DALLAS - As the third overtime turned to a fourth, more than an hour after Sunday night became Monday morning, Stars goaltender Marty Turco could think back to the other two NHL playoff marathons he played and what it was like afterward.
The dead-limbed weariness. The strange sensation of calm after being so intense for so long. The day-after crash from being so physically and mentally drained.
And, worst of all, the sting of losing a 2-games-in-1 thriller.
This time, though, Turco got to find out how the other half lives. Thanks to captain Brenden Morrow's power-play goal 129:03 after the first puck was dropped, the Dallas Stars beat the San Jose Sharks 2-1 in the eighth-longest game in NHL history. The victory ended their second-round series in six games, earning the Stars a spot in the Western Conference finals for the first time in Turco's career.
"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 percent fun tonight."
Pre-dawn finishes are a big part of Stars lore.
Dallas has been involved in five of the 18 longest games in NHL history, more than any other club. All have come since 1999, the year the Stars won their lone Stanley Cup title - in triple overtime, of course.
Dallas made it back to the NHL finals in 2000, but hasn't gotten past the second round since. Along the way, disappointments have included losing to Anaheim 48 seconds into a fifth overtime in 2003 and losing to Vancouver 18:06 into a fourth overtime last year.
Turco was in goal and Dave Tippett was coaching in both those losses, and for much of the post-2000 skid. So for them, finally getting to the conference finals, and getting there like this, is certainly something they'll never forget.
"This one ranks the best for me," Tippett said. "It's way nicer when it ends this way."
Turco came away the unquestioned star.
He made a franchise-record 61 saves, one more impressive than the next, especially in the extra periods. The best was a barrell-roll to smother a puck inches from the line in the third OT, a play so close that several Sharks players raised their arms in triumph.
"Sick. Just sick," San Jose veteran Jeremy Roenick said, meaning it as a compliment. "He made huge save after huge save after huge save. First overtime, second overtime, third overtime. He gave them an opportunity to win. That's what a veteran is supposed to do. He might have had some critiquing in the last couple of years, but he's a top-notch, all-star goaltender."
Next up for Turco and the Stars is a trip to Detroit to face the Red Wings, starting Thursday night. There's sure to be questions about Turco's struggles against that team and in their arena, but it'll have to wait.
"When you go into overtime, you keep going and going and don't have to think. You go and play," said Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas, who set up Morrow's winner. "I felt great. Everything's good."
The game started at 8:10 p.m. before an announced crowd of 18,532. It ended at 1:24 a.m. before an estimated crowd of 14,000.
Fans were still going strong, too, cranking up a robust chant of "Let's go Stars" just a few minutes before Morrow sent them home happy. But they were in no hurry to leave. Several thousand folks stuck around to holler "Mar-ty! Mar-ty!" as Turco was being interviewed on the ice after the post-series handshake.
"It was one of those games you're surprised to see a few people leave," franchise icon Mike Modano said.
People at home couldn't stop watching, either.
FSN Southwest said it was the highest-rated Stars game on the network in five years and the most-watched program in Dallas-Fort Worth from 10:45 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. - or, from the first overtime to the conclusion. There were 146,000 homes tuned in at the peak and 112,000 at the end.
"I couldn't turn it off," said Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios, who was watching from Detroit, where the game ended at 2:24 a.m. "It was one of the most entertaining games."
The whole series was great. Five games were decided by a single goal and four needed overtime. Dallas won the first three games, then San Jose won the next two and nearly forced a deciding game at the Shark Tank.
But the Stars prevented it. A team that won only two of 11 games in March, costing them the division title and dropping them to a fifth seed, seems to be one of this year's NHL postseason surprises.
"This group of players, their will and effort is phenomenal right now," Tippett said.
The Red Wings know it. Detroit coach Mike Babcock said yesterday his staff began paying attention to the Stars when they took control of the San Jose series.
"Because they played two games last night," Babcock joked, "we got to watch them even closer."
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