The legend of Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Dominik Hasek was only starting to grow in the 1993-94 season.
It was just his first season as a starter, and he led the NHL in save percentage and goals-against average. He won the first of six Vezina Trophies and finished second for the Hart Trophy as league MVP, leading the Buffalo Sabres to 95 points and fourth place in the Northeast Division. Their first-round playoff opponent that spring was the New Jersey Devils. The Devils had a 106-point season behind coach Jacques Lemaire and Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur, who would win the Calder Trophy as the season's top rookie.
The Devils won Game 5 at home to take a 3-2 series lead, and they had a chance to eliminate the Sabres in Buffalo in a game that started on April 27, 1994 -- 25 years ago this Saturday. But it wouldn't end until April 28 at 1:52 a.m. ET, after a four-overtime affair that saw Hasek make 70 saves. Seventy saves and zero goals against. Dave Hannan finally beat Brodeur (who had 49 saves) at 5 minutes, 43 seconds of the final stanza, giving the Sabres a 1-0 victory and forcing a Game 7.
We spoke to Brodeur, Hannan and Devils forward Bobby Holik to recall this marathon performance from Hasek (who declined an interview), and added in other voices from various media from that April.
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils goalie: It was my first playoffs ever, the first time I ever had a chance to close out a series. It was a pretty good learning experience on how hard it is to win a hockey game in this league.
Dave Hannan, Buffalo Sabres forward: It was at the Aud [Buffalo Memorial Auditorium], which was a smaller rink. The Devils were just a big, big team. Really physical, and so good defensively. But we had great firepower, too: Pat LaFontaine, Dale Hawerchuk, Alexander Mogilny. In those days, I was on the checking line.
Brodeur: Dominik just didn't want to give up that game.
Wayne Presley, Buffalo Sabres forward (April 1994): Dominik had a bad game the other night [four goals on 34 shots in a 5-3 Game 5 loss], but when I came to the rink this morning [before Game 6], I knew he'd have a good game. You could see it in him.
Hannan: The goaltending at both ends ... it was amazing.
Hasek is considered by many to be the best goalie in NHL history. He led the league in save percentage for six consecutive seasons in Buffalo and has the best career save percentage (.922) in NHL history. The acrobatic style of "The Dominator" is a highlight-reel favorite, but he was also known for a quirky personality even by goalie standards.
Bobby Holik, New Jersey Devils center: I played with him for a year in a club in [Czechoslovakia] and played against him for two or three years there. He was a little different. Part of it is being a goalie, and part of it is being something else. But you overlook that different kind of behavior in hockey. I respect his skills. He's the best goalie in the world.
Hannan: Dominik was phenomenal. I had the opportunity to play with a lot of goalies, like Grant Fuhr in Edmonton and Patrick Roy in Colorado. But Dominik was an elite goalie. Set records. The utmost competitor. He never wanted guys to score on him in practice. He would always select somebody to do some breakaways. If you scored, you'd have to start over again, because he wanted to stop you 10 breakaways in a row. It was crazy. The ultimate competitor.
Brodeur: We had a chance to play with each other in All-Star Games and all that. Saw him at the Hall of Fame again. Until his game dropped off a little bit, I didn't have a chance to win any Vezinas. I thought I had better stats than him, better seasons than him, but he just had that aura to him. He was that good. For me, he was a big challenge. Look at the goalies that we had in that era, with Patrick Roy and Ed Belfour and Hasek and others. A lot of really good ones. It became easy to get up for games because I knew the guy on the other end of the ice wasn't going to give up much.
Hannan: He was different. A different way about him. But the more we got to know him, the more he was a character. But when the game came, he was phenomenal. That year, back in the contract days, the defensive players had bonuses for one-goal games and bonuses for shutouts. And we had a lot of both. Myself and Wayne Presley were a penalty-killing tandem, we got a nice regular-season bonus. People were always wondering why we were blocking shots when it was 7-0. It was because he had a phenomenal goals-against average.
Brodeur: You'd probably have to put him on top of the greatest goalies. For the great players, the more you see of them, the more you get them. Like with [Wayne] Gretzky, I got him, but I played more against Mario Lemieux. And I was able to see the effect that he had. Dominik is in the same vein. I played so much against him, so I understand how good he was.
Game 6 between the Devils and Sabres began at 7:45 p.m. ET on April 27, in front of 15,003 at the Aud. It was tied at zero after 60 minutes, and then would go on for what amounted to another entire game plus an additional overtime.
The Sabres were frustrated in the second period after referee Terry Gregson waved off two goals, even though it was for good reasons. First, Jason Dawe was called for goalie interference on an apparent Ken Sutton goal. A little over seven minutes later, a Hawerchuk rebound went off Presley's skate and in, but was ultimately ruled a kick and no goal. Otherwise, the goalies saved everything in sight. And by the time the fourth overtime -- a seventh period of hockey -- hit, the players were exhausted, sweaty and starving.
Hannan: By the start of the third [period of regulation], we were thinking one goal was going to win it. Let's get up one. Both teams had some really good chances in the third, but we didn't score. Both goalies were standing on their heads. So you get through the first overtime, and there are good chances, and the second overtime and then the third ... by then, guys were changing their undergarments after every period because they were soaked.
