In the opening game of the 2015-16 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning played the first 3-on-3 overtime in NHL history when their game against the Philadelphia Flyers ended 2-2 after 60 minutes of regulation.
League general managers determined in the offseason the new OT format would reduce the number of games decided by a shootout and implemented 3-on-3 for 2015-16.
During the first installment of the new-fangled extra session, the Lightning and the Flyers went up-and-down the open ice, the reduced number of players creating wave after wave of odd-man rushes for both teams. Bolts goaltender Ben Bishop was forced to stop a penalty shot 1:27 in after Tyler Johnson had to slash to prevent a breakaway. The Lightning eventually won 3-2 when Jason Garrison backhanded a breakaway attempt past the Flyers’ Steve Mason.
Following the game, Bishop thought the new 3-on-3 was exciting but, as a goaltender, wasn’t thrilled, saying the format wasn’t “fair” and was “more of a gong show” than the shootout.
Well, Bishop, about that gong show.
Bishop and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos were selected to play in the NHL All-Star Game, which will take place Sunday, January 31, at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, Bishop making his ASG debut and Stamkos his fourth appearance.
Rather than the traditional 5-on-5 skate of All-Star Game’s prior, this year’s will feature a 3-on-3 tournament. Each division will have its own team, and the tournament will consist of three 20-minute games. The Atlantic Division All-Stars will face the Metropolitan Division All-Stars in one semifinal while All-Stars from the Central and Pacific Divisions will square off in the other. The two semifinal winners will play in the final with a prize pool of $1 million to be paid to the overall champion.
“I think it’s going to be great for the fans,” Bishop said. “It’s going to be really entertaining, a lot of talent out there, just what everybody wants to see. It’s fun going against the best players in the world. It’s pretty intimidating for me, but a lot of fun. Thankfully, the stats don’t count.”
The All-Star Game has been tweaked through the years since the first official game was played in 1947, typically with who plays who, whether it’s Stanley Cup champions vs. All-Stars from the remaining teams, North American All-Stars vs. World All-Stars or East vs. West.
The 2016 All-Star Game will be the first where the number of players on the ice will be changed, which the league hopes will create a more entertaining game for the fans.
“I don’t think it will quite resemble the 3-on-3 that we play in the season just because of the situation that we’re in,” Stamkos said. “I think there’s going to be a lot more chances, a lot more open space, a lot more back-and-forth. I think that’s kind of the style that the league wanted to showcase, the offensive skills…I think the league wants to see how it is the first time and see if we can continue that.”
Bishop said no matter the format, he’s just thrilled to be a part of it.
“You’re in a special class with the best players in the game,” he said. “So just being around them in the locker room and hanging out, I’m looking forward to it.”