NASHVILLE -- Some of the Nashville Predators were too tired to get off the bench when Mike Fisher scored the winning goal in the third overtime of Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round series against the San Jose Sharks at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday.
As the red light went on and Fisher raised his arms in triumph, the Predators tried to pile off the bench to congratulate him and celebrate an emotional 4-3 victory that evened the series 2-2.
But, for some players, the legs could not execute the commands emanating from their addled brains.
Center Ryan Johansen and left wing Filip Forsberg clumsily tumbled onto the ice, their usual grace annihilated by 111:12 of hockey.
But they willed themselves up onto their skates again, rubber-legging it into the corner to join the pig pile engulfing Fisher.
Video: SJS@NSH, Gm4: Fisher tallies twice, evens series 2-2
Behind the play, a smaller celebration, involving Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne and some of the Nashville defensemen, broke out at the center circle.
Despondent Sharks had to weave their way through the celebration. Losing goalie Martin Jones, who was beaten for the winning goal after giving up a rebound of a Matthias Ekholm shot from the point, had to veer at the last second to avoid Carter Hutton, Nashville's backup goalie, who was racing to join the party and celebrate victory in the longest game in Predators history.
Fisher said time slowed down a bit for him as he beat two Sharks to the rebound and stick-handled to his right before shooting the puck past a scrambling Jones.
But then it sped back up quickly.
"Now, it's just a blur," Fisher said. "Everybody celebrating in the building and the guys and just how exhausted you are. It's more relief than anything."
Fisher's goal, his second of the game (he scored 101:22 earlier to make it 2-1), ended a spectacle that encapsulated the spirit of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It was a test of wills, waged from Thursday night into Friday morning. Blood, literally, was spilled by players on each side. No quarter was given; none was expected.
Nashville defenseman Roman Josi, one of the bloodied players, was asked to play 49:42 of the game; his partner, Shea Weber, 35 seconds less. Brent Burns, the defenseman who had two goals for San Jose, played 47:35 over 54 shifts. He had 20 shot attempts and blocked seven shots.
Rinne made one miraculous save after another, finishing with 44. He kept the Predators in the game through the first two overtimes as his teammates tried to find the energy to continue against the seemingly much fresher Sharks.
"He was at his best tonight, that is all you have to say," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.
But it wasn't just the individual efforts. It was also the drama, which built to crescendo after crescendo, the players and fans captivated by what was happening, begging for a result to end the roller-coaster ride that was pure exhilaration in one moment and abject fear in another.
"When you win it like this, it gives you an extra boost; you can't deny that," Ekholm said.
Perhaps no play in the game illustrated the thrill-ride dynamic better than the no-goal decision at 7:34 of the first overtime.
San Jose captain Joe Pavelski made a brilliant play to glove down the puck and swipe it into the net with his stick while on his stomach.
Video: Pavelski speaks with media following loss
But the apparent goal immediately was waved off by the referee, and video review, initiated by the Situation Room in Toronto, showed that Pavelski was guilty of incidental contact with Rinne, upholding the no-goal ruling.
The Sharks did not see it that way, believing they had won the game. The Predators, meanwhile, exhaled audibly as they were given another life. The crowd roared everyone back into the fray.
From there, it went on and on, past midnight, past 1 a.m. local time, finally ending at 1:03, nearly five hours after it had started with a goal by Colin Wilson in the first minute of the game.
When it finally ended, when the players finished tumbling onto the ice and celebrating, or trudging off to a stream of what-ifs, thoughts on each side were already turning to the future. After all, the future, for them, is almost here.
Game 5, the most pivotal game of the best-of-7 series, is in San Jose on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). There will be little time to reflect on what transpired in Nashville on Thursday.
"The series never gets easier, it only gets harder," Pavelski said. "We have to step up our game, get a big win on home ice and go from there."