SOUTHPOINTE, Pa. — One of the longest running and least meaningful clichés in the world of hockey-speak involves the need to “play a full 60 minutes.” A team either wins or loses games based largely on the number of minutes a coach deems the team played on a given night, if you choose to believe that philosophy.
During the Stanley Cup playoffs, sometimes it’s not enough to play a full 60 minutes. This isn’t the regular season. Games aren’t decided by shootouts after five minutes of overtime. That effort needs to translate into a full 80, 100 or perhaps even 120 minutes in order to earn a victory at this time of the year.
That lesson seems to be lost on the Pittsburgh Penguins during these playoffs.
With their 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Friday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Penguins fell to 0-3 in overtime during this postseason and have lost five straight overall. Dating to the 2012 playoffs, the Penguins are 2-6 when games extend beyond regulation.
How can a team that is so talented and has been among the NHL’s elite during this time frame be so unsuccessful in next-goal-wins scenarios?
“I think it is tough to go back over (eight) games going back numbers of years to say what was the mindset in each one,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Saturday. “We haven’t been good in them this year, I know that, and it’s relatively been short order, Columbus and this one last night. Sometimes you go into overtime looking to settle into a long overtime and I think we just have not come out to win them. We have not gone after them to win them with that shot mentality. We have seen that in all three cases this year.”
For a team to play timidly with the lead is one thing, but the Penguins have been on their heels in every overtime game in 2014, with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Josh Yohe noting that they've been "the hunted" after taking the ice in an extra period.
In their two losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, the overtimes concluded before some fans could settle back into their seats after the intermission. Matt Calvert ended Game 2 after 70 seconds of double overtime; it took Nick Foligno just 2:49 to win Game 4 for the Blue Jackets, albeit on a long wrist shot that somehow eluded the enigmatic Marc-Andre Fleury.
Derick Brassard’s winner in Game 1 on Friday occurred at 3:06 of overtime.
In about 47 minutes of overtime this spring, the Penguins have allowed three more shot attempts (27-24) than they have taken. At five-on-five, the disparity is only slightly larger, as opponents hold a 23-19 edge in shot attempts.
It's not a huge difference, but it's a far cry from how the Penguins have pounded opponents in even-strength shot attempts this spring. Their even-strength Corsi differential through seven games this postseason is plus-9.9, the second-best mark in the league.
What is most to blame for the Penguins' problems in overtime during these playoffs?
Whether it's a change in mentality or the Penguins simply seizing up when the pressure is on, something is different about this team in overtime.
The Penguins went 2-2 in overtime last season and 0-1 in 2012. In their two most recent losses before 2014, the Penguins in 2013 lost the even-strength shot-attempt battle to the Boston Bruins (30-22) in Game 3 of the conference finals and played the Ottawa Senators (29-29) to a draw in that category in Game 3 of the conference semifinals.
The one caveat in the loss to the Senators was that the Penguins had the first 10 shot attempts of the first overtime before sitting back during the two overtimes. Even when the Penguins show aggression, they haven’t been able to sustain it.
There’s a good chance the Penguins and Rangers will find themselves in overtime again before this series is over, with roughly one of every three games needing an extra period to determine a winner in the playoffs so far.
If the Pens don’t change their ways after regulation, it could spell another disappointing end to a season in Pittsburgh.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.