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Shootouts are down throughout the NHL, has league gone far enough?

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Few topics will spark as much debate as the shootout. Passionate old-school fans will say it’s a gimmicky skills competition that has no business deciding games. Other fans will say it’s one of the most exciting things in the sport and is a vast improvement upon the dreaded tie that used to decide too many hockey games. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, most people will acknowledge that the shootout is here to stay for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, some attention is being focused on the effect the shootout has on the game as opposed to debating the shootout’s place in the game.

Teams are certainly learning to attack the end of games, overtime, and the shootout in different ways as they acclimate themselves to the change. Since the lockout, we’ve seen coaches start to veer away strictly putting superstars in the skills competition and start putting in guys who simply excel at the shootout. We’ve even seen the genesis of a new term in the hockey fan’s lexicon: “Shootout specialist.” You can decide if that’s a good thing or not.

It was decided by the NHL that something needed to change with the shootout. It wasn’t going anywhere, but they decided to water down the value of those wins that came via shootout. More importantly, they wanted to increase the value of any win that was earned by the entire team on the ice instead of the 1-on-1 showdown. (Of course, when we say “entire team,” we’re including 4-on-4 overtimes). The rule change is simple—and subtle: when two teams are tied at the end of the season, the first tiebreaker will be wins NOT acquired via shootout.

As the season winds down, it looks like the NHL may have succeeded. From NHL.com:

“Through 1,065 games this season, there have been 124 shootouts, a pace that would result in 143 over a full 1,230-game season. That’s a 22 percent drop from the 184 shootouts last season, and two fewer than the 145 in 2005-06, the first season the tiebreaker was used to settle games that were even after overtime.

It’s not that a lot more games are being decided in regulation — the 23.8 percent of games tied after 60 minutes are just slightly fewer than last season’s 24.5 percent (254 so far; 283 over a 1,230-game season, down from 301 in 2009-10), and still more than any of the four previous seasons since the arrival of the shootout. But while 61.1 percent of games that went into overtime last season went to a shootout, that figure is down to 48.8 percent — a number that would be the lowest in the shootout’s six seasons.”

For those fans who want games decided by 5 skaters playing against 5 others, this should be viewed as a positive development. It might not be exactly what they want, but certainly baby steps in the right direction. The games have been extremely exciting and increasingly it appears that teams want to win the game in OT instead of sitting back for the shootout.

Let’s throw this out to the readers. Judging by the statistics, fewer games are being decided in the shootout. Do you think the NHL has gone far enough to discourage teams playing for the shootout or do you think weighing victories as a tiebreaker is enough? We’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Brian Boyle #11 of the Tampa Bay Lightning reacts after losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final with a score of 5 to 2 during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring a goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.

Video: Phil Kessel displays incredible hand-eye coordination on goal

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This has been a tough postseason for Phil Kessel haters.

The supposed “choker” is on a team that’s in the Eastern Conference Final, but Kessel obviously isn’t just in for the ride with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored his 18th point in 17 postseason games by scoring the 1-0 goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.

(Watch that goal in the video above.)

It was a dramatic first period, with a Jonathan Drouin goal getting disallowed and Andrei Vasilevskiy making some huge saves on tough chances.

Can Pittsburgh protect this slim lead with 1-0 down one period? We’ll see, but either way, what a great postseason for Kessel.

Update: Here’s the goal Kessel accidentally “scored” for the Lightning:

Ouch.