The visiting dressing room at PNC Arena in Raleigh is considered one of the worst in the NHL and the Florida Panthers spent way too much time in those cramped, humid and smelly quarters on Thursday night.
OK, Friday morning as well.
Matthew Tkachuk made sure the next time the Panthers walked in that stinky bandbox was so everyone could get changed and then get the hell out of there.
Tkachuk helped his team avoid another round of Red Bulls and pizza in yet another intermission as he scored with just 12.7 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime to lift his team to a 3-2 win over the Hurricanes in Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference finals.
The game lasted 5 hours and 44 minutes of real time — 139:47 of hockey time which makes it the sixth-longest game in NHL history.
The longest games in franchise history for both Carolina and Florida were both three-overtime losses in the Stanley Cup Final.
“Definitely tired,” Tkachuk said afterward. “But you are less tired when you win.”
Tkachuk’s goal came off a turnover from veteran defenseman Brent Burns just as the fans still in the arena and watching from home were gearing up for that fifth overtime.
The Panthers were grateful it did not come to that.
“It was a relief,’’ Sasha Barkov said, “but we would have kept going.”
As the game wore on, both the Panthers and Hurricanes still showed life as the game wore on despite logging heavy, heavy minutes.
During the four bonus intermission sessions, players stripped out of their sweaty gear and tried anything they could to stay hydrated and keep their energy up.
“We were joking,” Ryan Lomberg said, “about not knowing what number overtime we were on after a while.”
When games with this much on the line drag on and on like this, players try to sustain themselves on pots of coffee and cans of energy drinks.
There was also bananas, energy bars, other assorted fruits and, of course, pizza which was brought in multiple times.
“We were eating all night,” Lomberg said.
In all, the two teams combined for 125 shots on goal — Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 63 of them to add his name to the NHL record book — and took 170 shot attempts.
Florida, which was held to 2 shots on goal in a lackluster third and 10 combined in the final two periods of regulation, got off 40 shots in the four overtime periods.
Bobrovsky made 32 saves in OT alone.
Brandon Montour led all skaters by logging 57:56 of ice time with NHL Advanced Stats tracking him for just shy of 9 miles of skating.
Florida ended up having three players (Montour, Gus Forsling and Aaron Ekblad) play over 50 with five more posting over 40.
Carolina had two — including the 38-year-old Burns — play over 50-minutes with five more going over 40.
Barkov, who tied the score at 1 way back in the second period of regulation, won 31 of his career-high 55 faceoffs as he ended the night with two points.
It may not come as a surprise, but both teams canceled scheduled practices today.
“You grind all the way to the end,” Barkov said. “We had a lot of good chances in overtime, Chucky had a great shot. We had a hard training camp, so we’re fine.”
Said Tkachuk: “Just looking at this sheet, Monty played close to 60 minutes, Barky took like a thousand draws. Bob played great, everyone followed. It was a total team effort for two games, basically.”
The Panthers were prepared for overtime as they are now 5-0 in playoff games gone into extras although the previous four all ended in the first — with three of them being wrapped up before the 10 minute mark.
They almost accomplished that again Thursday.
Ryan Lomberg scored to set off a celebration at 2:34 of the first overtime but officials were called over so the goal could be reviewed.
They ended up disallowing the goal citing Colin White clipping goalie Frederik Anderson (57 saves) and calling goalie interference.
Paul Maurice was already pretty ticked at the officials for a first-period penalty on Ekblad which helped give Carolina its first goal of the night and a 1-0 lead going into the second intermission.
Taking away a walkoff goal in overtime did not brighten his outlook on the guys with the whistles.
But it did not drag the Panthers down.
“That is the key to it,” Maurice said. “There are calls on the ice that you don’t like, but you can’t let it take you out of the rhythm. … You had the opportunity to celebrate and there was this release, this euphoria and then you have to rein it back in and get back to work. I thought our guys did an incredible job of that.”
With Lomberg’s goal off the board, the game continued — and rolled on into the wee hours of Friday morning.
“We could have been out of here a while ago,’’ Lomberg joked. “But we loved it, love playing together as a group. We live for these moments. I was ready to do it again. We knew we were going to get it, just didn’t know it would take that long.”
In total, the two teams took a combined 72 shots in the four overtime periods with numerous great chances stopped both by Bobrovsky and Andersen.
“At that point, you don’t really feel (things) in your body. It is more mental,” said Bobrovsky, who has won seven consecutive road games since coming back into net during the Boston series.
“You don’t think. You’re focus is completely on the game and one shot at a time. You don’t think about your body, it’s a very long game definitely, but it feels good to get the W in this one.”
The fourth overtime, despite the obvious exhaustion setting in, was filled with one scoring chance after another. With 7:45 left, Anton Lundell and Ekblad both had Grade-A chances but could not beat Andersen.
That allowed Burns, Seth Jarvis and Sebastian Aho great scoring chances that Bobrovsky snuffed out.
Then came Tkachuk who got a nice feed from Sam Bennett after he picked off Burns’ turnover.
Tkachuk turned, spun and fired off a shot which will not be soon forgotten in Florida Panthers lore.
A great win for the Panthers, but a tough loss for the Hurricanes who played a terrific game of their own.
“There’s not much to say,” said Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour, who played in that Game 2 triple-OT loss to Detroit under Maurice with the Hurricanes.
“It is a tough way to lose a game, that is for sure. To go that long, lot of ups-and-downs. But it is one game. We’ll pick it up tomorrow.”
Now it is time to get some rest.
Game 2 of this series is Saturday night. That is much closer than it sounds.
“I am sure both teams are gassed,” Tkachuk said. “We will use (Friday) to refuel, use the next day to do the same thing.
“It’s nice that it is another 8 0’clock start. Another hour of sleep.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
PANTHERS (WC2) AT CAROLINA HURRICANES (MET1)
GAME 2 (Panthers Lead 1-0)
- When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
- Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
- TV: TNT
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 95.6 FM2, WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Series Schedule — Game 1: Florida 3, @Carolina 2 (4OT); Game 2:Saturday at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 3: Monday at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 4: Wednesday, May 24 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 5*: Friday, May 26 at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 6*:Sunday, May 28 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 7*: Tuesday, May 30 at Carolina, 8 (TNT). *If Necessary
- Season Series: (Carolina won 2-1): @Florida 3, Carolina 0 (Nov.9); @Carolina 4, Florida 0 (Dec. 30); Carolina 6, @Florida 4 (April 13)
- All-Time Regular Season Series: Carolina/Hartford leads 71-46-10, 11 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting
- How They Got Here — Carolina: d. New York Islanders in 6; d. New Jersey Devils in 5. Florida: d. Boston Bruins in 7; d. Toronto Maple Leafs in 5.