Skip to contents

The history of the NHL is the history of trying to figure out what overtime should be. Initially a 10-minute period, it was done away with during World War II and wouldn’t return for 40 years, as a five-minute period. After the lockout, in a (mostly mistaken) belief that modern fans won’t abide ties, a shootout was tacked on to the end if need be. In 2015 it reached its current form, moving from four skaters a side to 3-on-3. It is, I think, a pretty great compromise. It’s not nearly as fluky or as foreign as a shootout, which doesn’t particularly resemble the actual sport of hockey; if ties are out as an option, best to settle things in the run of play. At the same time, it’s fun—the same forces that discourage OT from lasting the full five minutes make it a breathless arcade version of the sport. Not quite the real thing, but not a bastardization either: a condensed adaptation rather than a thin imitation.

I was hooked on 3-on-3 nearly from the start, when early in that 2015–16 season the Lightning and Flyers (and boy how those teams’ identities and fortunes have diverged since then) put on an end-to-end show. I did a blog around the video of the whole overtime period. Since then, the chaos has been scaled back a bit, as players have learned what works and what doesn’t and developed something resembling defensive strategy. These days, 3-on-3 OT feels like just part of the game—not nearly so anarchic as it once was, and rarely worth remarking on. This is a good thing, I think, but one does occasionally long for pandemonium, and for a period worth sharing in its entirety.

Monday night, the Rangers and Leafs showed some of the old magic. The extra frame—won by the Rangers on an Artemi Panarin shot 3:48 in—was so wild and so crammed with action that Sportsnet posted uncut video of the complete period. Let’s reward them for their consideration by watching it. You shan’t regret it.

I know, that’s a long video to ask someone to watch from start to finish. Trust me, I feel you—I’m so twitchy, I refuse to use TikTok because it doesn’t let you fast-forward. But let me assure you there are no empty calories here. The first 3:44 is realtime, whistle-free action, flowing north-south and back again at an almost comical pace, as the Rangers and Leafs both abandon the conservatism of keeping two skaters high to prevent counterattacks, instead leaving it to Igor Shesterkin and Jack Campbell to clean up the respective messes. That they did; the stoppage-free stretch featured nine total shots, six of them on goal.

If you’re extra-busy, though, fast-forward the video to 3:15 for the most bananas sequence of all: Shesterkin coming out of net for a failed clearing attempt, making a save 20 feet from the crease, hustling back for another save that took him out of the picture, where he could only watch Jacob Trouba wrangle Auston Matthews in front of an open goal to keep the Leafs from ending it.

Shesterkin recorded 40 saves on the night, none more harrowing. I’m not sure sweeper-keeper is going to become part of the goalie handbook, but desperate times, etc. “We stole one,” said Mika Zibanejad. “If not for him, I don’t want to imagine what would have happened.”

Panarin would score off the first faceoff since the start of the period, and it felt like a mercy toward blood pressures. New York escaped with the 2-1 win, and I think all can agree that the first star of the night was overtime itself. These are exactly the sort of teams 3-on-3 was meant for, at least as entertainment: top-heavy offensively, defensively unsturdy, and with capable netminders. They don’t all play out like this, and we wouldn’t want them too, but it’s a lovely little reminder of what 3-on-3 can offer when it’s feeling weird.