Alex Lyon still had a hop in his step as he bounded out of the Florida Panthers’ team hotel Friday, black baseball cap fixed atop his head and ready to venture out into public for a walk in an early-afternoon drizzle.
The goaltender was probably the only Panther looking for more exercise on Florida’s day off. Less than 12 hours earlier, the Panthers were still playing at PNC Arena, in the fourth and final overtime of the sixth-longest game in NHL history, and Lyon spent the entire time watching from the bench, sitting there for almost six hours before Florida finally beat the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2, in quadruple overtime in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals to take a 1-0 series lead.
“I felt bad, honestly,” Lyon said, remembering seeing his teammates slumped over at their lockers during each of the overtime intermissions. “You walk in and you eat a little fruit in between periods, and everybody else is like, ‘Ugh.’”
The 30-year-old goalie could sympathize. Five years earlier, he was on the ice for almost 147 minutes in the longest game in American Hockey League history. He made 94 saves in Game 4 of the championship series in the 2018 Calder Cup playoffs — on the second night of a back-to-back set, too — and so, of course, he was thinking about his previous marathon experience as the overtimes dragged on in the first game of the NHL Conference finals.
“I was thinking about it, but I was thinking about my goalie partner, Dustin Tokarski,” Lyon said. The goaltender, now in the Penguins organization, played Lyon’s role, riding the bench for the entirety of AHL Lehigh Valley’s five-overtime overtime win in 2018.
“I think he was was getting stuff from the fans, like eating food from the fans,” Lyon recalled.
In the Stanley Cup playoffs, the whole ordeal was a bit more professional, but it didn’t make the whole experience any less surreal.
In overtime alone, the Panthers had 35 shots and the Hurricanes had 34. Sergei Bobrovsky saved 5.22 goals above expected for Florida and fellow goaltender Frederik Andersen saved 1.92 for Carolina.
“I just feel for them more than anything today,” Lyon said. “I just feel sorry for them.”
It could’ve ended almost three hours earlier, too: The Panthers maybe should have won in the first three minutes of the first overtime, only left wing Ryan Lomberg’s would-be game-winning goal was controversially wiped away for goaltender interference after a replay review.
Brandon Montour’s 8-mile effort
In a game full of jaw-dropping stat lines, none was more stunning than Brandon Montour’s. The star defenseman played 57 minutes, 56 seconds — the seventh most time on ice in a single game in NHL history — and traversed more than eight miles throughout the 139:47. He had eight shots and blocked three, and was on the ice for all three of Florida’s goals and neither of the Hurricanes’.
“There was probably a lot of gliding,” he joked.
Like Lyon, Montour had some experience in a marathon like this one. The 29-year-old Canadian also played in the longest game in the history of college hockey, assisting on the game-winning goal as UMass beat Notre Dame in a five-overtime game in 2015.
Unfortunately, time on ice is not available from his time with the Minutemen.
“I’m not sure how much I played then,” he said.
The craziest part is Paul Maurice felt like he could have kept going. It’s impossible now to know what Game 2 in Raleigh, North Carolina, might look like, but Florida expects Montour to be ready by 8 p.m. on Saturday.
“He comes back to the bench and he’s fine,” the coach said. “There are unique players ... and then some of it is they’re just different.”
His day-after routine was a little different than Lyon’s.
He was a little afraid to step on a scale after he played nearly an hour of hockey in Game 1.
“I’m trying to stuff myself with food,” Montour said.
Announcer’s 6-hour solo call
The only person around the organization to log more minutes of nonstop effort than Montour was Doug Plagens.
The play-by-play radio announcer for the Panthers, Plagens was alone on the call of Game 1 and went essentially without a break for almost seven periods. His only moments of respite came during those six intermissions, when he could toss back to the studio in South Florida and get a quick chance to recharge.
During every one of those breaks, he rushed over to the water cooler, downed as much water as he could and then went to the bathroom.
“Probably more water than I needed,” he said.
It was by far the longest game he had ever been a part of his. Plagens’ previous long came when he was calling games in the ECHL, and ECHL Idaho went to three overtimes in the conference finals of the 2010 Kelly Cup playoffs. It was a losing call for Plagens, though: After more than 100 minutes, ECHL Stockton broke a scoreless tie just 36 seconds into a third overtime.
In the ECHL, he had to handle intermissions, too.
Still, there was no gliding for Plagens in Game 1 of the East finals. He went non-stop and was ready to call superstar right wing Matthew Tkachuk’s game-winning goal with 12.7 seconds left in the fourth overtime period.
“Once I get into overtime, maybe I don’t tell as many anecdotes,” Plagens said. “You don’t want that big moment to happen ... and you don’t want to be sidetracked.”
Panthers’ late night, quick turnaround
What was particularly incredible was how loose the Panthers stayed throughout, especially given how angry they were when Lomberg’s goal was taken away.
For Maurice, the lasting image from the marathon was seeing center Sam Bennett’s skate break, and watching Tkachuk and Lomberg drag him off the ice, while Lomberg begged for a penalty and everyone else cracked jokes about it from the bench.
Eventually, there was really no wisdom Maurice and his staff could impart on Florida.
“We were laughing,” the 56-year-old Canadian said. “We were running out of things to go into the room to say.”
In the locker room, players snacked on apples, bananas, oranges and granola bars, and loaded up on protein shakes and caffeine. Lyon said he “was just trying to be light,” since he was the one guy who could truly be upbeat. Montour came into the dressing room during one of the intermissions and asked how the Lakers did.
“Unfortunately, it was a different result than I was looking for,” said Montour, who’s allegiances are split between Los Angeles and the Heat in the NBA Conference Finals.
Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei said he ate four bananas throughout the game. Eric Staal said he stuck to apples and oranges rather than bananas because “I tend to burp those up.” The post-game meal, the six-time All-Star center said, was probably the shortest he had ever been a part of and the bus ride back to the hotel “was a little quieter than normal.” Players were finally in bed around 3 a.m.
It was exhausting, but ultimately exhilarating and could be because for the Panthers because they won one of the greatest games in NHL history.
“It felt like everybody in that arena just shared in an experience,” Lyon said. “The players, it’s the most grueling part of it, but everybody in that arena shared in an experience last night that was pretty unique, so you’ve got to just enjoy those type of moments.”