He made more postseason appearances for the Penguins than he did in the regular season during the latter stages of the 1999-2000 season, but goaltender Ron Tugnutt will always hold a spot in Penguins’ lore for his performance on May 4, 2000.
Tugnutt returned Saturday to the scene where he enthralled the Mellon Arena faithful by making 70 saves against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 2-1 Game 4 loss in the fifth overtime period – the third-longest game in NHL history. He was accompanied at the morning skate by his youngest son Matt’s youth hockey team, the Peterborough Petes, who are in town for a two-game exhibition series against a team coached by Penguins owner Mario Lemieux.
While his time in Pittsburgh was brief, it was certainly enjoyable for Tugnutt. After a strong regular season with a 4-2 record and a 2.41 goals-against average after arriving via a trade with the Ottawa Senators with defenseman Janne Laukkanen in exchange for Tom Barrasso in March of 2000, Tugnutt was near unbeatable during the playoffs.
In 11 postseason games Tugnutt went 6-5 with a miniscule 1.77 goals-against average. Tugnutt’s play helped the Penguins upend the heavily-favored Washington Capitals in five games during the opening round of the playoffs.
He will always be remembered for that spring night when his clutch saves kept the Penguins in a game which finally ended 12:01 into period eight on a Keith Primeau wrist shot.
Tugnutt has vivid memories of that night.
“The guy opening the door had to tell me which end to go to because I would forget because we were going back and forth so often. I’d say ‘Which end are we in this time?’
“It would have been a lot better if we would’ve gotten that second goal and not them. I saw people falling asleep in the crowd so it was pretty wild.”
Philadelphia went on to win the next two games to knock the Penguins from the postseason dance despite the Penguins holding an early 2-0 series advantage. In spite of the abrupt ending to a thrilling run, Tugnutt still speaks fondly of his time in Pittsburgh.
“It ended up being a great fit for me at that time in my career. It was a great group of guys that were very relaxed. I was a very intense guy so they calmed me down a bit. I got back to enjoying the game again.”
Tugnutt said another great memory he had from Pittsburgh was playing for the late Herb Brooks, who at the time was serving as the interim head coach for the Penguins.
“It was awesome (playing for Brooks). My oldest son said after watching Miracle, ‘You played for Herb Brooks?’ I told him he was a special man. He was totally different than everybody else but he was a really special man.”
The Petes have never faced Lemieux’s team prior to this weekend, but the two squads are familiar with each other having crossed paths at various tournaments.
“We have seen their team in tournaments and they are a very good hockey team,” said Tugnutt, the coach of the Petes. “I know one thing, we will be outcoached. I think it should be a good game.
“We both got off to good starts early in the season. We ran up ours records in the win column but lately we have both slacked off. We were laughing about it down in the dressing room that both teams are struggling so it will be a good time to play each other.”
Before the two teams focus on getting back on track, Tugnutt used his pull as a former Penguin to bring his team to the Igloo for the morning skate, something he hopes allows the impressionable youngsters see how hard players at the highest level work and prepare as the team takes in the city of Pittsburgh.
“I guess this is part of the perks of playing here that I can make a call and they say ‘Yeah, bring them to the morning skate.’ We are going to come to the game but I like the morning skate because the players can see the players practice and what it’s like. I think the kids are going to get a lot out of it.
“For us, it is a great weekend to relax and come out to a Penguins game. My youngest son’s favorite player is (Evgeni) Malkin, so that was part of it as well. We are just going to enjoy the weekend and play some hockey.”