Lightning’s quintuple-OT August Epic win a surreal chapter in playoff history

Sportsnet's Shawn McKenzie and Chris Johnston discuss the aftermath of the marathon Game 1 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets.

TORONTO — Before Brayden Point ended this August Epic, they had a seventh-period stretch inside an empty Scotiabank Arena and blasted “All Night Long” through the speakers at maximum volume.

As the periods whizzed by, it honestly began to feel like all night might not be long enough for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets to decide Game 1 of their first-round series.

Joonas Korpisalo established the NHL’s modern-day record for saves in a playoff game and the game kept going for another hour. Seth Jones cruised past the most minutes ever recorded by anyone in league history and then had time for three more shifts. There was a puck-over-the glass penalty in the fifth overtime… and still they played on.

To think, some of us had started to believe that 2020 couldn’t get any more surreal.

“There’s no way to prepare for a game that goes that long,” said Point, who finally froze the clock with a desperation shot through traffic that knuckled over Korpisalo’s right shoulder.

The official time: 150 minutes 27 seconds played, making it the fourth-longest game in NHL history.

These teams went at it for more than six hours. Most of the players only ate breakfast because of the 3 p.m. puck drop and they ended up battling right through dinner. All the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes could do was watch as their scheduled 8 p.m. game was pushed back to 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy decided to grab some pizza.

“It was delicious,” he said.

We’ve truly never seen anything quite like the Stanley Cup Playoffs played inside the bubble. Jon Cooper, the Lighting coach, said he poked his head into the Boston coaches’ room to deliver a quip during one intermission.

He later saw Cassidy and his staff packing up while he walked back to the home bench for the fifth overtime.

Asked what he’ll remember most about Tuesday, Cooper said: “How cold my feet were the entire game.”

“I’ll remember that puck going crazy off the end wall and [Andrei] Vasilevskiy getting over to stop that,” he added. “I’ll remember the talk the staff had right before going out in the fifth overtime. I’ll remember looking at my salmon salad and wanting to eat it the whole time during the game, but I thought that was going to, I don’t know, break up the karma. So I stayed hungry.

“I don’t know, there’s so many things that are going through my mind right now.”

There was nothing but frustration for the Blue Jackets when this marathon finally ended. They were furious Victor Hedman wasn’t assessed a penalty when he reached around Cam Atkinson on a partial breakaway in the eighth period, with Jones saying the officiating was “kinda suspect.”

There could be no other choice than Korpisalo for first star even though he took the loss.

He made 58 consecutive saves after Yanni Gourde was credited with the tying goal 23 seconds into the third period. It was an eye-popping performance for a guy with five career playoff appearances on his resume — two of them shutouts against the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs in the qualifying round, followed by this 85-save gem that surpassed Kelly Hrudey’s previous playoff record of 73 stops in the 1987 ‘Easter Epic.’

At the other end, Vasilevskiy made “just” 61 saves for Tampa.

Have we mentioned how ridiculous this all felt?

“As every minute ticked down, he got stronger and stronger and stronger,” Cooper said of Vasilevskiy. “I just can’t imagine: You’re sitting there for six and a half hours at the end of the game and you’re going to keep that concentration.

“So pretty impressive effort from both guys.”

Jones finished with 65:06 in ice time, while Hedman skated 57:38 for the Lightning in a game he wasn’t even expected to play after leaving Saturday with what looked like a gruesome ankle injury.

The perennial Norris Trophy finalist was as dominant as they come, too — helping Tampa to a ridiculous 72-27 advantage in even-strength shot attempts while generating more than 71 per cent of the expected goals while he was on the ice.

More than a year after shockingly being swept out of the first round by Columbus, the Lightning viewed their patience in a tense eight-period game where they never actually led as growth. Cooper figures he reminded his highly-skilled team not to sacrifice defence for offence “100 times.”

“It’s doing all the things that aren’t flashy, that’s basically what it is,” he said. “It’s not the most fun way to play, but it’s the winning way to play, especially if you want to get through games like that.”

By the end, this felt like survival.

It had to be one of the most unusual scenes in NHL history. There were no more than 10 reporters watching from the upper bowl and a couple executives. You could hear the screams as players poured off the Tampa bench to mob Point when he finally broke through.

“It was very special. I mean at that point we were all exhausted,” said Gourde. “Oh my god, my words are… I’m tired right now guys, if you guys can notice.”

We all are.


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