CHICAGO — When Petr Klima was coming off the Edmonton Oilers’ bench -- after more than three hours of inactivity -- to score the winning goal against the Boston Bruins in the longest Stanley Cup final game ever played, a big fan of his was watching back in Edmonton.
The kid who lived next door, 11 years old at the time, who used to mow Klima’s lawn in exchange for hockey sticks and rides to the rink, was named Andrew Ference.
Twenty-three years later, now a defenceman with the Bruins, Ference is struck by what a small world it is. Wednesday night, Game 1, just like the night Klima scored, the Bruins lost the fifth-longest game in Cup final history to the Chicago Blackhawks. In triple overtime, just like 1990.
Game 2 will be played Saturday, with an extra off-day in between, as it also was the year the Oilers and Bruins went 115 minutes and 13 seconds at old Boston Garden, nearly six full periods, until 1:22 in the morning before head coach John Muckler was finally desperate enough for fresh legs to let Klima off his leash.
"I hadn't played since 10 o'clock," Klima said that night, er morning, the freshest guy in an exhausted Oiler room.
“He was a cool dude,” Ference recalled Thursday. “He thought he should have had way more ice time.”
Today and tomorrow, it is the 2013 Bruins who must find a way to close the book on a crushing, draining night’s work that went for naught, and dial the emotional level back up.
There are more than a few ties to that 1990 game here at the final. Craig Simpson, now Hockey Night in Canada’s first-team color analyst, was a high-scoring forward on that Oiler team. Cam Neely, now the Bruins’ president, was a heart-and-soul winger for that Boston club, whose coach was Mike Milbury, now a mainstay of the NBC hockey panel.
Simpson, who played on the last two of the Oilers’ five Stanley Cup teams, in 1988 and ’90 -- both times they beat Boston in the final -- doesn’t think it will be easy for the Bruins to recover.
“When you’re playing 5-1/2 hours gripping the stick and punching and cross-checking and grinding, you get dehydrated,” Simpson said, “and I remember like it was yesterday, waking up in the morning, and I couldn’t open my hands.
“So my first thought was ‘Oh, my God, what’s wrong with me?’ but my second thought was, ‘If I’m feeling like this, imagine what Ray Bourque is feeling like right now.’” Bourque played nearly 70 minute in that game, and lost 10 pounds.
The Bruins -- then and now -- were reluctant to admit to any physical or mental trauma leftover from such a hard loss.
“Obviously you want to get your nutrition into you so you start with that,” said Ference. “We've got some really good friends that give us some great products for that to get into our systems. We have a couple of machines we use for leg recovery and try to get a good sleep. It's the same after a normal game as well."
But triple overtime redefines normal.
While it’s true that water and oranges between periods, and soggy, waterlogged equipment can hardly compare to what’s available to today’s players -- “Everybody in overtime was running for us, whatever we needed. It was unbelievable,” said Chicago’s Marian Hossa. “Seems like we had more trainers than the players in the dressing room” -- Simpson remembers in detail what it took out of the bodies of even the winning players.
“And if you remember, the lights went out in the second overtime, and we’re going, ‘Are you friggin’ kidding me?’” he said. “I remember in that moment going, ‘We are NOT canceling this game.’ Because at that point, you’re dying.”
Two years earlier, Game 4 of the final had to be called off with the score tied 3-3 when a power failure threw the Garden into darkness.
“You get a burst of adrenaline when an opportunity comes, but when it doesn’t go in, guys can barely get off the ice,” he said. “You get sort of giddy at times, literally you think this is never going to end. It’s sort of surreal. At some point, you think, ‘I don’t care who wins, I just want it to be over.’”
"At one point, I think in the second overtime, I just hit the wall," Neely said, the day after that 1990 game. "It was like: `I don't know if I can do this any longer.'
"It's the legs . . . plus the gear probably weighs 10 pounds more from all the water and fluid it has absorbed during the game. So you just take shorter shifts. It's one rush, or a couple of collisions on the boards, and you say, `OK, that's enough for me.' "
It doesn’t have to mean anything, but even with two off-days in between games, the Bruins came out flat in Game 2 that year, and the Oilers blitzed them 7-2, with Jari Kurri scoring a hat-trick and adding two assists.
“I said last night in the broadcast, before the goal was scored, you’re getting to a point now where the next goal might win two games,” Simpson said. “You invest so much energy, so much grit and determination to get there, and you’re left with nothing. It could change the series. Boston’s got to feel like they let such a great opportunity go.”
Not surprisingly, the Bruins say they feel no such thing.
Neely wasn’t even sure the triple-OT loss affected the second game, 23 years ago. As for any negative after-effects...
“Looking back, I don’t recall,” he said Thursday. “The only thing is, they were on a high from winning that game, and we weren’t.
“It’s easy to say it might have had an effect, but you know, these are two different teams, two different times. I just know that what these guys have gone through. The run they made in 2011 is experience we didn’t have. There was a number of us that had played in ’88 but we didn’t have the type of run that these guys had in 2011.”
Asked if the 1990 final might have turned out differently had the Bruins won that marathon Game 1, Neely shrugged.
“Tough to say. Maybe it would have, but they played well and (goalie Bill) Ranford really stood on his head that series.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien isn’t concerned about his team’s ability to rebound.
“We've been through a lot. The year we won, we were down 2-0 to Montréal losing our first two games at home. We bounced back from that. We were down 2-0 against Vancouver in the final and we came back,” he said. “I don't think much is going to rattle our team. We're a pretty resilient group of guys. We live in the moment.”
Wednesday night’s game ended at the stroke of midnight, on a puck that hit Chicago’s Andrew Shaw in the shin-pad and went in. Tough break. But it probably beats losing on a goal by a guy taking his first shift in three-plus hours.
“Yeah, that’s been brought up a lot,” said Neely, grinning a rueful grin.
“He was ... fresh.”
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Chicago Blackhawks centre Andrew Shaw deflects a shot past Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask for the game winner in the third overtime in Game 1 in the NHL Stanley Cup Final, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, in Chicago. The Blackhawks won 4-3.
Photograph by: John Starks, AP