A live NHL playoff game is an extraordinarily tense experience. With one’s favourite team competing in a seven-game series for the continuation of their season, or even for the Stanley Cup, emotions run high and blood pressure starts to spike. Players from opposite teams start to resent each other and make the extra effort for a big hit, blocked shot or battle for the puck, expending all of their energy to make sure that they have every possible advantage. Referees are more lenient, the games become physical, and players and fans alike celebrate goals with extra fervor than in the regular season.
Sixty minutes of such action is often intense enough, but some games are so close that overtime is required. Without shootouts, the games can conceivably go forever, and sometimes feel as though they will. Most NHL overtime playoff games only require one overtime to resolve the tie, but these ten were all so close and so intense that they required at least four, making them each longer than two regular-length games. Magnifying the tension, exhaustion and intensity of playoff games over such lengths of time, these overtime games exemplify the spirit, tenacity and determination of playoff hockey. Despite the diminishing abilities of the exhausted players, these games all rank among the great playoff battles of all time, and deserve to be re-visited.
It is interesting to note that of the ten games, four of them were played between 1930-1943, while another four were played since 2000. The reasons for this dichotomy remain unclear, but a nonetheless intriguing statistic to ponder.
10. 1987 Patrick Division Semi-Finals, Game 7, New York Islanders 3–2 Washington Capitals: 68:47 of overtime played (4OT)
Since nicknamed the “Easter Epic” for not finishing until 1:58am on Easter Sunday, the game stands as the longest Game 7 in NHL history. The playoff rivalry between the two teams was intense, as the match-up marked the fifth consecutive season in which the two teams had played each other in the post-season. During the game, the Capitals took an astounding 75 shots on Islanders goalie Kelly Hrudey but could not score the winning goal. Pat LaFontaine scored the winner for the Islanders, moving them into the next round against the Philadelphia Flyers, which they eventually lost in seven games. The game marked the longest NHL playoff game in over 40 years, and still stands as one of the most memorable in playoff history.
9. 1930 NHL Semi-Finals, Game 1, New York Rangers 1-2 Montreal Canadiens: 68:52 of overtime played (4OT)
In 1930, the NHL was a remarkably different league than today, with only ten teams, a 44-game NHL regular season, a two-game quarter-final decided by total aggregate (very similar to modern soccer Champions League knockout stage games) and shorter semi-finals and Stanley Cup Finals. Bizarrely, the semi-final between the Canadiens and Rangers was a best of three, with Montreal defeating New York in the first two games to take the series, while the other semi-final between Boston and the Montreal Maroons was a best of five, with Boston winning 3-1. Montreal starred Howie Morenz (seen above), Aurel Joliat and goalie George Hainsworth, but in the lengthy game 1 between the Canadiens and Rangers, it was forward Gus Rivers, who only played in the NHL from 1929-1932, who scored the winning goal. After winning the series, the Canadiens upset the dominant Bruins by sweeping them two games to none. The victory came as a great surprise, as the Bruins had recorded a 20 game home winning streak that was not surpassed until the 2011-2012 season by the Detroit Red Wings, and finished with 77 points in 44 games, 26 better than the Canadiens, who tied for second in the league with 51.
8. 2008 Western Conference Semi-Finals, Game 6, San Jose Sharks 1–2 Dallas Stars: 69:03 of overtime played (4OT)
With the Sharks down 3-2 in the series against Dallas, overtime created a score or be eliminated scenario that the Sharks were unable to overcome. The two teams were closely matched in the series, as the game was the fourth of the six to go into overtime, with only Dallas’s 5-2 victory in Game 2 separating the teams by more than one goal. Despite San Jose’s effort, Stars captain Brenden Morrow stepped up to score the series-clinching overtime goal to send them to the Western Conference Finals against Detroit. Dallas would eventually lose to Detroit in six games, who would then defeat Pittsburgh in another six-game series to win their most recent Stanley Cup.
