The year 2000 — a new millennium. A time filled with flip phones, physically going out to rent DVDs and the longest game in modern NHL history — thanks to the Philadelphia Flyers and rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
At the start of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on May 4, 2000, no one knew just how long the game was going to be. Seriously, if anyone bet that this game was going to head into a fifth overtime, they would have been deemed crazy.
Everyone knows how the game ends, a game-winning goal from Keith Primeau in the midst of his career — but what happened in those moments — or should I say hours, leading up to it?
Considering I was 2 years old at the time this game was played and had already seen the iconic goal dozens of times, I never had the urge to sit down and watch a six-hour, 56-minute game … until now.
NBC Sports has unveiled a new podcast series, “Sports Uncovered,” and our Philadelphia region took a deep dive into the game that is now known as “Marathon on Ice.” Before I had the opportunity to learn more about the behind-the-scene aspects, it also felt important to know the little details about the game — the energy from start to end, how the atmosphere shifted and just how much of a relief it was when it was finally over.
Thankfully, there was a condensed version of the game in the NHL archives — condensed is a humorous word when it was still three hours in length. Essentially all stoppages of play, replays and commercials were cut out to speed things up. Still, I timed myself and paused the game every time I had to leave the room to grab water, lunch or the multiple Amazon packages filled with orders I had forgotten about.
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The official time I started viewing the game was 10:56 a.m. and it finally concluded at 2:47 p.m.
While it’s nothing like experiencing it firsthand 20 years ago, I figured I’m not the only one who had never seen this game before. So, here are a few key things I took away from the game:
• Growing up, Simon Gagne was one of the most thrilling players to watch on the Flyers, so it was crazy to see him in his rookie season, first time in the playoffs and holding so much potential. He holds the top spot as my all-time favorite playoff goal — his game-winning overtime goal in Game 4 against the Bruins in 2010. This sparked the comeback in their seven-game series.
In a game that was logged with an official time of 152:01, Gagne had 36 shifts and saw 27:28 of time on ice. That was second to last for both on the Flyers, only ahead of winger Valeri Zelepukin.
Not many athletes can look back on their career and say they’ve been a part of so many historic playoff games — Gagne most certainly can.
• Apparently this is easier said than done, but bring back these classic jerseys — for both teams, honestly. The late 1990s and early 2000s held some of the best hockey sweaters in league history. Even the Penguins’ logo was more bearable to look at — and that’s saying a lot.
• In the 1999-00 regular season, the Flyers had the second best power play in the league. Up until the third period of this game, they went 0 for 18 in the series. On that 19th attempt, John LeClair scored right off the face off, tying the game at one apiece. Little did anyone know at the time that it was going to stay that way for a while.
• Playoff hockey is the most thrilling time in sports every year — but when those games go to overtime, stress often goes into overdrive. You never know what’s going to happen — imagine having to sit on the edge of your seat for essentially another game and a half waiting for that next goal.
LeClair and Daymond Langkow had the opportunity to shut everything down just 31 seconds into the first overtime, but the dreaded crossbar stopped it from happening.
• Just past the halfway point of that first overtime, scores from games across other leagues that day appeared on the bottom of the screen. I had to pause the game for a minute to note that the Phillies absolutely demolished the Reds, 14-1. What a fun day in Philly sports to look back at.
• Once the third overtime hit, it was very clear every shift was filled with exhausted players. There’s a reason why shifts are so short in 60-minute games — so having to have played more than two times the amount they typically do in one night is absurd. While players were tired and some of the crowd had thinned out by then, the energy never faltered. The atmosphere definitely shifted, but it wasn’t ever boring. It was playoff hockey, after all.
• Even while fully knowing when and how the game was going to end, I caught myself saying, “How is this game still happening?”
I can’t even imagine watching this live, not knowing what to expect or being aware of when things would eventually end. Even with the amount of high-danger chances throughout the five overtimes, it really felt like they were going to be playing until the sun came up the following morning.
• Primeau had been buzzing that entire game. It really was only a matter of time before he finally connected and put one past Penguins goaltender Ron Tugnutt.
The Flyers eventually went on to win the series, but their playoff run fell short in the Eastern Conference Final against the Devils. It’s never the outcome a team wants to have, but at least the Flyers were able to come away with a little bit of history of their own — having won the third-longest game in the NHL.
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