RALEIGH, N.C. -- Imagine if the winner of NHL shootouts received two points and the loser none.
Or if the shootouts had five shooters from each team instead of three, as in the American Hockey League.
Or just one shooter per team. Talk about pressure to perform.
There are different potential formats for a shootout, but since the advent of the NHL shootout in the 2005-2006 season, it has been three shooters for each team and three-point games, two to the winner and one to the loser.
While hockey purists may abhor it, the shootout does decide a winner. It is a fan favorite. It's also a matter of expanding NHL exposure, said Canes defenseman Aaron Ward.
"From a marketing standpoint, how many times are you seeing the shootout on ESPN?" Ward said. "Just about every day. You see the winning goal. If it's a creative move or halfway decent play, you see it and that's good from the publicity end of this game."
In Wednesday's game between the Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, it took six increasingly tense shootout rounds to decide it. Chris Kunitz's score finally gave the Pens a 3-2 win at the RBC Center.
"I think in the playoffs you should play as long as it takes," Canes forward Jussi Jokinen said. "But the fans have made the shootout their thing, and I think it's good for the game.
"I understand where two teams play a really good hockey game and one team has to be disappointed. But that team stills get one point."
The Canes (2-3-1) were disappointed Wednesday -- to a point, so to speak. They did score twice in the third period, both goals by Ray Whitney, for a 2-2 tie. They had their chances in the overtime and the shootout, with Matt Cullen hitting the crossbar in the fourth round.
"That goes to show how close it was," Canes goaltender Cam Ward said.
The Hurricanes now have split two shootouts this season. Carolina edged Tampa Bay, 2-1, last week at the RBC Center as Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu scored in the shootout.
"It's important because every point is critical," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "At the same time, it's a novelty part of our game."
Jokinen said that in his native Finland the shootout was adopted before the NHL. Only one shooter was used, he said, and -- unlike the NHL -- a goal would count in the player's yearly statistics.
"In European leagues, they have the three shooters, but the same guy can keep going over and over after the first three shooters," Jokinen said. "I think the format here is more fair."
Maurice went with Samsonov, Jokinen and Ruutu in both shootouts. Against the Pens, he followed with Cullen, Whitney and Eric Staal.
Maurice said he used to "hate" the shootout until the 2004-2005 lockout season in the NHL, when he took in some AHL games in Norfolk, Va. He said he changed his opinion after seeing the five-round shootouts and the reaction of the fans.
"It's exciting," he said. "People pay a lot of money to come watch these games, and they should get that."
Maurice said having five shooters allowed AHL teams to rally from behind in a shootout and added more excitement.
Shootouts do make a difference. Last season, the Florida Panthers were 3-8 in shootouts and the New York Rangers 10-6. The point differential was the difference in the Rangers reaching the playoffs and the Panthers missing out.
"From an accounting point of view, of who makes it and who doesn't, I'm a little uncomfortable with that," Maurice said. "Two teams, really for the hockey portion, have the exact same seasons and finish six or seven points apart. For me, I'd be comfortable with you win the game or lose the game."
In other words, two points going to the winner and none for the loser.
"It could almost change your season. You could take off from that," Maurice said of the momentum gained in winning.
But the three-point game and the shootout appears to be a staple in the NHL.
"When it first came in, I was a little skeptical," Staal said. "It's a different part of the game. I'd much rather have a penalty shot in the middle of a game that's rewarded for a play up the ice.
"But the fans enjoy it. It's a neat show of skill from both goaltender and player."
Note: Defenseman Joni Pitkanen returned to practice Thursday. Pitkanen, who had arthroscopic surgery Sept. 10 on his right knee, has missed five of six games and most team practices.