"It was one of the best games I've ever seen -- if not the best. --" - Kevin Weekes, former NHL goalie, NBC-NHL broadcaster.
"It was one of the best games I ever played" -- Martin Brodeur.
The monumental game in question began on the night of April 27, 1994, at Buffalo's legendary Auditorium. It would continue until early the next morning.
More than 15,000 fans watched two of the NHL's greatest goaltenders, Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur, play the game of their respective lives
When it was over on April 28th, 1994, Hasek had totaled 70 saves and Brodeur 49. It epitomized hockey as a war game on ice.
Covering the game for what then was the SportsChannel network, I can assure you that it was a match that I'll never forget.
This was Game Six of the playoff with New Jersey leading three games to two. "It was," said Brodeur, "the first time I had a chance to close out a series."
On the other side, Hasek, who had perfected an innovative flip-flop goaltending style, had one thing in mind, pre-game: "I didn't want to give up a single goal."
Although New Jersey was favored to annex the series, the Sabres featured a number of superior performers who leveled the competitive ice.
"They had offensive stars like Pat LaFontaine, Dale Hawerchuk and Alex Mogilny," said Devils mentor, Jacques Lemaire. "There was a lot of firepower on their side for us to curb."
But there was no scoring in the first period but plenty of chippy play. While the Visitors outshot the home team, Hasek was playing like the legendary Horatio at the Bridge.
"We knew that Dominik would be good," said Sabres checking forward Dave Hannan. "We could see it in his eyes."
To some critics The Aud's smaller-than-usual ice surface favored the bigger, harder checking Devils but Hasek was giving them nothing. Czech-born Devils center Bobby Holik remembered Dom from the Old Country.
Holik: "I had played with and against Hasek in what then was Czechoslovakia. He was a 'different' kind of goalie then and he brought that style over to the NHL. At the time I considered him the best in the world."
No goals were scored in a fierce second period. Before the teams skated out for the third frame, some of the Sabres had it all figured out. "One goal could win this game," said LaFontaine. "All we need is one."
But there were none. And none in the first overtime as well although now the Devils were dominating Dominik but he was still making like The Great Wall of China.
Up in the Devils broadcast booth iconic play-by-play ace Doc Emrick marveled at the spectacle below.
"I was awed by how much higher the pedestal had to go for these goalies," Emrick observed. "This wasn't a game of missed opportunities; it was of goaltending and defensemen. You'd think the supply of adrenaline would wear off but it didn't."
The Devils' Bobby Carpenter thought he had the winner on his stick but Hasek denied him and did likewise on "sure-thing" shots by Valeri Zelepukin and Holik.
"We were out-chancing them all along," said Carpenter, "but we couldn't get anything past Hasek. "It was the best game I ever saw a goalie play."
Although Mister Devil, Ken Daneyko was on the New Jersey defense, he could only be astonished at what he saw at the other end of the rink.
"It felt as if we had 63,000 chances," snapped Dano, "and still nothing to show for it."
Between each of the overtime periods, the exhausted skaters had to change out of their sweat-soaked underwear and pull on a dry set. For nourishment, the Devils devoured pizzas.
Because of the Aud's cramped conditions, visiting goaltenders had to sit by themselves between periods. Brodeur was alone with the club's trainers.
Marty: "Bernie Nicholls wasn't dressed for the game so he came over to me between the first and second periods. He said, 'Kid, shut them down this (second) period and we'll win.
"Well, nobody scored in the second so Bernie came back at the end of the second and said the same thing to me. 'Shut them down and we'll win.' But nobody scored."
On the home side, Sabres defenseman Randy Moller yelled across his dressing room, "Will somebody do me a favor and score, please. I have a baby-sitter at home and this is costing me a lot of money!"
The dauntless players trooped out for the fourth overtime. As Brodeur reached his crease, he muttered to himself, "I've got to be perfect."
By this time, one might have suspected that Hasek was worn out. After all, in the third period alone he had to make 14 saves; many of them "labelled" goal.
Hasek: "I kept talking to myself to be ready all the time. I felt good physically although once in the second overtime I felt a little tired. From what I could see, other players were more tired than me."
When the fourth overtime session began I was stationed at ice level across from the Devils goal. I had a full view of Brodeur.
For more than five minutes of the fourth sudden-death period, the teams battled without a score. Now Sabres coach John Muckler sent his checking line out on the ice.
Dave Hannan, Wayne Presley and Jason Dawe were not renowned for their offense while their opposites, Bill Guerin, Valeri Zelepukin and Jim Dowd were the better attackers. Tommy Albelin and Bruce Driver were on defense for the Devs.
In the end it didn't matter.
As the overhead clock ticked to the 5:30 mark, the Sabres trio moved the puck in New Jersey's zone.
Hannan: "We got it deep and then I saw that Jason (Dawe) was coming around. Meanwhile, I was circling in case there was a commotion around the net."
Dawe released a shot and Brodeur made the save but for some reason he had fallen to the ice leaving a gaping net.
(I vividly remember saying to myself, "For Heaven's sake, why did Marty go down?")
Meanwhile, Hannan, with a snake-like move, captured the puck. Brodeur knew that this was a moment of truth.
"I could tell how tired everyone was at the time," Marty concluded. "When Hannan came over, none of our guys were quick enough to react to him. He just shot at the empty net."
Hannan: "I realized there wasn't a split-second to waste. I had the puck on my backhand and let it go. The puck went as fast as I could make it go and, BOOM! It went in!!"
Buffalo had tied the series at 5:43 of the fourth overtime. Dawe and Presley got assists on the winning goal.
1. Hasek's 70 saves cost him 14 pounds.
2. Holik said he never drank liquor but "This game gave me a 'hockey hangover!'"
3. Bernie Nicholls went over to Brodeur in the loser's room, patted Marty on the shoulder and said, "Well, kid, now you're on your own."
4. In retrospect, Brodeur insisted that, despite the loss, "This was one of the best games I ever played."
No one could predict how Game Seven at The Meadowlands would unfold, nor how each team would emerge from the marathon at The Aud.
But Brodeur was perfectly frank about his club's chances.
"No question we were fragile. But we had leadership behind us."
Then, a pause: "And we had Jacques Lemaire!"