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Dallas Marathon

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

Imagine arriving at work for your regular shift, but while there, events happen to ratchet up the pressure to get the job done. The work gets even harder and you have to stay for hours past your scheduled leaving time. By the time it’s over, you’ve worked the equivalent of more than two full shifts, and as each second ticks by, you’re expected to perform better and better and not make any mental mistakes.

That’s just an inkling of what the Dallas Stars faced in their series-clinching quadruple overtime thriller Sunday night/Monday morning at the American Airlines Center. Most of the rest of us don’t usually have to battle a fierce opponent and have stakes quite as high as they are in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with the fate of your employment possibly resting on the outcome. 

But when captain Brenden Morrow finally scored at 9:03 of the fourth OT, allowing Dallas to prevail 2-1 over the San Jose Sharks in Game 6, it propelled the Stars to a four-games-to-two victory in their best-of-seven Western Conference Semi-final series.

Dallas now advances to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2000 and will face Detroit in Game 1 Thursday night. 

The Game 6 marathon, which officially lasted five hours and 14 minutes, ending at 1:24 am Monday morning, was the eighth-longest ever the in NHL and the third-longest in Stars history. The big difference is, though, is the number one and two games on the franchise lists were defeats. 

“I could tell you it’s way nicer to win this way than to go through a marathon and have it end the other way,” said coach Dave Tippett, who has been behind the bench for each of the top three.

The longest Stars game ever, and the fourth-longest in league history, was the 4-3 loss in Game 1 of the 2003 Western Conference Semi-finals, here at American Airlines Center, which Anaheim won when Petr Sykora scored 48 seconds into the fifth OT. Dallas went on to lose that series in six.

And the second-longest was last season, when Vancouver triumphed in Game 1 of their first-round series on a Henrik Sedin goal at 18:06 of the fourth overtime. Of course, the Canucks went on to win that series in seven.

Several Stars skated in each of those other games and suffice it to say, the feeling of winning a ridiculously-long overtime game certainly beats the alternative.

“Everything’s good,” said defenseman Stephane Robidas, who set up Morrow for the game-winner. “I’ve been on the other side a couple of times, against Anaheim and Vancouver last year, it’s just good to be on the right side, especially winning the series in overtime like that, in front of our fans.” 

“I was in a long one last year that didn’t go our way against Vancouver and after that game, and similarly tonight, you just realize you’re doing the right things off the ice to get you through it,” added goaltender Marty Turco, who made a franchise-record 61 saves and was also in net for the other two longest Stars games. “Obviously, I was feeling fatigue more than normal, but it wasn’t anything that was slowing me down. Tonight was a marathon, but I’ll tell you, it’s a lot harder to watch these games than to play. They’re fun and they’re exhausting, but when it has finally gone our way, it was well worth it.”

The experience of having gone through the previous OT marathons wasn’t necessarily something the Stars drew upon in this one, as they noted that all overtime games are different entities.

“When you play overtime like that, you just got to play and play and don’t think, just keep going, keep trying to make the little plays and try to get the puck out and try to bring everything at the net,” Robidas said. “I don’t know if you can learn anything from losing twice in overtime, it could go either way when you go that far.”

“Each game is just an individual,” Tippett said. “By the time you get to period seven, there’s not a lot of chalk-talk going on.  We’re just recognizing situations and making sure you do the right things. You get your opportunities and hope you can capitalize. We got our opportunity.”

The way the players gutted it out and played basically two-plus games was incredible. After an unbelievable first OT, in which the Stars outshot San Jose 18-11 and each team had several golden opportunities to end it, it was inevitable that the pace of the action would slow down. Even so, there would be occasional bursts of speed from each club as they traded offensive flurries.

“Obviously, the pace of the game probably slowed down because everybody’s getting tired,” Robidas noted. “There’s no TV timeouts, you keep rolling the lines, but it’s just a great feeling (to win).”

As the physical and mental fatigue sets in, the players have to guard against multiple enemies, from getting dehydrated and hungry, to having their muscles cramp up, keeping the mental discipline of sticking to a simple game plan.

“I think you just kind of mentally keep with the game program and not really shoot yourself in the foot, just keep the puck going forward,” said center Mike Modano, who’s skated in each of the top five-longest contests in club history. “There’s going to be chances when it bounces, you get miscues and you need saves, block shots, you just hope that you get that bounce. Getting that power play (in the fourth OT against the Sharks) was huge for us finally and we worked it just the way we drew it up.”

Some players took intravenous (IV) fluids in between periods to re-hydrate, while others stretched and drank extra fluids.

“Intermissions 1-6 were status quo, I didn’t do one thing differently,” Turco reported. “I even usually change shirts and dry off my upper body but I never even did it tonight until after the sixth and my back, I could feel it getting a little tense. And I took as much IV as I could for seven or eight minutes right before the start of (the last) overtime, and it’s amazing that it could really help. I’ll have to wash off some of the blood from the blood pressure getting pretty high there, but who really cares? It was remarkable, the whole thing, from them to us.”

“I keep popping (IVs) out,” Morrow said. “We got re-hydrolytes and energy drinks and just enough sugar to get you charged up and last for 20 minutes. I made sure, even if I didn’t feel like I needed it, just keep sipping away and it helped. We were all cramping up, but it helped a little bit.”

Taking a quick look at the stats sheet reveals some incredible single-game numbers. First of all, four different Stars logged over 50 minutes of ice time, led by defenseman Sergei Zubov’s 53:50. Center Mike Ribeiro skated 52:43, Morrow was on the ice for 51:00 and Robidas logged 50:34.

Ribeiro tied with center Brad Richards for the club lead in shots on goal, with nine each, while Morrow also delivered an NHL-record 19 bodychecks. Defenseman Mattias Norstrom was second among players on both teams with nine hits. Meanwhile, Robidas led all skaters with seven blocked shots, while Richards was an impressive 17-11 in face-offs for the extended evening. 

After such an expense of energy, it’s not surprising that the team has the day off Monday to rest and recuperate, while saving a little extra to celebrate.

“Hit an IV or two, get something to eat, get some fluids in you, get a good day off, recharge and come back,” Morrow said of his immediate plans. 

“It does feel good right now, but I’ll try to get some rest at some point,” Turco said.

With Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against Detroit Thursday, there will be some time for the Stars to regroup and get ready for the next challenge.

“It’s not going to get easier, but we got eight wins now and we got eight more to go and that’s what we’re going for,” Robidas said.

“The exhilaration of that win and the fashion, it can only help the belief system that we have built and are growing,” Turco added. “And we’re going to need all that against Detroit. They’re playing great, they’ve had a great season up til now. This team’s going to be ready to go.”

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