RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — His Florida Panthers were not even a half-day removed from surviving a four-overtime thriller to open the Eastern Conference Final when Paul Maurice wrapped up his news conference with a question.
“OK, everybody, I’ll see you eight hours from now,” the coach said Friday. “Is that the routine we’re on now?”
It sure feels like it after the Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes played one of the longest games in NHL postseason history, one that left players’ legs wobbly and minds weary in a contest that seemed at times destined to keep going.
Along the way, it was enough to have Maurice wonder aloud how long both teams could go without risking injuries, while leaving players from both rosters to scarf down snacks or chug fluids in hopes to hanging in there through 15-minute intermissions before each OT. Now the Panthers and Hurricanes have a compressed window to rest, recharge and — in Carolina’s case, particularly — regroup before Game 2 on Saturday night.
“It definitely stings,” Carolina defenseman Brady Skjei said. “Long game, both teams went through it though, so both teams are feeling that today.”
Both teams were coming off multiday breaks before the series, but they burned through that stored-up juice in a game that stands as the sixth-longest in NHL postseason history (139:47), the longest for either franchise and representing more than two full games’ worth of hockey.
Nearly six hours had passed from Thursday night’s puck drop when Matthew Tkachuk beat Frederik Andersen with 12.7 seconds left in the fourth OT, bringing a merciful end to a game growing more ragged as it pushed deeper into early Friday.
The final numbers flirted with the absurd, prompting PNC Arena public-address announcer Wade Minter to greet fans for the intermission after the third OT by saying: “I’m so, so sorry.”
Five defensemen saw more than 50 minutes of ice time, led by Florida’s Brandon Montour posting 57:56 of ice time — the ninth-highest playoff total of all skaters since 1997-98 — along with Gustav Forsling (55:41), and Carolina’s Brent Burns (54:43). Ten other players saw at least 40 minutes of work. Nine players played at least 60 shifts, with Burns (71) leading a list that included Carolina forward Teuvo Teravainen (60) in his return from an injury.
And the goaltenders stood out under duress, with both Sergei Bobrovsky (63 saves) for the Panthers and Andersen (57) for the Hurricanes making composed stops to keep extending the game. As a result, it took 96 minutes of play following Stefan Noesen’s score on a tic-tac-toe finish for Carolina early in the third for Tkachuk to end it.
It’s no wonder that Noesen said he was “out cold pretty quickly” once he got home, while Florida’s Eric Staal said the bus ride to the team hotel afterward was “more quiet than normal.”
“Even some of the celebration after we scored, it looked like guys were just ready to get their gear off and recover,” Staal said.
That sudden-death finish amid full 20-minute periods is one of the most compelling parts of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and represents a far different test than teams playing a five-minute overtime at 3-on-3 before going to a shootout in regular-season games. Yet Maurice couldn’t help but notice the “huge cost” paid by both teams and creating “a race to recover.”
“This is not a critique, it’s a question: At some point you’re wondering how long can these men push this hard for without it becoming dangerous?” Maurice said in his postgame news conference. “You get locked into this rhythm. At that point they’re like thoroughbreds. But how long a racetrack can we keep for these guys?
“I wonder if there’s a cutoff that you would need at some (point). This is not a league complaint. They’ve never really got to it. But we’re getting fairly close to that threshold where nothing good happens after that for these men.”
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour understands it well. He played in the franchise’s previous record-length game, a triple-overtime loss to Detroit in Game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup Final when Maurice was in his first stint as Carolina’s coach.
“Overtime is great,” Brind’Amour said. “Generally it doesn’t go that long. I mean, we’ve only had a handful. Yeah, I don’t think you can start tricking it out. We do in the regular season because you need to. But I think we all agree, the guys that are playing want it to end the right way.”
For the players, that meant using every possible moment of the 15-minute intermissions trying to stay ready.
Noesen said he ate chicken and rice along with protein bars and chugged water. Skjei downed four bananas. Staal opted for apples and oranges — “I stayed away from the bananas, I tend to burp those up,” he said — while Montour picked through a combination of those along with granola bars “just to keep the energy going.”
Neither team practiced Friday. Understandably, too. After all, they’re technically now set to play on back-to-back days thanks to all the extra time.
“I still had some energy,” Montour said. “But at the end of the game, I was just more happy we got the win — and (then) straight to kind of just rest and recovery as much as you can after that.”