| Been there, done that - and won both times. |
While Wednesday's never-ending series opener was the longest night in virtually every Canucks' life, it wasn't for newcomer Bryan Smolinski. The guy they call Smoke now holds the distinction of being on the winning side in the fifth and sixth longest games the National Hockey League has ever staged.
While his teammates may have been wondering if Wednesday night's game was ever going to produce a victor, Smolinski was just getting warmed up. That's because on April 24, 1996, Smolinski was part of a Pittsburgh Penguins team that needed a minute and nine seconds more than the Canucks required to dispatch Dallas to eke out a 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals. Former Canuck Petr Nedved bagged the winner in what was, at the time, the third longest game in NHL history when he scored 79:15 into overtime.
Wednesday, Henrik Sedin found the back of the Stars net at 78:06 of O-T - or five hours and 21 minutes after the puck had dropped for the first time at GM Place.
"Yep, I've been through two of these now," Smolinski said with a smile between winces as he and his teammates tried to catch their breath in the locker room after the game. "But with Pittsburgh, we were down two goals and had to score to tie it, so we did what Dallas did to us."
More than a decade later, Smolinski doesn't remember many of the particulars of that first multi-overtime marathon he was a part of, but he does have one vivid recollection.
"I remember being so hungry. We were eating pizza and we were so hungry that by the end of the third overtime, we were eating the crusts. The pizzas had been sitting there for like two and a half hours and guys were taking the cheese off and just eating the crusts to get something in our systems," he says. "Here, we were at home, so we had fruits and vegetables and some of those Gatorade gels, so it was probably a little bit more gruelling back then because we were the road team. Plus the ice at the old Washington rink was awful that night, so that made it that much tougher."
Smolinski had one of the Canucks regulation time goals on Wednesday and finished the night (and morning) having played 39:08, was +1 with three shots on goal and three blocked shots. He was also 16 & 18 in the faceoff circle. But those aren't the statistics that matter to the 35-year-old veteran who suited up for the 100th playoff game of his career in the series opener. Smolinski's just glad the Canucks did what they had to win the hockey game considering they played much of the night with just 10 forwards.
"We were starting to feel it. You don't want to be out there for the winning goal against, so you're trying to be high-percentage and as effective as possible," he said of the long stretches of conservative action in overtime. "You know throughout the game you go for 35 or 40 second shifts and by the end you're looking at 15 to 18 second shifts just to catch your breath and get everyone back in the game."
As for Smolinski's account of Wednesday's winning goal which finally ended the proceedings at 12:32am, well, he's not sure. He admits that by the end of the night when he wasn't on the ice, he usually had his head down at the bench doing all he could to be ready when his name was called the next time. But he thinks he saw the winner this time.
"Yeah, I was just kind of watching the play," he says. "You know, when it's Daniel and Henrik, it's pretty exciting. We've seen a lot of that over the course of the season and we saw a lot of it (tonight). It was a great play. It was great to see and it was a relief. But it was fun."
And fun to have been a part of hockey history - not once, but twice now -- and to have been on the winning side both times. Interestingly enough, the team that has won each of the five games longer than the Canucks-Dallas game has gone on to win its series, so there would appear to be a correlation between success in such contests and overall series outcomes. And it's what lies ahead that Bryan Smolinski is concerned about now - there'll be plenty of time to reflect on what he's been through when the season and his career are over.
"The thing we can't do is get a win hangover. We have to put it away. I mean we won, but who cares?" he says of the significance of persevering in Game 1. "It went a long way, it took a long time, and it took a long time to get that victory. But we've got one and now we're looking to game two."
And after playing past midnight on Wednesday, Smolinski and everyone else involved in the series opener won't have to wait long to get back at it again.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org