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OT playoff hockey is just that -- sudden death

by Evan Weiner
If there is one given about the Stanley Cup Playoffs from year to year it is this: There will be one game that will become a classic contest, not necessarily because of a great effort by one individual player, not because of a player making a guarantee, but because the game will be decided in double, triple or longer overtime.
The longest NHL game on record was played March 24, 1936. Detroit's Mud Bruneteau scored at 16:30 of the sixth overtime to give the Red Wings a 1-0 win against the Montreal Maroons in the first game of a best of five semifinal series. In the 2008 playoffs, the Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks played the eighth-longest game in NHL history. Brendan Morrow scored in the fourth overtime -- at 69:03 of extra time -- to give the Stars a 2-1 victory against the Sharks in Game 6 of the series. Morrow's game winner put the Stars into the Western Conference Finals.
Pat Lafontaine was in one of those long games back in 1987. The April 18, 1987 contest between the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals is the 10th-longest game in NHL history and it also happened to be a Game 7. The Caps opened up a 3-1 series lead, but New York won Game 5 at the Cap Center and Game 6 on Long Island to force the Game 7 showdown back at the Cap Center.

The game started shortly after 7:30 p.m. ET and there was no hint after the first period that the game was going to become a classic, as Washington took a 1-0 lead on Mike Gartner's late-period goal. The Islanders' Pat Flatley tied it in the second. Grant Martin gave the Caps a 2-1 lead late in the second, but in the third Bryan Trottier tied it at 2-2.
Islanders goaltender Kelly Hrudey and Caps netminder Bob Mason had superb games, and both got better as the overtime wore on.
"There are not too many events that culminate in a seventh game," said Lafontaine. "In hockey, the tradition behind it, the excitement behind it, the passion behind it. The one I remember the most is that four-overtime game and I went to bed when Dallas and San Jose (in 2008) were playing and I remember waking up early in the morning and I was wondering who won that game. That brought back memories -- it was 2 o'clock in the morning and it was a Game 7 and I will never forget spinning around and just shooting and hitting the post and the guys just jumping up and down."
But the oddest thing about sudden-death overtime Game 7 is that it is sudden death for both teams. The game just ends after a goal is scored and that's it.
"And it is unlike other sports -- you get to shake hands after," Lafontaine said. "You have all of this emotion, all of this excitement and it is going on for hours and all of a sudden, the net pops and it is this almost surreal moment where (it's like), what just happened, and hopefully you are on the winning side.
"Then it is pure elation. We were jumping around for a minute, then it just hit us and we were shot."
There is nothing else in North American sports like an overtime Game 7 in hockey. In a blink of the eye, a game can end.
"What makes it special? Baseball goes seven games, basketball goes seven games. The reality, the overtime in basketball Game 7, it is just overtime (five minutes). In baseball, I guess a Kirk Gibson home run (to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series),  Bobby Thomson (in 1951, Thomson's bottom of the ninth inning home run off of the Brooklyn Dodgers' Ralph Branca earned the New York Giants a best-of-three series win for the National League pennant). Baseball would be the only other sport," said Lafontaine. "It does just end. You know what the scary thing is? The whole year ends in a moment, in a second, a quick second."
So what is it like on the bench as the overtimes build up and the players are trying to preserve whatever energy they have left? Sometimes an equipment manager can say the right thing to keep the spirits high.
"(Equipment manager) Jimmy Pickard, Jim Pick comes up and grabs a water bottle and says, 'Hey Pop, you are going to get one!' I remember getting a water bottle doused on the back of my neck, and he is like, 'Come on Pop.' They started playing music from the Twilight Zone, people are sleeping in the stands, it is 2 o'clock in the morning, 75 shots to 57 shots, and they said you're up and I covered for (defenseman) Gordie Dineen who was pinching, I just took a shot and I think Rod Langway was coming out at me and there was another defenseman. And you know what? I was just thankful that Mason didn't see it because anything Kelly Hrudey and Bob Mason saw that night, it didn't go in. It was a pretty amazing feeling.
"The neat thing is people forget we were down three games to one and we were down 2-1 with five minutes to go when Trottier scored the tying goal. It was the culmination of always being out, always being out and fighting back and ultimately winning in four overtimes.
"And the other thing to remember was oxygen. We asked for oxygen tanks. And their (the Caps) trainer helped us get oxygen. Mikko Makela and I were taking in oxygen and we felt pretty good and we found out a week later their trainer got fired. I felt bad. We were just asking for help and the guy was just giving us support. So I like to think the oxygen tanks had a little something to do with it, but who knows. I think the fact that Bob Mason couldn't see the puck had more to do with it."
The game ended around 2 a.m. Sunday, which was Easter morning. Hrudey faced an NHL playoff record 73 shots over seven periods. The Islanders won the game, got on a bus and headed up I-95 to play Philadelphia on Monday at 7:30 p.m. There would be virtually no recovery time for the players. The Islanders took Philadelphia to a Game 7 at the Spectrum after going down 3-1 in the series, but the Flyers won that Game 7, and the Islanders' season was over.

That is how the puck bounces in the playoffs.

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