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Return Flight: The much-maligned center ends a marathon

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I kind of feel bad for Ron Tugnutt.

Flyers v Senators Photo by Harry How/Getty Images/NHLI

Throughout the season, we’ll be taking a walk down memory lane whenever the Flyers open their season series against an opponent. We’ll be remembering a game, goal, or highlight Philly created while playing against that particular team. It won’t always be the most notable memory the Orange and Black have against that team, but it’ll be something that Flyers’ fans will want to remember.

The Philadelphia Flyers’ 1999-00 season was, to say the least, pretty crazy. After they dropped a six-game series to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1999 postseason, the Flyers endured the tragic loss of Dmitri Tertyshny. A 22-year-old defenseman who had just finished his rookie season with the Flyers, Tertyshny lost his life in a freak boating accident on July 23, 1999. In early September, Ron Hextall announced his retirement after the Flyers felt a bias for action in net I mean he went unclaimed on waivers earlier in the summer.

The organization didn’t get a chance to calm down after a rather eventful offseason as the regular season provided just as many headlines. In his third and final season as the team’s head coach, Roger Neilson announced that he had been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in December of 1999 and remained with the team until February of 2000 when he had to step aside for treatment. Craig Ramsay stood in as Neilson’s replacement and was eventually named head coach, which led to Bobby Clarke saying some things.

To go along with that, there were rumors Brind’Amour’s wife was sleeping with Lindros. Now, whether those rumors were true or not, the former ended up being dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes with goalie Jean-Marc Pelletier and a second round draft pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft (which was eventually used on left-handed d-man Agris Saviels). In return, the Flyers landed Primeau and a fifth round pick in 2000 (which was moved weeks later with Mikael Andersson to the New York Islanders in exchange for Gino Odjick. The Isles took center Kristofer Ottosson with the pick, who never played in the NHL).

After the Brind’Amour trade, Lindros (who seemingly had a right to) called out the team’s medical staff after not being diagnosed with a concussion and was forced to pull himself out of the lineup after a hit from future Flyer great Hal Gill on March 4, 2000. With concussions suffered against the Calgary Flames and Atlanta Thrashers earlier in the season, it was Lindros’ third concussion of the season and fourth over three seasons, as he was concussed by Darius Kasparaitis in March of 1998. In addition to the concussions, Lindros also missed the end of the 1998-99 regular season and 1999 postseason with a punctured right lung. The saga between Lindros, general manager Bobby Clarke, and the team’s medical staff may have started in 2000, but it took awhile to end.

Despite everything that surrounded the team off the ice, on the ice the Flyers actually did pretty well. With a record of 45-22-12-3, the Orange and Black clinched an Atlantic Division title and finished first in the Eastern Conference with 105 points. Mark Recchi led the team with 91 points and a league-leading 63 assists, as he finished behind only Jaromir Jagr’s 96 points and Pavel Bure’s 94 points for most points in the NHL. John LeClair finished seventh in the NHL with 40 goals, a plateau he hit for a fifth straight season. Rookie Simon Gagne accrued 20 goals and 48 points, while Lindros had 59 points in just 55 regular season games.

In the opening round of the 2000 postseason, the Flyers played the Buffalo Sabres, an eight seed they had played in two of the previous three playoffs and three of the previous five. Although the Sabres had Dominik Hasek, Philly defeated Buffalo in five games with their only defeat coming in overtime. Following a 3-2 win in Game 1, an absolutely terrible call in favor of the Flyers awarded LeClair a power-play goal in the second period to tie Game 2 before Philadelphia ultimately won 2-1 thanks to an Eric Desjardins’ tally on the man advantage in the third period. As the series shifted to Buffalo, Brian Boucher pitched a 17-save shutout in Game 3 to help the Flyers to a 2-0 victory before Stu Barnes forced Game 5 with an overtime winner in Game 4. The Flyers eliminated the Sabres once the series returned to Philadelphia thanks to two goals from Daymond Langkow and three assists from Rick Tocchet in a 5-2 decision.

As the seventh-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins upset the second-seeded Washington Capitals in five games in the opening round, the Flyers and Pens squared off in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Philadelphia found themselves in quite a hole, as they lost Game 1 2-0 due to a 28-save shutout from Ron Tugnutt and Game 2 by a score of 4-1 as tempers flared late in the defeat.

