Brian Boucher had a feeling by the second overtime that this game was going a while longer, and he knew from personal experience.
Twenty years ago, Boucher was in goal for the Philadelphia Flyers when they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the longest playoff game in modern NHL history, a five-overtime thriller. He was between the benches Tuesday night for NBC Sports’ television broadcast of the second-longest modern game and fourth all-time when the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 10:27 into the fifth overtime.
“It just seemed to be settling in like that,” Boucher told the Associated Press by phone today. “You could start to see some of the players as the game wore on, they give a little chuckle to the linsemen and it almost becomes to the point where it’s fun to play in a game like that.”
Halfway through the fourth overtime, Boucher took the kind of breath he was unable to back in 2000 and summed up what the players on the ice were feeling.
“The thing you’ve got to keep in mind, too, the physical exertion, the cramps that start to come in,” Boucher said. “It was around this time that the body started to break down.”
Brayden Point’s goal ended the Lightning-Blue Jackets game 95 seconds short of the time of Boucher’s game that finished with Keith Primeau’s wrist shot past Ron Tugnutt.
With Boucher at center ice and 2000 Flyers forward Keith Jones in the studio, the broadcast had a direct connection to the NHL’s longest game since the 1930s.
“It was so great to be able to have the bench of talent that we have that includes people like Keith Jones, who can speak to this, that includes Brian Boucher who’s working on the game who has firsthand experience having played in a five-overtime game,” NBC Sports producer Kaitlin Urka said late Tuesday night. “That just doesn’t happen. To have two people on air tonight that could speak to that in firsthand experience and provide context in that way is just incredible.”
Boucher made 57 saves compared to Columbus goaltender Joonas Korpisalo’s Stanley Cup playoff-record 85. But from inside Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, he could describe how Korpisalo and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy were heating up, literally.
“You can’t imagine with that gear how hot it gets inside your mask, inside your pads and the amount of much sweat that these guys have,” Boucher said. “It’s almost impossible not to start to feel those cramps. But they’ve both been sharp.”
While Urka was biting into dessert for some sugar after an ill-advised decision to skip lunch, Jones described how the concessions were empty at the old Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh when the Flyers and Penguins got to the fifth overtime. He poked more than a little fun at himself for (technically) being on the ice for Primeau’s goal, even though he had turned away to skate to the bench.
“I did not see this goal until the next day,” Jones said. “The entire bench jumps on the ice, Boosh is celebrating and I eventually made way to the pile. I thought we were going to get too many men on the ice because I just had no idea why everybody was getting off the bench.”
On a night that Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones played a game-high 65 minutes, Keith Jones recalled the numbers from his 37:50 of action 20 years prior: “I had zero shots on goal. I had two missed shots. It was the only thing. I had no blocked shots. I had no hits.”
Not exactly a stat line that will go down in history. But the game between the Lightning and Blue Jackets will, no doubt, in part because it’s the fourth-longest in NHL history and given the unique circumstances of it being played at a neutral site with no fans in attendance.
Boucher had a front-row seat and wondered if four-plus months off prepared these players better to play in a game that lasted over 150 minutes.
“I still felt like these guys looked pretty darn good,” Boucher said. “I think they looked a heck of a lot better than what we looked like back in 2000, and maybe that’s a credit to their conditioning and how far these athletes have come in 20 years.”
Boucher and Jones aren’t this postseason’s only connections the winning side of that 2000 game. Arizona coach Rick Tocchet, St. Louis coach Craig Berube, Montreal assistant Luke Richardson, Pittsburgh assistant Mark Recchi and Philadelphia TV analyst Chris Therien were all playing for the Flyers then.
“There’s a lot of guys that were a part of that epic game that are still involved in the game,” Boucher said. “I’m not shocked that guys are still involved in the game, I’m not shocked that some guys are head coaches and I’m certainly not shocked that Jonesy’s doing what he does in our studios as one of the great studio analysts because all these guys just love the game.”