Just eight days after the Game 6 loss, the Sharks, disappointed about losing in the second round for the third consecutive season, fired long-time head coach Ron Wilson and replaced him with current coach Todd McLellan. The Sharks have since made the conference finals twice, in 2010 and 2011, but are still often seen as perennial playoff disappointments. The Stars, however, have fared even worse. In retrospect, the 2008 playoff run marked a last remnant of the success they enjoyed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the Stars have not qualified for the playoffs since (they also sit three points out of a playoff spot as of March 26, 2014).
7. 1943 NHL Semi-Finals, Game 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 3–2 Detroit Red Wings: 70:18 of overtime played (4OT)
In the midst of the Second World War, many of the NHL’s best players were fighting overseas, allowing more obscure figures to play and have starring moments in the NHL. With the Brooklyn Americans unable to renew their lease at Madison Square Garden or recruit enough NHL-caliber players because of the war, they were forced to suspend operations, reducing the league to the Original Six for the first time and commencing a period that would last until the league doubled in size in 1967. Though first-place Detroit would eventually defeat the Leafs in six games in the series and then sweep the Bruins 4-0 to win the Stanley Cup, the Leafs presented a strong challenge with goalie Turk Broda in net.
The quadruple-overtime winner was scored by 19-year old rookie forward Jack McLean, an engineering student who was not allowed to practice with the team and could only play home games in Toronto or play in Montreal due to his student status. Though McLean retired from the NHL after the war ended in 1945 to pursue an engineering career, he continued to play for the amateur Ottawa Senators of the Quebec Senior Hockey League, helping them to reach the finals of the Allan Cup, hockey’s foremost amateur trophy, in 1948.
6. 2007 Western Conference Quarter-Finals, Game 1, Dallas Stars 4–5 Vancouver Canucks: 78:06 of overtime played (4OT)
It has often been said that the NHL playoffs are a long and exhausting tournament, but never has that fact been so true as quickly as it was for the Stars and Canucks in 2007, playing nearly four full overtime periods in their first playoff game of the year. Canucks star Henrik Sedin, who more commonly serves as playmaker to his goal-scoring twin brother Daniel, scored the overtime winner in that game, kicking off a punishing seven-game series in which Vancouver would eventually emerge victorious. Left exhausted from their intense first round series, however, the Canucks would fall in five games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions Anaheim Ducks. Missing the playoffs the next season, the Canucks would finally break through the second round in 2011, after losing in the second round four times from 2003-2010, only to lose to Boston in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final.
5. 1996 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals, Game 4: Pittsburgh Penguins 3–2 Washington Capitals: 79:15 of overtime played (4OT)
Lasting until the final minute of the fourth overtime, this game marked the longest NHL playoff game in sixty years. While not at quite the same level as they had been to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992, the Penguins still possessed superstars Mario Lemieux (161 points) and Jaromir Jagr (149 points), future Hall of Famer Ron Francis (119 points), and stars Petr Nedved (99 points) and Sergei Zubov (66 points from defense). For the Capitals, center Michal Pivonka, in contrast, led in scoring that season (81 points), as the team relied on goaltender Jim Carey, who managed to win the Vezina Trophy for his play in his first full season as starter for the team, to win games. The Capitals came out to a surprising 2-0 lead in the series, but the Penguins surged back to win the series four games to two, with Nedved supplying the winning goal in overtime in Game 4. Pittsburgh would make it to the conference finals, only to be upset by the Florida Panthers in seven games, who were en route to their only Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history.
4. 2003 Western Conference Semi-Finals, Game 1, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 4–3 Dallas Stars: 80:48 of overtime played (5OT)
As one of just five players to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as NHL playoff MVP despite losing in the Cup Finals, Mighty Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s performance that year was one for the ages. Leading the team to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Giguere posted an awe-inspiring 1.62 GAA and .945 save percentage. While those numbers are partially legacies of the era, just before the 2004-2005 NHL lockout which enforced penalties more strictly to open up the game from the physical trap mentality, his play was nonetheless heroic for the team.