While the series shifted to Mellon Arena and the calendar turned to May, the Flyers gained a 2-0 lead thanks to Andy Delmore’s first of the 2000 postseason and Keith Jones’ second just 2:16 apart late in the opening frame. Philadelphia’s multi-goal lead was erased with 9:37 left in the second period, as Jagr and Martin Straka beat Boucher to level the score. LeClair restored the Flyers’ lead with 12:33 left in regulation, but Jagr potted his second of the contest with 5:32 left to force overtime. One second over 11 minutes into the extra frame, Delmore tallied his second of the game for his first multi-goal game in the series to make it a 2-1 series. Delmore became the first Flyers’ defenseman to score an overtime goal since Kevin Haller did so five years earlier against Mike Richter to give Philly a 2-0 series lead in an eventual sweep of the New York Rangers in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Delmore is also the last Flyers’ d-man to score an overtime goal in the postseason, as the last 13 overtime goals for this franchise have come from forwards.

After avoiding a 3-0 series deficit, the Flyers hoped to leave Pittsburgh in a 2-2 tie after blowing a pair of leads in Game 3. The night didn’t start off well for the Flyers, as Alex Kovalev scored on Pittsburgh’s first shot of the game 2:22 into the tilt. This is where the score stood until early in the third period when Straka was hit with a slashing minor to give Philly their fourth power play of the game. Just four seconds after Straka entered the sin bin, LeClair tied the game at one with 15:13 left in regulation after a puck bounced off his helmet and in. Despite the Penguins saying LeClair redirected the Desjardins’ shot with a high stick, the call on the ice stood and eventually the contest moved into overtime.

The all-time great Philly victory was nearly four periods shorter, as LeClair stole the puck from Tugnutt behind the Pens’ net before he threw a pass to Langkow in the slot, but Langkow rang one off the crossbar 31 seconds into the first overtime. A few minutes later, Kent Manderville and Michal Rozsival were handed coincidental minors for roughing, which was the last item of note on the score sheet until the third overtime.

As players ate pizza, power bars, and power gels during the overtime intermissions in an attempt to provide any sort of energy for the marathon game, the game had a few chances to end in the third overtime. Just 25 seconds into the sixth period, Langkow was hit with a high sticking minor to give the Pens the first power play of the game since LeClair’s game-tying goal. After the Orange and Black killed off Langkow’s penalty, they proceeded to kill off a bench minor for too many men halfway through the stanza. The Penguins failed to score on their second man advantage of the overtime period much like Philly failed to capitalize on their lone power play of the entire overtime stretch when Kasparaitis was sent to the box for holding.

The three power plays didn’t produce a winner in the third overtime and the fourth overtime went by without a real threat of ending, as players’ shifts got shorter and the play on the ice became very sluggish. With it seeming likely that the game-deciding tally was going to be a very, very greasy goal, it was an unlikely play from a rather unlikely source that handed the game to the Flyers.

Primeau, who was dropped from the top line in Game 2, caught a pass from Dan McGillis off the glass in the neutral zone before he raced down the right side of the ice. With a quick cut across the faceoff circle, Primeau essentially put Kasparaitis’ jock strap in the rafters before he whistled a wrister past Tugnutt with 7:59 left in the fifth overtime.

Several aspects of the goal have stuck with Flyers’ fans over the years: the sound of the puck hitting the post, Steve Levy’s call, Tugnutt moping away from his net probably wondering what any of us are doing here on Earth.

With Primeau’s goal coming 92:01 into overtime, Game 4 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Semifinals was the third-longest game in NHL history. The only overtime goals that have come further into extra time are Mud Bruneteau’s goal 116:30 into overtime of Game 1 of the 1936 semifinals and Ken Doraty’s goal 104:46 into overtime into Game 5 of the 1933 semifinals, both of which came in 1-0 games that went into six overtimes. Primeau’s goal ended the longest game in the NHL’s modern era (since 1943-44, the first season the league had a red line). The 92:01 of overtime play is the most for a single game in the modern era by 11:13, as Petr Sykora scored 48 seconds into a fifth overtime to give the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim a 4-3 win over the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals. The tally also came 38:07 later than Recchi’s three-overtime winner against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 4 of the 2003 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

For a game of this nature, it’s always fun to look at some statistical oddities, such as:

  • McGillis led all skaters with 61:05 of ice time.
  • Desjardins led all players with 73 shifts.
  • Kovalev had a game-high 10 shots on goal.
  • Former Flyer Pat Falloon played a game-low 13:56 for the Pens.
  • Keith Jones was the only Flyer without a shot on goal in the game.
  • Boucher stopped the last 57 shots he faced in the game.

The Flyers’ used the momentum they gained from the marathon victory to win the series, as they won Game 5 6-3 (thanks to a Delmore hat trick) and Game 6 2-1. Unfortunately, the Flyers’ postseason, as well as the on-ice Lindros era, came to a close in the Eastern Conference Final against the New Jersey Devils.

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