Hats off to the NHL and this season’s adoption of playing 3 versus 3 in overtime to decide regular season games!
The new concept has added excitement to extra time showcasing the players’ exceptional abilities with more skating room and less traffic to work their magic.
Fans around the league have welcomed the idea of three players from each team sprinting down the ice looking to exploit a weakness in their opponent’s defence and secure a win in spectacular fashion.
Statistics show that goals often come quickly in extra time with the winning marker being registered midway through OT.
It appears that the NHL's experiment with 3-on-3 overtime is doing exactly what it was intended to do…significantly cut down on the number of contests that have to be decided by a shootout.
After 214 regular season games only 13 of them needed a shootout. If you fast forward those numbers to the end of the regular season, a total of 1,230 games, that's a pace of only 74 games that head to a breakaway contest. Last year, a total of 170 games went to a shootout, so the numbers clearly define the difference that 3-on-3 is making.
Keys to Success in 3-on-3
Protecting the puck in all three zones of the ice is paramount, and your shots better hit the net. Missing high and wide will probably lead to the puck heading the other way.
Avoiding turnovers is critical if a team wants to experience any success.
The beauty of 3-on-3 is all the open ice and the fact that teams use their most skilled players.
Watching present day players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith from the Chicago Blackhawks whirl around the ice in extra time is something to behold as they use their high end skill to find each other and create scoring opportunities.
Other notable trios from the current NHL include Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan or the Anaheim Ducks and their exciting trifecta of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Cam Fowler.
But what if 3-on-3 existed years, even decades ago?
Which combos from the past would have lit it up like the young snipers of today?
For this list, we'll be going with trios that would be on the ice at the same time in a three-on-three overtime scenario so, we're sticking with the formula of a defenceman and two forwards.
15 Ken Reardon, Elmer Lach & Maurice “Rocket” Richard - Montreal Canadiens
In 1947-18, Lach led the NHL in scoring with 61 points (60-game season). The ‘Rocket’ chipped in with 53 of his own. Both skaters were named to the league’s first All Star team. Reardon made the second All Star squad and was the straw that stirred the Canadiens high powered offence that season. Lach and Reardon were methodical in their play while Richard was known for his fiery temper and penchant for skating over the opposition’s defencemen rather than skating around them in his attempt to score.
14 Al MacInnis, Theoren Fleury & Lanny McDonald - Calgary Flames
Led by Al MacInnis and his booming shot from the blue-line, the Calgary Flames had a potent trio that could skate and move the puck with expertise. Theo Fleury was relentless with his puck pursuit while Lanny McDonald had an uncanny knack for scoring timely goals. You would just have to hope that in a 3-on-3 situation that MacInnis's booming shot wouldn't miss the net, otherwise the trio could be in trouble.
13 Red Kelly, Gordie Howe & Ted Lindsay - Detroit Red Wings
Kelly, Howe and Lindsay dominated the NHL in scoring during the 1953-1954 regular season. All three players finished in the top ten in scoring and combined for 192 total points. Howe won the Art Ross Trophy that season as the league’s top scorer with 81 points. He and Lindsay also racked up a total of 219 penalty minutes. Can you imagine this line going up against Montreal's trio?
12 Pierre Pilote, Stan Mikita & Bobby Hull - Chicago Blackhawks
During the 1960s, Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull terrorized goalies with their combination of slick playmaking ability and lethal shots. Both gentlemen have been credited with the creation of the curved blade which they used to their advantage. Pilote was a three-time recipient of the Norris Trophy as outstanding defenceman in 1963, 1964, and 1965 that was known for his great playmaking ability and pinpoint passes.
11 Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito & John Bucyk - Boston Bruins
For three consecutive seasons (1970-71, 71-72, 72-73) this Boston trio earned a spot in the top ten in league scoring. In fact, during the 1970-1971 campaign, Esposito, Orr and Bucyk finished 1-2-3 with a total of 407 points. Orr set the standard for what is now known as an offensive defencemen and is arguably the best player in NHL history. The 1970-71 team won 54 games and tied seven times, but with 3-on-3 overtime, this trio easily could have won Boston another six games.
10 Dan Boyle, Vincent Lecavalier & Martin St. Louis - Tampa Bay Lightning
We now come to a more recent trio in NHL history. It’s exciting to imagine how good these guys would have been if 3-on-3 existed when they were together in Tampa. All three could skate (even Lecavalier back then) and had great hockey sense. Dan Boyle and Vinny Lecavalier would have used their high hockey IQ to make plays while the speedy Marty St. Louis could score using his quick release.
