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Last-minute excitement a product of today's style of play

by Brian Duff
Poor Mike Babcock. All he's ever wanted is for his team "to start on time." He's spent how many years trying to hammer that message across?

Now, using this past week as a snapshot, we've all been reminded that it's not how you start, but rather how you finish.

Of course his Red Wings weren't the only team providing the last second (literally!) dramatics, but to do it on back-to-back nights in Edmonton and Vancouver, earning two more points than they might have, could be highlighted as a turning point moment on the season-ending DVD.

The goals from Brian Rafalski and Henrik Zetterberg were just two of four that were scored with less than a second to go in a period over the weekend.

Carolina's Jamie McBain beat the buzzer in overtime for his first career goal Saturday in Pittsburgh.

Petr Prucha scored at 19:59 (and a half) of the first period in the Coyotes win Sunday in Dallas.

The last-minute goals are plentiful as well:
* Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky against the Islanders on Friday.
* Colorado's T.J. Galiardi against the Kings on Monday.
* Buffalo's Steve Montador to tie up the Habs on Wednesday.
* Honorable mention to L.A.'s Alexander Frolov, who scored at 18:39 to snag a point for the Kings in Colorado, also Wednesday.

I don't want to say this is happening more often than it used to, but it definitely seems that way.

And that shouldn't be a surprise given one of my blogging obsessions early on this season was the number of two-goal leads that disappear on a nightly basis -- including two of six games Wednesday.

And Wednesday during On The Fly, analysts Dave Reid and Kevin Weekes, almost in unison, spelled out why.

N-o p-a-n-i-c!

High-end skill, combined with a free-flowing game, allow teams to push a lot harder without obstruction in a game's final moments.

And man, are they pushing now for valuable points late in the season.

Speaking of those points, the drama of the shootout is heightened in the season's final weeks, and no one is handling it better than the Phoenix Coyotes. Boasting a league-high 12 shootout wins, including five during their just-ended nine-game win streak, they've won the last eight shootouts they've been a part of dating to late January.

As much as skeptics of the format label it as in individual skills competition, I see it as another significant team-building exercise, one that has given the Coyotes even more reason to believe in each other within their room.

Here are a few reasons why.

* Seven different Coyotes have scored in shootouts to date.

* Lauri Korpikoski languishes near the bottom in team scoring with 4 goals and 8 points, and is a minus-12 this season. In the shootout, though, he's found a way to score six times, two of them game-deciding goals.

Do you think that's increased his importance to the team? Do you think his teammates have a greater appreciation of him, and his ability to rise up in the clutch moments?
How could they not?

The same thing applies to a veteran like Robert Lang (5-for-8 with two winners) and team goal-scoring leader Radim Vrbata (6-for-14, three winners).

And what about goalie Jason LaBarbera? In the big picture, he has come through with seven of the teams 46 wins. Not bad for someone seeing limited duty, but it's incredible that he has won five of his six shootouts, meaning almost half of their shootout wins are, in part, on his back.

Then there's Adrian Aucoin. Signed July 2, 2009 to be a steady, veteran defenseman who could eat up some minutes and get close to 10 goals, he never had been asked to take part in a shootout -- until Feb. 2. As the 19th shooter in a 10-round affair, Aucoin blistered one under the bar against Nashville's Pekka Rinne for a 1-0 Phoenix win.

The Coyotes went to a shootout in their next game against Chicago, and with Aucoin serving as his team's third shooter, he once again was the difference maker.

Aucoin has gone on to fashion a 5-for-5 stat line, with all five deciding the game.

Yet there have been times when coach Dave Tippett hasn't used him and they've still won. And only in that Chicago game has Tippett ever utilized him among his first three choices.

That's coaching, knowing your team, and utilizing all of your assets.

How do you think that plays out in the locker room? I'm guessing it makes the players believe in the coach, and makes a lot of them feel important to the cause. So say what you will about the "skills competition." When approached in the right manner, it can have a profound effect on overall team success.
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