‘Villains were villains’: Tucker to watch 2002 triple-OT epic for first time

Darcy Tucker of the Maple Leafs collides with Senators defenceman Wade Redden during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 4, 2002. (Dave Sandford/Getty)

With no minor hockey playoff games to rush his sons to, no early GTHL tryouts for 2020-21 to oversee himself, and no live NHL games on television, Darcy Tucker says “it’s eerily weird around our household” when we ring him up in quarantine.

What these unusual circumstances have brought to the Tucker house is a rare chance to gather around the TV and watch Dad in his prime — in prime time.

Saturday night, Sportsnet is re-airing the Toronto Maple Leafs’ epic, 104-and-a-half-minute 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 2 of the 2002 Eastern Conference semi-final.

Tucker, 45, was happy to whisk us back to May 4, 2002, when he was in the midst of the longest, fiercest post-season run of his career. And that gruelling, relief-filled night Gary Roberts played hero.

SPORTSNET.CA:What memories pop out when you think back to that epic triple-overtime Game 2 versus the Senators in 2002?

DARCY TUCKER: We really needed to win—that’s for sure. We didn’t want to go down 2-0 going back to Ottawa. We got our rear ends kicked in Game 1, if memory serves correct. I haven’t looked back at it.

You did. The Sens beat you 5-0 in Game 1.

[laughs] Yeah, we needed a bounce-back. I think we jumped out to a 2-0 lead, let them back into the game, and then it was a seesaw back and forth. Those overtime periods, both teams had chances to end it, couldn’t get it done, and then based off a face-off play, Robs ended it there. I think we were starting to get a few more chances than they were later in the overtimes. It was so good to see that puck go in because not many guys on our bench had much left in the tank.

What does it feel like to play nearly six full periods?

You’re so tired, you’re going out the door as opposed to jumping over the bench because your legs are just gone. And you’re cramped up, and you haven’t ate since 1 p.m., and it’s now close to 1 a.m. or midnight, and it just gets to be exhausting. And then it becomes more mental than physical. You got to find a way to be good defensively. You don’t want to be one of those guys that makes a mental mistake because you’re exhausted, so it’s more of a war of attrition than it is anything else.

I’ve heard tales of players scarfing down pizzas during those multiple-overtime playoff games. But you didn’t eat during the game at all?

Some guys did. I couldn’t do it. If I ate something at that point in time, I became very lethargic. You’re hydrating for sure, with whatever you can get into you from an electrolyte standpoint. I figured it would be Robs that ended it. He was in such good shape that he had as much energy as anybody else did at that point in the game.

Do you celebrate a little harder after a victory so gruelling?

For us, it was more of, “Wow. Thank God we got this one.” Nobody wanted to go back to Ottawa down 2-0. It was in our minds that absolutely we could not win that series if we went to Ottawa down 2-0. We needed to win. Thank God we got it. When you played Ottawa then, they had such a great building at that time. I know people say there’s a lot of Leafs fans at Ottawa games now, but their building was pretty good when it came to playoff time for them. It was pretty loud in there.

Who most stood out to you on the other side?

The normal characters. Daniel Alfredsson was always a huge part of their team. I know we ended up beating them a certain amount of times in the playoffs, but he was a hell of a leader for them. He played extremely hard at playoff time. So, he stuck out. Radek Bonk, Marian Hossa, people of that ilk. They had Wade Redden on defence and big Chris Phillips. They had a really good hockey team. To tell you the truth, they were probably more skilled than us as a team. The intangible we had, we were a little bit older and a little bit more playoff-tested.

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Curtis Joseph made 54 stops in Game 2. Is there a particular save that sticks with you?

I’m not gonna lie to you: CuJo saved our rear ends come playoff time quite often, so they kinda all run together. He made some unbelievable saves in that series, for sure. Thinking back on that game, I’d have to watch it — and I’m definitely going to on Saturday. But I’m sure he made some 10-bellers in that game to even get us to overtime, let alone the ones in overtime.

