On April 24, 1996, the Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins hooked up in a true marathon of a hockey game, a contest that wasn’t settled until the wee hours of the next day and 44 seconds shy of the end of the seventh period. Unfortunately for the masses of Caps fans assembled that Wednesday night at USAir Arena, the Penguins prevailed by a 3-2 score in Game 4 of the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series between the two clubs.
Tom Barrasso started in net for Pittsburgh against Olie Kolzig for Washington.
Washington got on the board first, taking a 1-0 lead on Michal Pivonka’s power play goal at 13:50 of the first frame. Dale Hunter and Sergei Gonchar supplied the assists on that goal. Pittsburgh owned a 16-7 lead in shots on net over the first 20 minutes.
When the Pens came out for the second period, Barrasso was not between the pipes. Back spasms had rendered him unable to continue, and Ken Wregget started the second period in the Pittsburgh crease.
The Caps’ power play struck again at 7:36 of the second. Peter Bondra beat Wregget with help from Joé Juneau and Andrew Brunette to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead. Late in the second period, the Caps’ power play went to work again with a chance to go up 3-0 and take a 3-1 lead in the series with a win. Instead, the Penguins’ Jaromir Jagr beat Kolzig while Pittsburgh was shorthanded to halve the Caps’ lead. Jagr’s goal came at 18:42 of the second.
In the final minute of the second, the Caps caught a break when Penguins center Mario Lemieux went nuts and was assessed 19 minutes of penalties: two for slashing, two for instigating, five for fighting and a game misconduct. Caps winger Todd Krygier baited Lemieux, and the star pivot jumped Krygier. Caps forward Pat Peake got two for roughing and a game misconduct, and Washington winger Todd Krygier got two for roughing.
Even with Lemieux out of the picture, the Penguins struck on the power play at the eight-minute mark of the third. Petr Nedved netted his fifth goal of the four games in the series to date to make it a 2-2 game.
After that Nedved goal, the teams played period after period of scoreless hockey. Juneau was awarded a penalty shot at 15:44 of the fifth period when Pittsburgh defenseman Chris Tamer bumped the net off its moorings while the puck was in the crease, but Wregget stopped Juneau’s bid.
The Penguins outshot the Capitals 19-5 in the third. The Caps outshot the Pens 14-3 in the fourth period (first overtime). Washington owned a 12-4 advantage in shots on goal in the fifth period (second overtime). Again in the sixth period (third overtime), the Caps owned an 11-5 edge. In the 60 minutes played after the scheduled 60 minutes, Washington outshot the Pens by a combined 37-12. But they could not solve Wregget despite some glorious opportunities.
Each team had three power play opportunities beyond the end of regulation. At 17:21 of the seventh period, Caps defenseman Jim Johnson was called for hooking. With an excruciating five seconds remaining on the Johnson minor, Nedved scored his second goal of the game to give the Pens a 3-2 win. Nedved faked a shot, skated around Caps defender Mark Tinordi and fired a shot through a maze of bodies that beat Kolzig high to the glove side, nestling just under the crossbar.
Kolzig made 62 saves in the game. The Pens outshot the Caps 65-62, with Jagr having 12 shots on net for the Pens and Bondra notching 11 for the Capitals. All five goals in the game were special teams tallies.
Pittsburgh went on to win the next two games and the series.