Over the past five games of the Eastern Conference finals, a goal has been scored in the first 70 seconds or less four times, three of which were tallied by the Tampa Bay Lightning. That's a lot of fun for fans to watch and great for the team that gets on the board first, but kind of has me baffled from a hockey standpoint.
What's happening in the dressing room before the Boston Bruins walk out to start the game?
They even managed to get scored on 34 seconds into the third period of Wednesday night's contest as an encore. It might be time to switch up the pregame and intermission routine that they seem to favor, which I assume is chewing valium.
It demonstrates an odd lack of preparedness for a moment that your Average Joe understands is about to be rather intense.
Individuals get themselves ready to play in big games differently, and there's nothing wrong with that. And while there are certain group events that most players have to take part in (like when the coach does the overall sweep of the game plan, or when he calls in the special teams groups to break something down), everyone is free to prepare as it best suits them.
Whether someone chooses to use that prep time to be a towel-over-the-head-iPod-in visualizer, or a loud-mouthed back-slapper who gets fired up hours before the game, I'm fine with that. But at some point, a coach, a captain, a leader, someone has to herd the cats and get everyone on the same page, and apparently that isn't something being adequately done by Boston in this series.
I understand that it's not always easy for individuals to flip the switch from warmup mode to full-on playoff game intensity — sometime it takes a shift or two to get into the swing of things, but that doesn't mean you have to give up a goal en route to getting there.
Personally, I favored a fairly direct approach to being at my best from the drop of the puck — I went with a hard lap or two after the anthem, a shot of cold water down my back, and a couple deep, glorious inhales from the ammonia/smelling salt packets that trainers pass around before the game.
Those things make your eyes water, but damned if your focus isn't scary good for a few seconds, after they're done tearing up. It's the perfect time for a quick review of your team's systems and goals for the night.
But as I mentioned above, there comes a point before the game where somebody has to unite all the varying personalities into a group, no matter how they find their game face.
The best leaders I've played with aggressively emphasized the start of the game because it's one of the few things you can control. You only get one timeout in hockey, so the very first shift of every period is unique. For once, you actually have time to set up a play, or at least a general mindset (our junior team used to put a big forward on D, send a slow rolling dump in off a won faceoff and let that forward run somebody without the mild inconvenience of having anyone ever touch him).
The three shifts with the least amount of guesswork are the ones that lead off each period, especially since you can clearly see which personnel you're lining up against.
With that rare ability to prep, you can't take for granted that guys are going to be on point -- you have to take advantage of the opportunity. Those are the moments you need a good voice in the dressing room to start the "hey, headphones off," "hey, settle down" reminders. The first period needs to start then.
Even though those early goals haven't flawlessly indicated the game's eventual winner in this series, it does the majority of the time. It's deflating on the bench — I can't imagine anyone was all that inspired by seeing Chris Kelly lose a draw clean to give Teddy Purcell a clear shooting lane (despite obviously being the trigger man) after they'd just spent days preparing for Game 6 to begin.
Two D-zone mistakes from a highly ranked professional hockey team 36 seconds into a big game?
It just shouldn't happen.
For the Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, it won't happen in Game 7. They know giving up another of those goals could bury their season. They'll tighten up.
If I'm wrong, and one team manages yet another game-starting goal, you can rest assured that the Eastern Conference champion will have just shown their face. If the other team manages to come out in Game 7 that sloppy, there's just no chance they'll be the Vancouver Canucks' dancing partner come Wednesday.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Boston Bruins