Five years removed from a five-overtime stomach punch, delivered by Petr Sykora in this very building. Nearly 13 months after Henrik Sedin ended a critical Game One with the winner, four overtimes in. And a full eight years (give or take a month) since the Stars last won a multiple-overtime playoff game (yep, Game 5 in the Meadowlands, 2000); the Stars answered their fans’ prayers.
Not that those other games weren’t special. It’s always something to say you attended, or even worked, one of the 10 longest games in NHL history.
But winning that game? And ending a series on it to boot?
That’s like playing Augusta National for the first time in your life – going three-under through “Amen Corner” – on your way to a 66.
What made it even better was the way the entire thing transpired, and, eventually ended. Given the events that had unfolded in the previous 128 minutes of hockey, even the worst scriptwriter would have closed this screenplay with Brenden Morrow scoring the game-winning goal.
How could you not?
All Morrow did – I can’t even write that without smelling my own sarcasm – prior to banging in his fourth goal of the series in the fourth overtime was play an even 51 minutes, roughly three games worth of ice time for most average forwards, register seven shots on goal, dish out 19 hits (you read that right … 19 hits) and KO Milan Michalek, the Sharks’ leading goal-scorer in the series, with a clean hit as the clock expired in regulation time.
Oh, and add in an inadvertent Joe Thornton stick across the nose in the first overtime, followed two periods later by a directly-shot puck right into Morrow’s face, one he simply winced away, almost with a smile as he reached the bench – as if to say “it’s gonna take more than that to stop me.”
“It was as fitting as anything I have ever seen in sports with Brenden Morrow getting the winner,” Stars head coach Dave Tippett said. “He took this team on his back.”
That might be an understatement.
The word going around the television truck was “baddest #$@*#” ever.
There’s a notorious Google search where you type in “find Chuck Norris” and click “I’m feeling lucky,” and it lands at a page telling you “Google won't search for Chuck Norris because it knows you don't find Chuck Norris, he finds you.” Even if you haven’t seen it, you get the idea. If you’re on the ice with the puck, you don’t find Brenden Morrow – he finds you.
And it hurts when does.
Unless, that is, you are Stephane Robidas. Because when the Stars were rewarded with the equalizing power play in extra time – theirs coming a period after San Jose got a chance with the man advantage – he knew right where to find Morrow.
Not that it’s a big mystery. Look in front of the net.
Long before that, there were several seriously sick plays, ones generally reserved for PlayStation hockey. Mike Modano with the puck at the right point, with a cross-ice pass to Mike Ribeiro. From there, Ribeiro changed the point of attack again, angling a pass to Robidas just inside the right faceoff circle.
Get the goalie moving laterally. It’s the most certain path to scoring a goal.
Maybe the smartest play of the night followed, as Robidas decided not the shoot from the angle. Just as he did in Game One, on the winning goal in overtime – again coming from Morrow – Robidas won the game with patience, waiting for the play to develop rather than firing on net.
As Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray dropped to the ice to block a shot, and San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov pushed out to cut off the angle, Morrow got his stick behind the netminder. A perfectly-placed pass from Robidas found its way to Morrow’s tape, and the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s certainly a tough way to see a series end for the Sharks, who battled like champions after being down 3-0, and for Nabokov, who went save-for-save with Marty Turco until Morrow finally found a way to beat him. In fact, we never would have reached a fourth overtime if not for arguably the greatest glove save you could ever see, recorded by Nabokov on a blast by 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards. Without that save, the Stars are celebrating and preparing for Detroit hours earlier.
“Nabby made a huge save on Richards,” Sharks captain Patrick Marleau said.
Ya think? And kudos to Thornton, a leader on the Sharks team, for being the first to pick Nabokov up off the ice after Morrow’s game-winner hit the net. That’s what leaders do – they pick up their teammates, even when the fight is done.
Because Thornton knows, as everyone did, that Nabokov was nothing short of spectacular. Yet as good as he was, he was outdone, on this night, by Stars goaltender Marty Turco.
Yeah, that Marty Turco. You know, the guy who’s “not a playoff goalie?” The guy who “hasn’t proved anything yet in the postseason?”
Even after last year’s stellar outing against Vancouver, Turco was still hounded by doubters, some of whom jumped on his bandwagon after a first-round series victory against Anaheim. And nobody, more than Turco, deserved to be the victor in a multiple-overtime contest, after starting his career 2-7 in playoff overtimes.
This marathon, 61-save epic now in the books, he is now 3-1 this postseason in overtime games and dropped his 2008 postseason goals-against average to 1.73. In this series, he had a 1.51 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.
“It’s nice to be on the winning side of this,” Turco said, noting that he was driven by the play of his counterpart on the other end of the ice. “I felt inspired to match Nabokov. It extends right from regulation to overtime. You watch the replay and go ‘all right. My turn.’”
And while we’re noting just how good Turco has been – for those who had not yet labeled him a “playoff goalie” – in the last two postseasons, following a loss, he’s 5-2 with a 0.86 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage.
Sounds like proven playoff numbers to me. And trust me, it couldn’t happen to a better guy. Take that monkey, extract it from his back and send it to the San Diego Zoo.
And take that feeling – akin to a kick to the crotch, by your ex girlfriend, while she steals your dog – or to seeing that obnoxious, testosterone-filled loudmouth jerk at the bar taking home the girl you’ve been eyeing all night – and drop it off somewhere in the Trinity River. Apparently, there’s a hole in the bridge over that body of water somewhere. Cram it right in there.
Because this time, the good guys were on the winning end of an epic battle. And when we think of this one, for years to come, we won’t cringe with pain.
We’ll just remember handshakes. Beautiful handshakes.