Last night the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers put on a great show. The game started at a little after 8pm and ended just before 2 am. Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk sent everyone home with under 13 seconds left to play in the fourth overtime period of the game. Had he missed that shot, it would have sent the game into a fifth overtime; something that has happened just five times before. And it got me to thinking about the time the Flyers did this.
It was 2000. I was a junior in college in Utica, NY. My roommate, Ken, was a huge Penguins fan. And this came right on the heels of the Flyers whomping on the Buffalo Sabres in five games; a team that my friend Joe from across the hall was a huge fan of.
This was the Pittsburgh team of Jaromir Jagr, Matthew Barnaby, Darius Kasparaitis, and Martin Straka. They were a solid team from top down. They could score, hit, and defend. And much like the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin led squad, they were a perpetual thorn in the side of the Flyers and their fans.
And what a better place to showcase thorniness than in the playoffs. And Pittsburgh had done just that. Despite winning the Atlantic Division that year, the Flyers struggled in the first two games of the series against Pittsburgh. Goals by Jagr and Straka supported a 28 save performance by Ron Tugnutt as the Pens downed Philly 2-0 in the series opener. In game two, Simon Gagne got Philly on the board, but only after Pittsburgh started off with three. The Pens won Game 2 by a score of 4-1. Down 2-0 in the series, all seemed hopeless.
In the forgotten game three of the series, the Flyers finally won a game. Andy Delmore opened the scoring in the first period followed by Keith Jones. Pittsburgh tied the game at two goals each in the second period. John LeClair put the Flyers up in the third only to see Jagr tie it up again. In the overtime period that followed, Delmore scored again at 11 minutes in to secure the win.
Then we come to the epic game four. Alex Kovalev scored for Pittsburgh in the first period. As the game went on, it was a tightly controlled game with neither team letting the other get a chance to score. LeClair tied the game up at 4:47 in the third on a power play goal. And that’s where things remained.
And in our dorm room, Ken and I watched. Each of yelling, cheering, screaming “Dammit!”, complaining about perceived missed calls and dirty plays. Going “OHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” at every ping off the post or miraculous save. Probably, just like every hockey fan in Pennsylvania was doing that night.
Now, the date of this hockey game was Thursday, May 4. My college, Utica College, graduates students on Mother’s Day; I guess they felt it was a nice gift for mom. That was 10 days later. So, May 4 was right at the start of exam week. My roommate Ken was a senior. And while we were big hockey fans, we were also conscientious students first who happened to have exams at 8:30 the next morning.
We stayed up watching the first two overtime periods before calling it a night. It was wayyyyyyy after midnight at this point. And again, we both had early morning exams.
The next morning, we turned on Sports Center and saw the news: Keith Primeau had saved the day.
It is still one of the greatest moments in Flyers history that wasn’t a Stanley Cup victory. Primeau would forever remain a Flyers hero because of it. My buddy Matt, who lived across the hall with Joe, stayed up to watch the whole thing. He said the game ended sometime after 2 am. I wish I could’ve stayed up. And I know some of you will think that I was a huge nerd for not doing it…and you are right. I’m not going to argue that.
Losing a game in a multiple overtime matchup like that can turn a series around. Pittsburgh never recovered from that lose and dropped the next two games to Philly. This set up an unfortunate seven game series with New Jersey that still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe Carolina can recover from this loss. Maybe Florida is the magic team this year. We’ll just have to see.
But 23 years ago, Primeau and the Flyers were on top of the world and forever gave us a memorable moment that we can always go back to when the current iteration of the Flyers fail us.