At least the Flyers and Penguins were awake to the end of a five-OT epic
Just as fans well remember the quadruple-overtime playoff games between the Capitals and the Islanders in 1987 and the Caps and the Penguins in '96, last Thursday's five-overtime marathon between the Penguins and the Flyers will live on long after this year's Stanley Cup is won. The final score—2-1 in Philadelphia's favor—of the third-longest match in NHL history (2:32:01 of hockey was played) is already a minor detail. What lingers most vividly are the surreal, slow-motion images of players laboring on the slushy ice at Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena, of pucks glancing off loosely gripped sticks, of Penguins superstar Jaromir Jagr looking at the scoreboard deep into the fourth extra session and putting his head down in disbelief. "You don't even know you're playing hockey," he said. "You're skating, but you can't even think."
The players went to the dressing rooms after each overtime and peeled off their sweat-soaked jerseys to don dry ones. Pittsburgh winger Matthew Barnaby says that during the overtimes he drank six bottles of Gatorade and ate nine slices of pizza. Some Flyers spent the period breaks hooked up to intravenous tubes.
Some of the roughly 5,000 fans who remained till the end fell asleep in their seats. The next day Flyers assistant Wayne Cashman, who stood behind the bench for seven hours, limped into work and said, "I feel like I played football last night." Referees Dan Marouelli and Rob Shick and linesmen Wayne Bonney and Jay Sharrers had to skate every minute, never getting a shift off. "I figured if I kept moving I'd be O.K.," Marouelli said last Saturday. "Between periods we drank water and ate fruit, and then we went out and concentrated. It's mentally exhausting, too."
At least Marouelli had help. He was the lone referee during the April 24, 1996, game that ended when Pittsburgh center Petr Nedved scored with 45 seconds remaining in the fourth OT against Washington. "I skated a lot more miles that night," Marouelli said, "but in the two-ref system, there's more back-skating and cutting and turning. It's harder on your back and knees. Anytime you get into overtime, you hope that the game will end quickly and cleanly. This one definitely wasn't quick, but it was clean."
The game-winner, by center Keith Primeau, came with 7:59 left in the fifth overtime. Primeau, who says he stayed fresh "by playing only 25-second shifts," carried the puck into the Pittsburgh zone and deked defenseman Darius Kasparaitis. Kasparaitis slipped to one knee, and Primeau wristed the puck over goalie Ron Tugnutt's left shoulder and into the cage. When the puck went in, Tugnutt and the Penguins wearily left the ice, too beat to lament the outcome, just as the Flyers were too spent to celebrate for long. "I remember as a kid watching that Capitals-Islanders game in 1987," says Primeau. "This is nice. You go down as a little piece of hockey history."
Revenge Is Sweet
In 1990 goalie Arturs Irbe bolted the Soviet team to protest the U.S.S.R.'s invasion of Latvia, his homeland. Latvia was on the verge of declaring independence from the Soviet Union, and Irbe and his family traced their nationalistic pride to when his grandfather fought for the Latvian Legion against the Soviets in World War II.
Now Irbe is the Hurricanes' starting netminder, and he and his wife, Ilze, and their two children return to Latvia each off-season. So it came as no surprise that Irbe agreed to play for his native country in this month's World Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia. The shocker occurred last week when Irbe led lightly regarded Latvia past powerful Russia 3-2 in a second-round game that helped lead to Russia's elimination from the tournament. ( Latvia had advanced to the quarterfinals.) Irbe made 37 saves, including several big stops in the third period to preserve the lead. "I have lived 33 years in my life," Irbe said afterward, "and I basically lived for this one game."
Start Low, Aim High