9 Doug Bodger, Alexander Mogilny & Pat Lafontaine - Buffalo Sabres
Mogilny and Lafontaine were almost unstoppable during their time together with the Sabres. Blessed with above average skating abilities and soft, scoring hands the Buffalo duo racked up 129 goals during the 1992-93 season, featuring a league leading 76 by Mogilny. Lafontaine chipped in with 95 assists that same season. Bodger was the calming influence on the Sabres blue-line with crisp passes and brilliant playmaking.
8 Ray Bourque, Cam Neely & Adam Oates - Boston Bruins
Bourque, Neely and Oates would have done extremely well in the 3-on-3. Any potential scoring attempt would have started with Bourque cradling the puck on his stick followed by a quick pass to Oates where the slick centreman would have taken the time to find Neely (prototypical power forward) to finish things off. Bourque finished his career as the NHL’s All Time top scoring blue-liner with 1,579 points in 1,612 games.
7 Sergei Zubov, Mario Lemieux & Jaromir Jagr - Pittsburgh Penguins
With Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in their prime, any team would have had a tough time defending against that offensive juggernaut.
In 1995-96 Lemieux and Jagr finished 1 and 2 in league scoring with 280 points between them. Lemieux won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP. Sergei Zubov was a crafty defenceman with great skating skills and loved to join the attack whenever he could.
6 Nicklas Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman & Brendan Shanahan Detroit Red Wings
These three skaters would have complemented each other like no other trio in the league during their time in Detroit.
Lidstrom had the ability to either skate with the puck or make efficient passes to his forwards. The native of Sweden is ranked sixth among all time point leaders for NHL defencemen with 1,142 points in 1,564 games. Yzerman was a quick and intelligent as they come and finished in the top 10 in scoring six times. Shanahan was very dangerous around the net with a quick release that netted him two 50, five 40 and six 30 goal seasons during his NHL career.
5 Dennis Potvin, Bryan Trottier & Mike Bossy - New York Islanders
You couldn’t have gone wrong with three NHL Hall of Famers leading the charge. Potvin sits in 7th spot all time in scoring for NHL defencemen with 1,052 points including 44 game winners. Smooth and steady with the puck, many a successful break-out would have been the result of a Denis Potvin pass. Mike Bossy is one of the purest goal scorers in NHL history. Bossy went nine straight seasons scoring more than 50 goals before tailing off to 38 in his last year in the league. Trottier was a heck of a playmaker for the Islanders and was consistently among the league’s top scorers from 1977- 1982.
4 Larry Robinson, Guy Lafleur & Steve Shutt - Montreal Canadiens
Flower Power would have given this trio all it needed to rule 3-on-3. Streaking down the right wing with a purpose, “Le Demon Blond”, (the Blonde Demon) as he was called by his adoring fans in Montreal would regularly score 50-60 goals per season. Steve Shutt, his long-time line-mate with the Habs had a 60 goal during the Canadiens run at 4 straight Stanley Cups during the 1970’s. To top it all off, Robinson was a quick puck mover and never hesitated to join the rush when a scoring opportunity presented itself.
3 Doug Harvey, Maurice “Rocket” Richard & Jean Beliveau - Montreal Canadiens
It would have been special to watch these players go to work on their opposition. Harvey is widely regarded as one of the greatest defencemen ever to play the game, winning the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league's top defenceman on seven occasions. Richard was the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in one season and loved to score. Beliveau ranks among the ten greatest NHL players of all time. “Le Gros Bill” finished among the league’s top ten scorers on nine different occasions.
2 Viacheslav Fetisov, Igor Larionov & Sergei Fedorov -Detroit Red Wings
This trio of Russians dressed as Red Wings would have confused and made their opponents dizzy with their array of moves, passes, lance changes and all world ability.
Fetisov was a master at controlling and protecting the puck then moving it quickly to a breaking teammate. Larionov and Fedorov were magicians with the puck, almost playing hide and seek with the opponent’s defencemen.
1 Paul Coffey, Wayne Gretzky & Jari Kurri - Edmonton Oilers
This trio would have brought you to the edge of your seats with all the extra ice and time to work their magic. Coffey finished his NHL career with 1,531 points courtesy of his tremendous skating ability and superior offensive skills.
Gretzky was made for 3-on-3 with his offensive abilities and incredible vision. The ‘Great One’ is widely considered the smartest player in the history of the game.
His reading of the game and his ability to improvise on the fly were unrivaled, he could consistently anticipate where the puck was going to be and execute the right move at the right time. In 20 NHL seasons, Gretzky amassed an incredible 2,857 points.
Kurri was the perfect winger for on Gretzky. The Finnish born player notched 71 goals when the one-two punch played together in Edmonton during the 1984-85 campaign.