Have you ever gone back and watched Game 2 before?

I haven’t watched it back, to tell you the truth. It was amazing. The other night, we watched the ’04 Joe Nieuwendyk Game 7 [of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals versus Ottawa]. We watched it as a family. It was fun and interesting to look back on some of the things I’d forgotten. So, we’re enjoying watching the games together as a family because my boys didn’t get to see a lot of my NHL career. To look back at these games is a lot of fun for them.

What sticks out in terms of style of play or how the broadcast looked or how players acted in those days?

There was a lot more personality in the game, I found, watching the other night. The villains were villains. There was a lot more going on in between shifts than there is now in the NHL. And I thoroughly loved the physicality of playoff time, especially then. It was physical, man. [chuckles] You better be ready to play hockey at playoff time back then. But, man, this era is so much faster than it was back then. It’s just crazy how much faster it is. I watching like, “Man, we weren’t very fast.”

What do you remember about your goal in Game 2?

A wrist shot over [Patrick] Lalime’s shoulder, I believe. From the slot. I can watch it on Saturday to remember exactly. I’ve got hazy memories of it, but it’ll all flood back to me when I watch. Second goal of the game?

That’s right. And Travis Green opened the scoring. In your time with him, did you see a future NHL head coach?

Future NHL head coach? Probably not. I talk to Travis once every couple of weeks to check in and see how he’s doing. We’re pretty good friends. He’s put a lot of time and effort to get to where he’s at right now. He’s done a hell of a job with that organization. He’s really brought a lot of those young kids along and mentored them. When you look at coaches in the National Hockey League, I think Travis has taken a little bit of everything, and I’m sure he’s taken a lot of what he learned from Pat Quinn during his time in Toronto to throw into his coaching repertoire. So, did I see him becoming a head coach? No. But now that he is one, I absolutely see what a great job he’s done.

What are your phone conversations like with him?

I talked to him yesterday. Just talking about how the families are doing. We talk hockey. We bounce things off each other, just different aspects of the game that have changed. I coach some young kids [minor midget next fall], so high-level stuff about what he thinks is good for young kids growing up in today’s game to get them to the next level. The funny memories kind of come back in the course of a conversation when you’re talking over half an hour or 45 minutes.

Are you emotional as a coach?

Yeah, that’s my biggest problem. I still think I’m a hockey player as opposed to a coach. [laughs] And coaching is the hardest thing to do as a former hockey player. I don’t really want to coach beyond minor hockey.

You finally beat Ottawa in seven games, and your first-round series versus the Islanders also went seven. Could the conference final against Carolina have gone a different way if you weren’t so tired? What was the feeling at that point?

We were totally beat up. Mats [Sundin] was hurt. I was hurt. I think Tie [Domi] was hurt. We had a couple D-men that were in and out of the lineup that were big parts of our team. We were just absolutely beat up. My recollection on it was how well [Shayne] Corson and Green played and how well Roberts and [Alyn] McCauley played. They were the reason we got to the point that we got. And then our D was so good, and you gotta throw CuJo in there. He stopped 50 shots a night, no matter who we played, for crying out loud. If you’re stopping 50 shots a game in the playoffs, you got a hell of a goaltender in there.

You were hurting from the Alfie hit?

Alfredsson broke my shoulder in Game 5 of that series. I missed Game 6 and 7 and Game 1 of the Carolina series [all Toronto victories]. We had a three-day break, and I came back for Game 2. We lost [2-1] in overtime to Carolina, but I was struggling. You want to get in the lineup, but when I look back on it now, I probably should’ve waited until we got by Carolina. Because I think we could’ve done it with the group that we had there. As a hockey player, you always want to play. So you’re doing as best you can to get back in the lineup. As a little bit older and more mature now, I wish I would’ve waited at least until Game 5 or 6 of that series to get back in there.

This has been great, Darcy. I appreciate your time. Enjoy the game Saturday.

It’s fun reminiscing about these things. It’s great you guys are showing these, too.

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