Four overtime periods. Three goals scored. Two exhausted hockey clubs. One team left standing.
Marty Turco made 61 saves and Brenden Morrow scored on the power play at 9:03 of the fourth overtime period to lift the hometown Dallas Stars to a thrilling and gruelling 2-1 win over the San Jose Sharks in a game that ended early Monday morning, moving them on to the next round of the playoffs.
It was the eighth-longest game in NHL history.
"Robie made a good, heads-up play, faked the defender down and I was there for an easy one. I shouldn't miss that one," Morrow said of teammate Stephane Robidas's pass that led to the goal. "At that point of the game, you don't really know what you've got left."
Dallas clinched the best-of-seven series in six games — after nearly squandering a 3-0 lead — and now advance to the Western Conference final where they will meet the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings.
San Jose was attempting to join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders as the only teams in NHL history to erase a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
Evgeni Nabokov made 54 saves for San Jose in the fourth overtime game in the series, and the fifth game decided by one goal.
"It's nice to be on this side of it for once," Turco said. "We've had some long ones before. But none of them was more memorable than this one. It was 99 per cent fun tonight."
"That was as fitting as anything I've every seen in sports, that Brenden Morrow got the game-winner," coach Dave Tippett said. "It's been a long time since I've seen somebody have a series like that. That's him taking the team on his back and carrying us. Turco was great, too."
The final goal was Morrow's second overtime winner in the series and thanks to him the Stars are going to the conference finals for the first time since 2000, when they returned to the Stanley Cup finals a year after winning the franchise's only championship.
A fast-paced, hard-hitting and wide-open first period saw the teams combine for 16 shots on net, plenty of excitement, and several quality scoring chances, but no goals — although Sharks defenceman Brian Campbell came close when he wired a wicked wrist shot on goal, only for Turco to deny him with a fantastic glove save with two seconds left in the frame.
Both sides came out fast and furious in the second period, which featured 18 shots, but it was Dallas who broke the deadlock, winger Antii Miettinen scoring his first goal of the post-season at 4:49 when he banged in a rebound past Nabokov.
The Stars had the momentum, but failed to use it, as they seemed content to sit on the lead and let the Sharks come at them.
It proved to be a flawed game plan.
San Jose's Ryane Clowe broke out of his nine-game goal-less streak when he beat Turco on the glove side with a wrist shot at 1:39 of the third period to tie the score and silence the Dallas crowd.
The Stars stumbled along for the remainder of the period, failing to sustain any kind of offensive pressure. Looking to give his team a spark with overtime looming, captain Morrow delivered a bone-crunching hit on Milan Michalek in the final seconds of regulation, dropping the San Jose forward to the ice in a crashing heap.
Michalek was down for several minutes and had to be helped back to the locker room by the team's trainers. He did not return for the rest of the game.
First OT period full of scoring chances
The extra frame was a carbon copy of the first period, starting with a flurry of hits and scoring chances. Stars forward Brad Richards took a cross-ice pass and blasted a one-timer on net early in overtime, only to be robbed by Nabokov, who reached back and caught the puck out of mid-air with his glove.
The play went upstairs for review, and the video replay confirmed the entire puck did not cross the goal-line, even though the goal judge's light briefly flashed behind the net.
Not to be outdone, Turco made a highlight reel save of his own 12 minutes into overtime, making two fantastic pad saves from in close on Sharks captain Patrick Marleau.
Dallas forward Mike Ribeiro had two great chances to end the game in the final minute-and-a-half of the first overtime, failing to beat Nabokov with a pair of attempts from in close in front of the net and then ringing a shot off the crossbar moments later.
The Stars, sluggish and slow, slogged through the second overtime period as if their legs were stuck in cement, out-skated and out-played by the surging Sharks. Dallas only remained alive thanks to Turco, who made a handful of great saves, including one on Joe Thornton 10 seconds into the frame.
The officials whistled Dallas defenceman Nicklas Grossman for a hooking infraction early in the third extra frame — the first penalty called in the game since 12:08 of the second period — but the Sharks couldn't convert with the man advantage and were turned aside by Turco who made a string of game-saving stops in the second half of the period.
Finally, the marathon ended midway through the fourth overtime, five hours and 14 minutes after the opening faceoff. Campbell was called for a tripping penalty on Loui Eriksson and on the ensuing power play, Morrow tipped in a pass from Robidas past Nabokov to end the game and send the Dallas fans into a state of delirium.
"You're trying to battle for a puck. From my point, he started flopping," Campbell said of the penalty. "I can't do much about it."
Sharks coach Ron Wilson didn't dispute the call, though.
"Well, it was tripping," Wilson said. "It was a trip, we had to kill it off, and we didn't."
Stars winger Stu Barnes sat out Sunday's contest, missing his third consecutive game because of concussion-like symptoms.