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Players winning a playoff edition of Beat The Clock

by Larry Wigge
One night it's Detroit and Nicklas Lidstrom swooping around like a guy late to an important appointment. Two nights later, we're right in the middle of a triple-overtime thriller, won by Anaheim, 4-3, 1:15 into the sixth period on a goal by checking center Todd Marchant.

If you want to be pulled out of your seat -- at home or at the rink -- it's happening pretty regularly in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Time was ticking down in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals matchup between Lidstrom's Detroit Red Wings and the Anaheim Ducks. It was a battle of the game's last two Stanley Cup champions that was seemingly heading to overtime when Lidstrom saw an opening and jumped into the offense with not one shot, but also his own rebound. Suddenly, the red light went on behind Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller. There were still 49.1 seconds left on clock.

For Detroit it was the much talked about thrill of victory. Sudden victory. For Anaheim, it was the equally talked about agony of defeat.

Athletes often talk about being "in the moment." This had to be it for Lidstrom, right?

"It was like a rush of adrenaline...excitement," Lidstrom said when reporters first rushed up to him in the dressing room after Detroit's 3-2 victory. "I don't know if I've ever scored a goal to win a playoff game in the final minute."

"You want to rise to the occasion when the game's on the line," Lidstrom said. "I knew the clock was ticking...and that there was a good chance for a great scoring opportunity when I saw that opening between me and their net."

Johan Franzen, who was occupying Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger at the side of the net to make room for Lidstrom, said of Nick, "He usually comes up with the big goals at the right time or the great pass or whatever. In some way, he always helps us to win."

"With the game on the line, I can't think of anyone else I'd rather see with the puck on his stick," said teammate Henrik Zetterberg.

"His greatest skill is he doesn't make things complicated," coach Mike Babcock said.

A special player living in the moment.

The theme was trickier following Anaheim's 4-3, six-period win two days later...especially when you consider Marchant has scored only 176 goals in 1,038 career regular-season games and now 13 in 84 career playoff games.

Said the 35-year-old Marchant, "My mom and dad (Susan and Peter) came in from Buffalo for the game and I promised my mom I'd get a goal for her... and if you follow my career you know how hard that can be to do."

Seeing his joke fall flat among reporters, Marchant continued, saying, "I remember scoring another overtime goal in 1997 (for Edmonton) against Andy Moog. So I guess you could say this was a long time coming."

"You want to rise to the occasion when the game's on the line. I knew the clock was ticking and that there was a good chance for a great scoring opportunity when I saw that opening between me and their net."
-- Nicklas Lidstrom

In this post-lockout era, where offense may not always show up in the total number of goals scored, we have the eye test to know that there are more scoring chances -- good ones, in fact. We also know that no lead is safe. Not a two-goal lead, and not even a three-goal cushion. But in this year's playoffs, we are also finding out that you can't take for granted a close game in the waning seconds going into overtime.

That clock-beating goal by Lidstrom was a record-setting, second straight, last-minute game-winning goal by the Red Wings in this year's playoffs. Franzen gave Detroit a thrilling 6-5 decision against Columbus in Game 4 of the previous round, and the Wings became the first NHL team to win consecutive games in one playoff year on tie-breaking, game-winning goals in the last minute of the third period.

It was also the fourth tie-breaking goal in the last minute of the third period in these playoffs -- following two by the Carolina Hurricanes in their seven-game series victory against the New Jersey Devils -- already the highest such total in any postseason in NHL history.

You couldn't possibly forget that series of ups and downs in Game 7 of the Carolina-New Jersey series in which the Devils carried a 3-2 lead with less than two minutes remaining before the roof caved in on all-world goalie Martin Brodeur -- Jussi Jokinen tying the game with just 1:20 left, and then Eric Staal grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat with just 32 seconds left on the clock.

"I'll remember that one when it's all said and done," Staal said excitedly to reporters. "That's one you keep in the memory bank. I remember it was pretty quiet after Jussi scored. When we went over the boards after that goal, we're like, 'Why not get another one?' "

Nobody scores twice in the final 80 seconds against the winningest goalie in NHL history to advance to the second round. But the 'Canes did.

Only seven days earlier, Jokinen scored with .2 seconds left on the clock to give Carolina a 4-3 victory in Game 4 to tie the series at two games apiece.

Back to Sunday in Detroit. With the game early in the third overtime, you had to wonder if Ducks coach Randy Carlyle thought Marchant was the wrong guy to have the puck with the game on his stick. Wrong guy, right guy. Whichever way you choose to look at it, an intriguing plot seems to be building early in these playoffs.

And you can add to the last-minute-in-regulation goals the fact that following Marchant's game-deciding goal, seven games have gone into overtime and that includes Game 4 in the first round between Vancouver and St. Louis in which Canucks winger Alex Burrows scored with just 18.9 seconds left in overtime.

Argue the merits of the way the game is officiated Playoff Gearsince the lockout, whether there are too many calls or too few. But there seems to be more time and space at the most opportune times in the playoffs.

"If you get a step on a guy, they have to let you go now," Marchant said. "There is time and space available now that there wasn't in the playoffs before the lockout. And I'm glad there was for me tonight."

When told of the record four playoff games being decided in the last minute of regulation, Lidstrom said, "History is always being made in the playoffs. It sure makes for exciting finishes, doesn't it?"

And time is tick, tick, ticking away until the next one comes along.

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