PITTSBURGH (AP) â€” They started in early evening and didn't stop until the middle of the night. They lost track of time, the number of overtimes, even which end of the rink was theirs.
The Philadelphia Flyers ran out of dry uniforms. The Pittsburgh Penguins nearly ran out of defensemen. Just like many of their sleep-deprived fans watching at home, they ran out of pizza.
As the overtimes ticked by â€” one, three, and, finally, five â€” they became more exhausted, more apprehensive, more cautious. No one wanted to commit the mistake that cost his team the third-longest game in NHL history.
``It wasn't pretty hockey,'' Penguins goaltender Ron Tugnutt said. ``All the players were exhausted. It is a tough way to play. You're fighting yourself to stay in the game.''
So, perhaps fittingly, the NHL's longest game in 64 years was mercifully ended by a player recently demoted because he couldn't score big goals in the playoffs.
Keith Primeau, dropped from the top line two games ago because of his lack of production, whizzed a hard wrist shot by Tugnutt at 12:01 of the fifth overtime early Friday morning to give the Flyers a 2-1 victory over the Penguins.
The Flyers barely had the energy to celebrate after requiring 92 minutes, 1 second of overtime and the equivalent of 2 1/2 games to earn a 2-2 series tie in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Game 5 is Sunday in Philadelphia.
The only longer games in NHL history were in the 1930s. Detroit beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in an overtime that lasted 116 minutes, 30 seconds on March 24, 1936, and Toronto beat Boston 1-0 in an overtime that lasted 104 minutes, 36 seconds on April 3, 1933.
Wasn't the Pittsburgh Marathon supposed to be Sunday?
``We're going down in hockey history,'' said Primeau, who had only seven goals in 78 previous playoff games. ``I was so into the game, I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know what time it was, what period it was or even if anybody was watching.''
Surprisingly, about a third of the 17,148 fans stayed around until the finish at 2:35 a.m., seven hours after the start. Some slept in their seats. Those who stayed awake didn't always see brilliant hockey, but they never saw bad hockey, even if both teams had long since lost their game legs by the end.
``It was getting sluggish,'' Tugnutt said. ``Everything seemed to be in slow motion. The breaks between periods got shorter and shorter. You got dizzy. Your mind played tricks on you. You'd forget which end of the rink was yours.''
Between periods, the players guzzled any beverage they could find and wolfed down the pizza that was to have been their post-game meal. The Flyers dug into equipment bags and trunks to find dry gear. Goaltender Brian Boucher longed for dry skates.
``You'd be moving around in there, and you'd hear them squishing,'' he said. ``It was awful.''
Surprisingly, the game-winning goal wasn't a deflection or a fluke or a trick. Primeau carried the puck along the right wing boards, put a move on defenseman Darius Kasparaitis and zipped a wrist shot for the game's 130th and last shot.
By contrast, the Flyers' first goal, by John LeClair on a deflection of Eric Desjardins' shot early in the third period, was by accident. The Penguins argued LeClair's stick was above the crossbar, but the video replay was inconclusive and the goal was counted.
Remarkably, the Penguins scored on their first shot, by Alexei Kovalev at 2:22 of the first period, then didn't score again.
``To play that long and that hard and that well and lose ... well, it's rough,'' the Penguins' Rob Brown said.
Ask Tugnutt, the only goalie in NHL history to twice make 70 saves in a game and not win either. He also made 70 saves in a 1991 regular-season tie.
Now, after the longest, and one of the bleakest, nights in their history, the Penguins and Jaromir Jagr must be wondering if they have anything left for the rest of the series.
By losing two home overtime games in three nights, they squandered the 2-0 lead they took in Philadelphia, as well as home-ice advantage in a series where the home team has yet to win.
``This game shows how close these teams are,'' Brown said. ``We have to go into Philly and win. We wish we didn't have to do it this way, but we have to.''
They probably won't unless Jagr plays like he did in scoring five goals in the first three games.
Bothered by flu-like symptoms in Game 4, he didn't resemble the player who had previously dominated the series, laboring just to go from end to end while rarely getting good scoring chances.
As a result, the Flyers sense the momentum and the series now belong to them. As does a spot in the record book that won't be replaced easily.
``To play that hard for eight periods and not win, that has to be hard on them,'' Primeau said. ``I just hope we don't have to do this again soon.''