I took a red-eye flight home last night, touching down in Vancouver about 11PM local time, assuming I had missed the Canucks‘ first playoff game in three years. When I emerged from the baggage area and saw the clumps of anxious fans huddled around TVs at the airport bar, my heart began racing with joy, as I knew instantly it could mean only one thing — a sudden death overtime marathon. It was near the end of the second OT period at that point, and when the taxi got me home the third OT was half done…
Context for non-fans: hockey is divided into twenty minute periods, three of which make up a regulation game. In the regular season, tied games are decided with a five minute OT, followed by a shootout if necessary, but in the playoffs the teams play full 20 minute periods until someone scores, no matter how long it takes. It’s rare for play to go more than one or two extra periods — after all, it only takes one goal to end it all, and as players tire out it’s only natural that fatigue will eventually cause a breakdown that ends with a puck in the back of the net.
It seems like every year there’s at least one playoff game that turns into a marathon, and I love these games. It takes me back to being a kid, when my Dad would extend bedtime indefinitely for extended play, stretching my nights well into forbidden territory. So no matter who’s playing, I almost always find myself sticking these games out to the bitter end — and it is unimaginably bitter for the losing side. The appeal is certainly not the quality of the play, as the exhaustion factor and every player’s fear of being the goat leads to a slow and very conservative style of play. The longer the game goes, the higher the stakes, and the more devastating it is to be on the losing end. I find the drama irresistible.
And here was a marathon game involving my own team. After the third overtime period finished (the game now doubled in length), I took the dog for a walk, and there was no shortage of television lights flickering in otherwise darkened houses, well past midnight. There was no snow on the ground, but the scene felt very Canadian.
Henrik Sedin, one of the Canucks hot Swedish twins finally ended it all after 78 minutes of overtime play, 138 minutes total (that’s playing time, the actual duration was nearly six hours). That makes it the longest game in Canucks’ history, and the sixth longest game in the NHL’s 90 year history. (Of course, Wikipedia has it slotted in already.)
“Bobby Lu” made 72 saves in his first career playoff game, only one short of the NHL record. And though I am, like most Canuck fans, prepared to bear Roberto Luongo’s children, I have to say I’m glad that Kelly Hrudey’s name is still on the books — I wasn’t much of a fan when he played, but he’s won me over as a goofy but amiable and perceptive analyst on CBC’s broadcasts.
As a kid I remember reading and rereading Stan Fischler’s story about the longest game ever played, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in the 1936 playoffs, with more than 176 minutes of play ending at 2:25 AM. The winner was scored by Motter “Mud” Bruneteau, a rookie player who had been nailed to the bench most of the night, and was therefore relatively fresh when finally put into the game. This was in the era before Zambonis, so the ice was a total mess for most of the OT, contributing to the length. With better ice today it’s unlikely that record will ever be broken, though last night I was beginning to wonder…