There was this one night in April of 1996. I was at the old Caps Centre (USAir Arena, if you must) in Landover for a Stanley Cup playoff game featuring the Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The plucky but injured and undermanned (and underdog) Caps had somehow won the first two games of the series in Pittsburgh, even rallying from a 4-1 deficit to earn a 6-4 win in Game 1. But the Pens had taken Game 3 in the suburban Maryland barn, and the pivotal Game 4 was headed to overtime.
Sitting beside my pal Steve Kolbe in the makeshift press box behind one of the goals, Kolbe and I agreed as the second overtime period dawned that the next goal was going to win the series. That goal didn’t come in the second overtime, and it didn’t come in the third overtime. Pittsburgh was on a power play when the “one minute left to play in the period” announcement came in the fourth overtime, and the Pens’ Petr Nedved netted the game-winner on a Pittsburgh power play with just 45 seconds left in the fourth overtime and just seconds left on the Caps’ penalty kill.
That April 24-25, 1996 game still stands as the fifth longest in NHL history. The two teams played 79:15 of overtime.
It was around 2:30 a.m. when the game ended, and after 4 a.m. when I got home to grab a few winks of sleep before waking up to perform my stay-at-home dad duties with my daughter, who was less than five months old at the time.
Kolbe and I were right, of course. The Caps never won another game in the series and that was one of several springs in which Washington absorbed a first-round exit at the hands of the Flightless Fowl.
Last night, the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks treated us all to 112 minutes and 8 seconds of riveting theatre and thrill-a-minute amusement park ride all rolled into one. When it was all said and done, it took a double-deflection in triple-overtime to win Game 1.
Nearly five hours after opening puck drop in Game 1 of the 2103 Stanley Cup final, Chicago’s Andrew Shaw deflected Dave Bolland’s deflection of Michal Rozsival’s shot from the right point just inside the right post, past Boston goalie Tuukka Rask. Shaw’s strike gave Chicago a 4-3 win and a 1-0 series lead.
Boston led 2-0 and 3-1, but couldn’t close out the relentless Blackhawks, who reminded absolutely no one of the Bruins’ previously vanquished foes, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers. There was no quit and no worry in the Hawks when they trailed by two in the third period, just calm and resilience.
Rask and Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford stole the show in overtime, making save after brilliant save. There were near misses on both sides, too. Boston’s Shawn Thornton (stymied, first overtime), Zdeno Chara (goalpost, second overtime) and Kaspars Daugavins (missed opportunity, third overtime) likely had a bit more difficulty falling asleep after last night’s marathon, regardless of the weariness in their bodies.
Those 112 minutes of hockey featured 114 face-offs, 117 shots on goal, 120 hits and 217 shot attempts. Boston was down to 10 forwards by game’s end, having lost Nathan Horton to injury suffered late in the first overtime and having opted not to use Thornton anymore after one lengthy (1:11) and adventurous shift early in the second overtime.
Chicago was whistled for two bench minors for too many men on the ice in overtime, and it actually got away with a third such infraction. The Hawks had six skaters on the ice for about 10 seconds in the second overtime, but none of the officials noticed on that occasion.
The evening ended in elation for the Hawks and in dejection for the Bruins. For the Bruins, Game 1 is the one that got away. Boston joins Detroit (1956) and Edmonton (2006) as the third team ever to hairball a two-goal, third-period lead in the Stanley Cup final.
Both the Wings and Oilers lost the series in which they suffered that fate.
Boston will have the luxury of two days to get over its loss. Game 2 is on Saturday, and the Bruins’ goal is merely to win one of the first two games of the series, both of which are played in Chicago. They can still do exactly that. But they could have done so last night, too, and could have done so without subjecting themselves to a taxing 52 minutes of “extra” hockey during which they lost one of their most productive forwards to injury.
History doesn’t favor the losers of marathon overtime games. Game 1 of the Boston-Chicago series fell eight minutes shy of a fourth overtime. There have been 13 such games in Stanley Cup playoff history, and in 11 of those 13 cases, the team that won the marathon overtime game won the series.
In the only two exceptions, the team that lost the marathon overtime contest came back to win the very next game and the series. And those two instances mark the only two times that the team losing the marathon overtime game has won the very next game.
Back in 1943, the Detroit Red Wings lost Game 2 of a best-of-seven set with Toronto. The Leafs win evened the series at 1-1. The Wings won Game 3 and the series, and they went on to sweep Boston in the Cup final.
In Game 6 of a first-round series between Buffalo and New Jersey in 1994, the Sabres prevailed in a game that required 65:43 of overtime. But the Devils won Game 7 to take the series. New Jersey went on to win its second-round series and was eliminated in overtime of Game 7 of the conference final series against the New York Rangers.
More often than not, losing the marathon overtime game is a postseason death knell. In eight of those 13 instances, the losing team never won another game in the playoffs. Four of those teams never had a chance to lose another game in the playoffs; they were eliminated in the marathon overtime game.
Clearly, the Bruins have their work cut out for them.
Here are a few notes and observations from Wednesday night’s series-opening thriller:
· Chicago’s Duncan Keith led all skaters on both sides with 48:40 in ice time. Including Game 5 of the Hawks’ Western Conference final series with Los Angeles, Keith has now skated more than 40 minutes in consecutive contests.
· Chara skated 45:05 on the night, which actually placed him third among Boston skaters behind Dennis Seidenberg (48:36) and Andrew Ference (45:19).
· Chara was on the ice for one of Chicago’s four goals, the first one, by Brandon Saad at 3:08 of the second period. It halted a streak in which Chara had played five straight games without being on the ice for an opposition goal.
· Chicago is the first team in 22 years to win consecutive Stanley Cup playoff games in multiple overtimes.
· The game was the fifth longest in Stanley Cup finals history, and the eighth to go into a third overtime. Of those eight, it is the first in which the home team was victorious.
· Game 1 of a Stanley Cup final series has gone into multiple overtimes twice previously, in 1934 with Chicago defeating Detroit and in 1990 with Edmonton downing Boston. In both cases, the teams that won that multiple-overtime Game 1 went on to win the series.
· Boston is now 0-7 in road overtime games in Stanley Cup finals play during its lengthy franchise history.
· Each of the 15 playoff series this spring has had at least one overtime game. Back in 1987 the league first embraced the best-of-seven format in all rounds, and this spring marks the first time in that span that all 15 playoff series have had at least one overtime game.
· The Bruins have won nine of their last 11 games, with both losses coming in overtime. Boston’s most recent regulation loss was a 2-1 Game 6 setback at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 12.
· This is the first time Boston has trailed in a series at any point this spring. Since bouncing the Maple Leafs with a furious third-period comeback in Game 7 of its opening-round series with Toronto, Boston has now played 710 minutes and 10 seconds worth of hockey. The Bruins have trailed for 35 minutes and 7 seconds (about 5%) of that stretch, all of it during the team’s second-round series with the New York Rangers.