Giguere let in more than three goals, the number he allowed in this game, only once throughout those playoffs, and his just over four periods of shutout hockey in overtime in Game 1 against Dallas foreshadowed his unparalleled Western Conference Final performance against the Minnesota Wild. In that series, he let up only one goal, during Anaheim’s 2-1 Game 4 victory, and recorded shutouts in the first three. The Stars, just three years after back-to-back Stanley Cup appearances, remained a dangerous team, but Giguere’s play stood as the difference, both in the five-overtime Game 4 and the rest of the series. Petr Sykora scored the winning goal for Anaheim just into the fifth overtime of the game.
3. 2000 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Game 4, Philadelphia Flyers 2–1 Pittsburgh Penguins: 92:01 of overtime played (5OT)
The longest playoff game of the modern era saw the two interstate rivals fight a battle for the ages. With Jaromir Jagr in the midst of a streak that saw him win four straight Art Ross Trophies from 1998-2001, the Lester B. Pearson and an Olympic gold medal in 1998 and the Hart Trophy in 1999, he presented the most dangerous offensive threat in the game. The Flyers, however, had led the Eastern Conference with 105 points that year, despite a tumultuous season. Legendary head coach Roger Neilson had to cede his position to assistant Craig Ramsay after being diagnosed with bone cancer, long-time Flyer Rod Brind’Amour was traded to Carolina for Keith Primeau and superstar centre Eric Lindros suffered a concussion in March, keeping him out of the playoffs for all but two games.
After Pittsburgh won the first two games, fans began to question the Flyers, but a close 4-3 OT win in Game 3 gave them the chance to tie the series in Game 4. Newly acquired Primeau then scored the winning goal in the fifth overtime, endearing him to the Flyers faithful and helping shift the momentum in the team’s favour. The Flyers would then go on to win Games 5 and 6 to win the series over Jagr’s Penguins. In the conference final, the eventual Stanley Cup champions New Jersey Devils defeated the division rival Flyers in seven games, a series best remembered for Scott Stevens’ infamous hit on Lindros in Game 7 that left him with a concussion. It would also mark Lindros’ last appearance with the Flyers before holding out in a contract dispute the following season and his trade to the Rangers in 2001.
2. 1933 NHL Semi-Finals, Game 5, Boston Bruins 0–1 Toronto Maple Leafs: 104:46 of overtime played (6OT)
The 1933 series between Boston and Toronto stands as one of the closest of all time, with four of the five games in the best of five series going to overtime. In the fifth and final game, the longest final game of a series in NHL history, the Maple Leafs squeaked out a 1-0 victory thanks to a goal by right-winger Ken Doraty, who only played 105 total NHL games in his career. The Leafs had future Hall of Famers Ace Bailey, Hap Day, Charlie Conacher, Busher Jackson and Joe Primeau (the latter three forming the famous “Kid Line”), as well as coach Dick Irvin, on their team. The Bruins, meanwhile, had Marty Barry, Billy Burch, Dit Clapper, Harry Oliver, Eddie Shore and Tiny Thompson, as well as coach Art Ross, bringing the total between the two teams to thirteen. The Leafs and Bruins had won their divisions respectively, marking this as the possible best series of the year, but the Leafs were defeated three games to one by the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final.
1. 1936 NHL Semi-Finals, Game 1, Detroit Red Wings 1-0 Montreal Maroons: 116:30 of overtime played (6OT)
The longest game in NHL history has three main similarities to its second place counterpart from 1933: both took six overtimes to finish, both finished with identical 1-0 scores and both featured goaltender Lorne Chabot as a starter for one of the two teams. Chabot had won the 1933 game with the Leafs, but lost this one with the Maroons. Marty Barry (Bruins and Red Wings) and Conacher (Leafs and Maroons) also played in both. It was right-winger Mud Bruneteau, however, who had only scored two assists in 24 regular season games, who finally scored the winning goal at 2:25am to end the game. Detroit, under the leadership of hard-nose coach Jack Adams (seen above), swept the best of five series with the Maroons before defeating the Leafs three games to one to win the Stanley Cup that year. While the 1936 Red Wings team is often forgotten, they and this longest game of all time were recently highlighted by The Hockey News, who listed the team at Number 20 on their Greatest Teams of All-Time List in a recent special issue. The team’s goalie, Normie Smith, also still holds the record for most saves in a playoff game with his 92 save shutout.