Sunday, 1 May 2011

Consequences Of A Long Night

The Vancouver-Nashville game last night looked as though it would go on for a long time before Matt Halischuk found a hole in Roberto Luongo's armor. It wouldn't have been a surprise to see these two teams, led by Vezina-nominee goalies and strong defenses that helped Vancouver finish first in goals-against average in the regular season and Nashville third, play in one of those classic marathon games that causes fans to sleep at the rink and local pizza parlors to get a surprise spike in business at two in the morning.

Winning those games is one of the toughest thing for a team to do. They are well beyond their usual physical fatigue levels and their mental fatigue is catching up quickly. They get through their shifts by sheer willpower and equipment managers work harder than ever in an effort to keep their equipment dry. The winning goal doesn't just mean a celebration for the win, it brings relief that the game is over and they can finally begin to rest as their next game is less than two days away.

Those long games go a long way towards helping to win a series. Both teams are equally exhausted, but the wining team gets a huge mental boost while the losers are dejected as the loss becomes too much to handle. Of the 10 longest games in NHL history, nine of the winners have gone on to win the series, proving there is a short-term boost from winning those games. It isn't until the next series that the games start to take a toll as those nine winner are a combined 4-5 in the following series and 4-7 through the rest of the playoffs. No team would ever throw a game on purpose, but in the long run it may be better to lose the game early in the overtime and have more reserves going forward than to win a long game and be too tired to continue the playoff run. Here are the results of what happened after the 10 longest games in NHL history:

Date: Round, game of series; winner-score over loser-score in time taken; how the winner fared in series; how they fared in series after.

3/24/36: 1, 1 of 5; Red Wings-1 over Maroons-0 in 2:56:30; won series 3-0; won next series (Cup final) over Maple Leafs 3-1.

4/3/33: 1, 5 of 5; Maple Leafs-1 over Bruins-0 in 2:44:46; won series 3-2; lost next series (Cup final) to Rangers 3-1

5/4/00: 2, 4 of 7; Flyers-2 over Penguins-1 in 2:32:01; won series 4-2; lost next series (conf. final) to Devils 4-3.

4/24/03: 2, 1 of 7; Mighty Ducks-4 over Stars-3 in 2:20:48; won series 4-2; won next series (conf. final) over Wild 4-0; lost next series (Cup final) to Devils 4-3.

4/24/96: 1, 4 of 7; Penguins-3 over Capitals-2 in 2:19:15; won series 4-2; won next series (conf. semifinal) over Rangers 4-1; lost next series (conf. final) to Panthers 4-3.

4/11/07: 1, 1 of 7; Canucks-5 over Stars-4 in 2:18:06; won series 4-3; lost next series (conf. semifinal) to Ducks 4-1.

3/23/43: 1, 2 of 7; Maple Leafs-3 over Red Wings-2; lost series 4-2

5/4/08: 2, 6 of 7; Stars-2 over Sharks-1 in 2:09:03; won series 4-2; lost next series (conf. final) to Red Wings 4-2

3/28/30: 2, 1 of 3; Canadiens-2 over Rangers-1 in 2:08:52, won series 2-0; won next series (Cup final) over Bruins 2-0.

4/18/87: 1, 7 of 7; Islanders-3 over Capitals-2 in 2:08:47; won series 4-3; lost next series (conf. semifinal) to Flyers 4-3.

The team that won the game have a combined 14-8 record (.636 winning percentage) in the rest of the series following the win, not counting the three series in which that win was in the deciding game. In the 11 series after the one featuring the game, the record drops to 29-29 (.500) for a total record of 43-37 (.538). This shows marathon games take too much out of teams to continue their runs to the Cup.

One of the biggest examples of this is with the Flyers. The third-longest game help them tie their second round series against the Penguins at 2-2 after they lost the first two games at home. Then, after building a 3-1 series lead against their arch-rival Devils, they managed only three goals in the final three games of the series and missed out on the Stanley Cup final.

The Devils benefited from an opponent's marathon again in 2003. After the Mighty Ducks won their series against the Stars, they swept their way through the Western Conference final against the Wild, only allowing one goal in the four games. But then they got the the Stanley Cup final and were shutout three times in a grueling series including a 3-0 loss in Game 7.

The Islanders won the Easter Epic against the Capitals on Pat LaFontaine's turn-around shot from the blueline, then faced the Flyers in round two. That series went the full seven games and of the first six, five were decided by two goals or fewer. They would lose Game 7 5-1. The Stars also wrapped up a series with a history-making game, then dropped the first three games of the 2008 Western Conference final against the Red Wings. They battled back to force Game 6, but lost that game 4-1.

Even though the Canucks lost the game, surrendering home-ice advantage to the Predators in the process, the fact they didn't play all night may have helped them in the long run. Ultra-long overtime games just don't leave enough in the tank to continue playing at a high level

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