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Plenty Of Overtime NHL Playoff Games Attributed To Parity


Let's talk hockey this morning. In the NHL playoffs last night, the last two Stanley Cup champions were both in action. The Boston Bruins beat the New York Rangers, giving the Bruins a three games-to-nothing lead in their second round series. But the reigning champion, Los Angeles Kings, lost to the San Jose Sharks and their series is now tied at two and two.

Joining me now to talk hockey is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Hey, Tom.


GREENE: Well, let's start on the West Coast. The San Jose Sharks beat the Kings two-to-one. And it sounds like it was a pretty sloppy game.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, on sloppy ice actually. We've gotten used to having this cold weather sport in warmer climates. But sometimes the weirdness of it comes out. And less than stellar ice conditions in San José; slushy, or there were soft spots apparently; reportedly is why players were sometimes taking a whack at the puck and missing, or hitting off targets.

San Jose coach, Todd McLellan, said it's California. It was 90 degrees the other day. The ice crews do what they can, but... And apparently it happens elsewhere this time of year, including at the Staples Center in L.A. King's coach Darryl Sutter says players sometimes compensate with shorter passes and harder shots. So we'll see how much of a role, if any, the ice plays as these teams battle in their final three games of the series.

GREENE: Yeah, I am making myself in trouble for saying this. But I've never thought that warm weather cities should have hockey teams; which leads us to cities were hockey belongs, like New York and Boston. They faced off last night.

GOLDMAN: And Pittsburgh. Right, David?

GREENE: Of course, that's right. So the Rangers and Bruins. The Rangers, I mean have had some outstanding goaltending. But sounds like it broke down last night.

GOLDMAN: Well, yeah. Rangers' goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was his usual magnificent self, despite a reported shoulder injury from an earlier game. He had 32 saves but he couldn't save to in the third period, and the Bruins broke through, scored twice and won two-to-one.

The Rangers are down 0-three. They can take a little heart though, unlike the NBA were a team down 0-three in a playoff series never has come back to win. It's happened three times in NHL history: the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942, the Islanders in 1975, and just three years ago, the Philadelphia Flyers did it.

GREENE: And, Tom, all joking aside about warm weather. I mean we do have some of these cold classic NHL cities - some of the original NHL franchises in the playoffs this year. It's kind of cool.

GOLDMAN: It is. Four of the so-called Original Six have advanced to the second round of these playoffs: Boston, New York, Chicago and Detroit. And that's happened only one other time in the last 20 years where you had four of the Six advance this far - that was in 2010. With that happening, you know, there is this sense of history to these playoffs although with the NHL, in recent years, the playoffs and ultimately the Stanley Cup winner is more a function of what's new.

Since 2003, you've had a different champion every season including for first-time winners: Tampa Bay in 2004, Carolina in '06, Anaheim in '07, and the Kings last year.

GREENE: Well, the kind of parity are talking about, Tom, I feel like we're seeing that in the playoffs this year. I mean the top seeds - Pittsburgh, Chicago - had, you know, great records but they're both in grind them out series right now.

GOLDMAN: They really are. And we see it another way. Hockey watchers say that parity is one of the big reasons why there are so many overtime games. This year, in particular, there have been 20 overtime games in these playoffs, 17 in the first round that set a new NHL record. Close games obviously make for more excitement, and with his revolving door of Stanley Cup champions, that engages a lot more fans who can rightfully claim their team has a shot at the title, if they just make the playoffs.

This is all positive for a leak that was drenched in negativity earlier this season, because of the lockout.

GREENE: Yeah, they've really come back from that.

Well, enjoy the excitement. Tom, thanks a lot.

GOLDMAN: Thank you, David.

GREENE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.