However you feel about the NHL’s ultimate tiebreaker, the shootout that decided tonight’s Toronto/Buffalo preseason tilt just confirmed your belief that it’s the most exciting, or most gimmicky, part of the game.
By the time Toronto’s Jay McClement beat Jhonas Enroth with a wrister through the five-hole for the winner, 30–yes 30!–shooters had taken their place at center ice, and 29 of them had been denied.
A great display of skill, this was not. In fact, most of the attempts wouldn’t have troubled a decent beer leaguer. Still, it was plenty entertaining as each round passed by without a goal and both sides pulled out all the stops just to get it over with…including an attempt that will be remembered as one of the greatest, or most completely insane, ever.
The smirk on Paul Ranger’s face as he skated to the dot for the 20th attempt should have telegraphed that something was up. The Toronto defender, who is making a comeback attempt after walking away from the NHL back in 2009, recognized that the string of futility required something truly absurd to cap it off, and he was the man to deliver it. Halfway into the Buffalo zone he took one hand off his stick, reared back with his right leg and kicked the stick, sending the puck sailing up and over Enroth’s head.
The Buffalo stopper didn’t seem too amused–he took a whack at Ranger as he skated by–but he was the only one. Even the eternally taciturn Randy Carlyle cracked up as Ranger skated back to the Toronto bench to the cheers of his teammates.
“I learned it when I was 10, 11 years old and I’ve been practicing ever since,” Ranger said of the move. “I can rip it pretty good. I scored on it quite a few times at practice. I wish it would’ve gone in. I have no idea where it’s going and the goalie doesn’t either. I was kind of debating whether to try it, but I figured, what the heck, let’s try it.”
The 15 rounder tied the mark for the longest shootout in NHL history. That one, back in 2005, ended on Marek Malik’s legendary through-the-legs trick shot.
Here’s the full, 15-round shootout: