mistake," Rangers forward Mike Rupp said. "It seems like now, you're exchanging a few chances here and there, and teams are ending it early."
It happened most recently in Philadelphia on Sunday when an apparent goal by Flyers forward Danny Briere was disallowed just moments before he scored at 4:36 to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-3.
Five of the Caps' 10 playoff games have gone to overtime, with three ending in the first 3:17.
"It's like the first five minutes of a game. You push — hard. And you're pushing to try to have the momentum in your favor. I think it's the same as that in overtime," forward Jay Beagle said. "You make a push, and if no one scores, then you just kind of settle into a game like the third period would be. It's basically sudden death in the third period when it's a tie game. One mistake could cost you."
That's true at any point in overtime, but especially in the first few minutes. Adrenaline's going knowing that one mistake can lead to a swift end. It happened in Game 1 of the first round as Boston's Chris Kelly scored just 1:18 in.
"I think teams try to push right away to try and get some action as far as pucks on net," Brouwer said. "You throw a lot more pucks to the net where normally you'd maybe cycle them down and get more rebounds. Maybe it's a trend that teams should start doing during regulation."
But it's impossible to replicate an overtime atmosphere, even in the final minutes of a tie game. There's nothing like the red light and finality of scoring in overtime, and it's painful when the horn goes off prematurely, something that happened on Alex Ovechkin's near goal Wednesday night. Instead, the puck clanked off the post, and the game continued for almost two more periods.
Associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig saw a long overtime game coming for the Caps and Rangers, sensing it was a "chess match."
There's a reason why overtime games that don't meet a quick end sometimes drag on.
"As the game goes on longer and longer, guys get tired and there's less chances being taken. So guys sit back, they make sure that you're not giving up anything rather than trying to go for things," Brouwer said. "When you get in trouble and you're starting to get buzzed a little bit, you just fall back. You make sure that you're protecting your house, your zone, and you're not trying to generate too much offense as much as you are just trying to weather the pressure."
Of the four multiple-OT games this spring, three ended in the first four minutes after intermission, including Nicklas Backstrom's double-overtime winner in Game 2 at Boston. Laich wasn't sure if it was fresh ice, maybe fewer chances for obstruction and more speed, but there's no perfect answer for why so many overtime games have been taking less time.
"The opportunities are there," Laich said. "I'm not a scientist."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.