The fourth-longest game in NHL history ended with a flick of the wrists by Lightning forward Brayden Point from the high slot that beat Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo at 10:27 of the fifth overtime period to give Tampa Bay a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday.
“To be in eight periods of hockey and still make the plays guys were making, it was remarkable,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Obviously glad we came out on top but it was an unbelievable effort by both teams.”
Point’s shot culminated an epic battle in which the Lightning and Blue Jackets combined for 151 shots, 92 blocked shots and 105 hits in 150 minutes, 27 seconds in the opening game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was the longest NHL game since May 4, 2000, when Keith Primeau of the Philadelphia Flyers scored at 12:01 of the fifth overtime for a 4-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round.
The lasting image of the historic game came when Point tried to leap in celebration. Because he was so tired, he only could manage to get a couple of inches off the ground.
“Finally, one goes in. I think that’s the emotion,” Point said. “Just super excited.”
The moment called for a hero and Point stepped up. But in a game that featured so many of them, Korpisalo took a back seat to no one, even in a losing cause.
The Columbus goalie set an NHL record for saves in a playoff game with 85, eclipsing the 73 made by Kelly Hrudey of the New York Islanders in a 3-2 four-overtime win against the Washington Capitals in the deciding game of the Patrick Divisional Semifinals on April 18, 1987. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 61 saves for Tampa Bay, a Lightning record.
Remarkably, Korpisalo said he wasn’t all that tired.
“You try to go save by save, not thinking too much, running through it,” he said. “I think I felt pretty good throughout, the boys were battling hard in front of me. So not too bad.”
Korpisalo said he has no doubt the Blue Jackets will bounce back from such a crushing loss. Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is in Toronto, the East hub city, on Thursday (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS, SUN, FS-O). Teams that win Game 1 are 478-219 (68.6 percent) winning a best-of-7 NHL playoff series.
“Obviously we didn’t win but it was only one game,” he said. “We’ll be ready for the next one.”
The combined 151 shots, including 88 by Tampa Bay, were a Stanley Cup Playoff record since shots on goal became an official statistic in 1959-60.
Aside from Korpisalo, the Blue Jackets’ best player was defenseman Seth Jones, who had 65:06 of ice time, an NHL record since time on ice became an official statistic in 1997-98.
“There’s no conserving energy,” Jones said. “You have to find a way to play with energy every shift, that’s why we go through the conditioning we go through in camp. We put our bodies in a position so we can do things like this and take it to levels of this extreme.
“Everyone played a lot of minutes, I’m sure everyone played a personal record number of minutes. Obviously, we’ll take care of our bodies tomorrow and be ready for Game 2.”
So will Victor Hedman, who wasn’t certain he’d be able to play until Tuesday morning. The Lightning defenseman, who twisted his right ankle during a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in a round-robin game in the Cup Qualifiers on Saturday, had an assist, nine shots on goal and played 57:38.
“I was a Iittle nervous when it first happened,” Hedman said of the injury. “But at the end of the day it’s playoffs, and it’s going to take a lot for someone to sit out.
“It felt better and I was ready to go. Never in my mind did I think it would be eight periods, but it felt really good and I’m super excited.”
In real time from the opening face-off to the Point goal, the game lasted 6 hours, 13 minutes. By the time the intermission arrived after the third overtime period, NBCSN had changed its in-studio analysts. Out were Eddie Olczyk and Anson Carter. In came Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.
And on they played.
Inside Scotiabank Arena, the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes watched from their respective dressing rooms. Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round was to start at 8 p.m., five hours after the puck was dropped for Tampa Bay and Columbus. Finally, around 9 p.m., the NHL rescheduled their game for Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET (NBCSN, TVAS, SN, NESN, FS-CR.) Cooper said he saw the Bruins coaches packing up in a nearby dressing room during the intermission prior to the fifth overtime.
And on they played.
Until Point ended it.
For the Lightning, there was satisfaction in finally beating the Blue Jackets, who swept them in the 2019 Eastern Conference First Round.
But for Cooper, the game had even more relevance. Because of COVID-19, the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs are being held in two hub cities — eight Eastern Conference teams in Toronto, eight Western Conference teams in Edmonton — in empty areas.
“The one sad thing about tonight is that you have a game and an effort put about by the two teams and there was no one in the building to witness it,” Cooper said. “And to see the excitement on the faces of the players — whether there were fans or not — well, they’re still a bunch of kids who work their butts off and get excited.
“It brings you back to the frozen pond. It was a pretty cool moment.”
And an historic one.