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Inside The NHL

Sleeping Beauty
At least the Flyers and Penguins were awake to the end of a
five-OT epic

Just as fans well remember the quadruple-overtime playoff games
between the Capitals and the Islanders in 1987 and the Caps and
the Penguins in '96, last Thursday's five-overtime marathon
between the Penguins and the Flyers will live on long after this
year's Stanley Cup is won. The final score--2-1 in Philadelphia's
favor--of the third-longest match in NHL history (2:32:01 of
hockey was played) is already a minor detail. What lingers most
vividly are the surreal, slow-motion images of players laboring
on the slushy ice at Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena, of pucks glancing
off loosely gripped sticks, of Penguins superstar Jaromir Jagr
looking at the scoreboard deep into the fourth extra session and
putting his head down in disbelief. "You don't even know you're
playing hockey," he said. "You're skating, but you can't even

The players went to the dressing rooms after each overtime and
peeled off their sweat-soaked jerseys to don dry ones. Pittsburgh
winger Matthew Barnaby says that during the overtimes he drank
six bottles of Gatorade and ate nine slices of pizza. Some Flyers
spent the period breaks hooked up to intravenous tubes.

Some of the roughly 5,000 fans who remained till the end fell
asleep in their seats. The next day Flyers assistant Wayne
Cashman, who stood behind the bench for seven hours, limped into
work and said, "I feel like I played football last night."
Referees Dan Marouelli and Rob Shick and linesmen Wayne Bonney
and Jay Sharrers had to skate every minute, never getting a shift
off. "I figured if I kept moving I'd be O.K.," Marouelli said
last Saturday. "Between periods we drank water and ate fruit, and
then we went out and concentrated. It's mentally exhausting,

At least Marouelli had help. He was the lone referee during the
April 24, 1996, game that ended when Pittsburgh center Petr
Nedved scored with 45 seconds remaining in the fourth OT against
Washington. "I skated a lot more miles that night," Marouelli
said, "but in the two-ref system, there's more backskating and
cutting and turning. It's harder on your back and knees. Anytime
you get into overtime, you hope that the game will end quickly
and cleanly. This one definitely wasn't quick, but it was clean."

The game-winner, by center Keith Primeau, came with 7:59 left in
the fifth overtime. Primeau, who says he stayed fresh "by
playing only 25-second shifts," carried the puck into the
Pittsburgh zone and deked defenseman Darius Kasparaitis.
Kasparaitis slipped to one knee, and Primeau wristed the puck
over goalie Ron Tugnutt's left shoulder and into the cage. When
the puck went in, Tugnutt and the Penguins wearily left the ice,
too beat to lament the outcome, just as the Flyers were too
spent to celebrate for long. "I remember as a kid watching that
Capitals-Islanders game in 1987," says Primeau. "This is nice.
You go down as a little piece of hockey history."

World Championships
Revenge Is Sweet

In 1990 goalie Arturs Irbe bolted the Soviet team to protest the
U.S.S.R.'s invasion of Latvia, his homeland. Latvia was on the
verge of declaring independence from the Soviet Union, and Irbe
and his family traced their nationalistic pride to when his
grandfather fought for the Latvian Legion against the Soviets in
World War II.

Now Irbe is the Hurricanes' starting netminder, and he and his
wife, Ilze, and their two children return to Latvia each
off-season. So it came as no surprise that Irbe agreed to play
for his native country in this month's World Championships in
St. Petersburg, Russia. The shocker occurred last week when Irbe
led lightly regarded Latvia past powerful Russia 3-2 in a
second-round game that helped lead to Russia's elimination from
the tournament. (Latvia had advanced to the quarterfinals.) Irbe
made 37 saves, including several big stops in the third period
to preserve the lead. "I have lived 33 years in my life," Irbe
said afterward, "and I basically lived for this one game."

TV Ratings
Start Low, Aim High

The NHL playoffs usually draw lower national television ratings
than second-tier golf tournaments, yet the league has reason for
hope. At a time when viewership for nearly all sporting events
has been dropping, the NHL playoffs on ABC had averaged a 1.6
Nielsen rating for three dates through April 30, up from the 1.5
the postseason received on Fox last season. (Each rating point
represents 1,008,000 viewers.) The ratings for the NBA playoffs
on NBC, by contrast, had slipped 19%, from 5.4 to 4.4.

This is the first season of the NHL's five-year deal with
Disney-owned ABC, an agreement that is synergistic with the
league's cable affiliation with Disney-owned ESPN. "Last year Fox
tolerated ESPN, and ESPN tolerated Fox," says NHL chief operating
officer Jon Litner. "This year everyone's working together."

ESPN aggressively advertises games that air on ABC, which has
helped attract younger viewers to the over-the-air network. The
cable channel, which has seen its ratings remain steady in the
postseason (0.85 per game), targets its hockey coverage to the
coveted 18-34 male demographic, and the rating for that group on
ABC had jumped from 1.3 to 1.7. Also, ABC's increased focus on
the NHL--it announced the starting lineups for the All-Star Game
during the NFL's wild-card weekend, for example--has helped in
many non-NHL markets. In Charlotte (1.9) and Seattle (1.4), to
name only two, postseason viewership had jumped by more than

Still, the league might need ABC to air Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire between periods to approach the NBA's diminished
figure. As Litner says, "We are moving in the right direction,
but we still have a long way to go."

COLOR PHOTO: GENE J. PUSKAR/AP The seven-hour marathon ended at 2:35 a.m., long after some fans had lost the battle to stay awake.


This Date in Playoff History

May 15, 1990
Oilers vs. Bruins

Edmonton winger Petr Klima ended the longest game in Stanley Cup
finals history by scoring at 15:13 of the third overtime to give
the Oilers a 3-2 victory over Boston in Game 1. The temperature
in Boston Garden reached 90[degrees], and during the third extra
session the arena's electrical system overheated, knocking out
television lights and forcing a 25-minute delay. Edmonton went
on to win the series in five games.