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)
9 1930 NHL Semi-Finals, Game 1, New York Rangers 1-2 Montreal Canadiens: 68:52 of overtime played (4OT)
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.
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.
6 2007 Western Conference Quarter-Finals, Game 1, Dallas Stars 4–5 Vancouver Canucks: 78:06 of overtime played (4OT)
5 1996 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals, Game 4: Pittsburgh Penguins 3–2 Washington Capitals: 79:15 of overtime played (4OT)
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.
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.
2 1933 NHL Semi-Finals, Game 5, Boston Bruins 0–1 Toronto Maple Leafs: 104:46 of overtime played (6OT)
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.
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