Second in a series counting down the 10 most memorable playoff wins in the Flyers’ history. Today: No. 9.
It wasn’t the most important playoff victory in the Flyers’ history. Just their longest.
And perhaps their most draining — for players and fans.
When Keith Primeau scored with 7 minutes, 59 seconds left in the fifth overtime on May 4, 2000, it gave the Flyers an epic 2-1 win in Pittsburgh, tying the series at two victories each. The Flyers then advanced to the Eastern Conference finals by winning the next two games.
Primeau’s goal ended the tension at 2:35 a.m., after 92 minutes, 1 second of overtime play, and it was the longest game in the NHL’s modern era (since 1943-44). It was the third-longest game overall. Playoff games in 1936 (116:30 of OT between Detroit and the Montreal Maroons) and 1933 (104:46 of OT between Boston and Toronto) surpassed it.
Since there were no TV timeouts allowed in the overtime, the action was continuous and the players became more drained with each extra period, even though the time of their shifts was drastically reduced.
“It was like the overtime was almost in slow motion because everyone was so exhausted,” Flyers broadcaster Keith Jones, who played in that game and was coming off the ice when Primeau scored the winning goal, said recently.
The game took about seven hours to play (152:01 of scoreboard time), and when it ended, an estimated 4,000 people remained from what was a sellout crowd at Mellon Arena — nearly half of them wearing Flyers jerseys.
The Flyers, top-seeded in the Eastern Conference but playing without the concussed Eric Lindros, fired 72 shots at Ron Tugnutt, while Pittsburgh took 58 shots at rookie Brian Boucher, who did not allow a goal over the last 149:39. That’s about 2½ games’ worth of shutout hockey.
Flyers defenseman Dan McGillis had nine shots and played 61:05. Repeat: 61:05.
Between the overtime periods, the fatigued players ate pizza (if they could find any) and energy bars, and drank Pedialyte, Gatorade, and water. Some were administered IVs.
“It was a little bit of survival mode,” left winger John LeClair said years later.
To finally end it, Primeau skated down the right side, made a deft move to his left to get space around defenseman Darius Kasparaitis in the right circle, and sent a wicked wrist shot past Tugnutt and off the back of the pipe in the net.
“I didn’t really see it so much as hear it,” Primeau said at the time. “There were 20 heroes out there.”
For the Flyers — who had won the previous game on Andy Delmore’s overtime goal off a feed from Jones (three points) — the victory evened the series, gave them back the home-ice advantage, and put them in the driver’s seat.
A loss would have put them on the brink of playoff elimination against the seventh-seeded Penguins.
Back home, fans could not turn off the drama.
"I was working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. overnight shift at the Freightliner Corporation’s warehouse in Bridgeport, N.J., and listening on the radio,” recalled Mark Vogeding, now a special-education teacher at Paulsboro High. “Nothing got started till about 3 in the morning … because everyone was listening to the game. Had to stick around till 9:30 a.m. — there was no overtime pay, by the way — to finish my quota.”
Vogeding, a Gibbstown resident, said that when the warehouse manager arrived (late) for the morning shift, he was “not too happy we were all still there and asked my supervisor for an explanation.”
The supervisor told the manager the truth: The workers were mesmerized by the Flyers game. The manager understood, admitting he was a couple of hours late for the same reason: He stayed up to watch Primeau’s Goal Heard ‘Round the Delaware Valley.
For many Flyers fans, especially those who are too young to remember the 1974 or 1975 Stanley Cup championships, the overtime win was one of the most memorable games they have ever watched. Or listened to.
“My son was in high school at the time and I let him stay up on a school night to watch the game with me,” said Paul Cardell of Springfield, Pa. “We both were very tired when we had to get up the next morning, but what a great memory we had of a special time we spent together watching our favorite team get an awesome win.”
“I still remember dozing on and off in my lounge chair, the kids and my wife having gone to bed many hours ago,” recalled Don Remsch, who now lives in New Market, Md. “When Primeau scored that goal, I had to muffle my joyous cry [so he didn’t wake up his family]. Then I was so wired I couldn’t sleep.”
Inspired by the victory, the Flyers won the series and took a three-games-to-one lead over New Jersey in the conference finals, only to lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in seven games.
The five-overtime win would turn out to be the highlight of their season.