Holik: This was before the team had lounges with the full kitchens. I think we had pizza. The only choices in Buffalo at the time were chicken wings or pizza. They were both very good. But they decided on the healthier choice ... pizza. (Laughs.)
Brodeur: I always remember the really funny things because we were playing so late. Like people sleeping in the stands. I remember Bernie Nicholls was a healthy scratch that night. In the Aud, the goalies always sat by the trainers, so we were by ourselves and not with the team between periods. So between the first and second overtimes, Bernie walks over to me and says, "You know, kid, you shut them down this period, and I guarantee we're going to win." And then after the second and third, he comes over and says, "Kid, I was just joking, but seriously, if you shut them down this period, we're going to win." And then after the third one, he walks over again and says, "OK, if you do shut them down now, we're going to win." And then he comes back after the game and says, "Well, kid ... you're on your own."
Hannan: Randy Moller, my teammate at the time, comes by and announces to the team: "Will somebody score, please? Because I have a babysitter and it's costing me a lot of money tonight."
Holik: I broke like three sticks, it was such a long game. That was a lot of shooting and slashing and cross-checks and faceoffs. I remember being worried I was going to run out of sticks.
Hannan: Every overtime, it was just will and guts and a desire to win it. It was our building. We wanted to win and send it back to Jersey.
Hasek was a brick wall during the overtimes, making two huge saves on Valeri Zelepukin and another on Holik, who was second on the Devils with eight shots in the game. Hasek's 70 saves were second most in Stanley Cup playoff history at the time, behind only Kelly Hrudey's 73 in 1987, and is now tied for fourth all time. (Belfour had 72 in 2003, and Roberto Luongo stopped 72 of 76 in 2007.) But it remains the most ever in a Stanley Cup playoff shutout.
Holik: I thought it was a matter of time. We had some opportunities. I don't think anyone thought he was too tough to beat. We were too good.
Bob Carpenter, New Jersey Devils forward (April 1994): I thought we outchanced them, but Hasek played the best game I've ever seen a goalie play.
Ken Daneyko, New Jersey Devils defenseman (April 1994): We had like 63,000 chances. But we weren't going to put nothing by Hasek.
Brodeur: I knew that I had to be perfect. You just see him do his thing and you're like, "Oh my God, are we going to catch a break here?" He was standing on his head. It was impressive to see. We had the better quality of the chances, and he kept making save after save. And the game got so slow near the end that I didn't think anyone was going to score. Maybe Bobby Holik. He was the only one skating fast.
Holik: It was awesome. I felt really good. I was young and well-trained.
Mike "Doc" Emrick, announcer (April 1994): You've just got to marvel at how much higher the pedestal has to go for these goaltenders. This wasn't a game of missed opportunities, but of goaltenders and defensemen. ... You'd think the supply of human adrenaline would wear off after the equivalent of more than two games.
Hasek (April 1994): I kept talking to myself to be ready all the time. I felt pretty good physically. Once in the [second overtime], I felt a little tired. But I think the other players were more tired than I was. The shots in overtime weren't so hard.
Hasek made 39 saves in overtime alone, including 14 in the third frame. The game ended when Hannan scored a backhand goal in the fourth overtime, the product of a solid forecheck from the Sabres' checking line and Brodeur having slid to the ice to stop a shot and leaving the net wide-open as a result. Hannan sprinted down the ice and slid on his knees in celebration. Buffalo announcing legend Rick Jeanneret said on the Hannan goal call that the series would now shift back to the Meadowlands, aka "where Jimmy Hoffa is."
Hannan: I didn't score a lot of them in the league, but that was the biggest goal I ever scored. We had the puck deep. I remember Jason Dawe came around, and I was circling back in case there was some commotion. As a center, I was going to be the third guy high. The puck sort of came across, and I thought I could get it on my backhand. My instincts took over. I knew I had to get it on the net as fast and has hard as I could. And boom, it went in.
Brodeur: You could tell how tired everyone was on the goal. When Hannan came over, no one was quick enough to react to him. And then he just shot it into the empty net, you know?
Hannan: It was such a good feeling. I had won Cups before. I knew this kept us in it. And we had the best goalie on the planet.
Rick Jeanneret, Buffalo Sabres announcer: The thing I remembered most about when Dave Hannan scored was that I had to go to the bathroom so bad. My knees were knocking. I was toe-tapping. I was doing everything. I had to get to the washroom. I was the happiest guy when he scored, and then I made a beeline to the washroom.
The 65 minutes, 43 seconds of overtime is third-longest one-goal Stanley Cup playoff game ever, and it ranks as the 11th-longest playoff game overall. The Devils and Sabres were exhausted after the game finally ended, but there was no rest for the weary the next morning. Game 7 was at Brendan Byrne Arena on April 29.
Holik: I was like, "C'mon guys, let's go home. We've gotta play again tomorrow." It wasn't like hanging our heads and being like, "Oh my God, after all we did!"
Brodeur: I think the fact that we were going back home, we felt pretty good about it. But as a franchise, we were pretty fragile. So letting go a game like that was kind of tough. But the leadership that we had, including Jacques Lemaire, who was a brand-new coach, I think really helped us out.
Hannan: I lost a lot of water weight, about 14 pounds. I gained a lot of it back in the next day and a half.
Holik: I remember getting up the next morning and feeling so tired, because the adrenaline wears off. Slow, unfocused, took a while to pull myself together. I've never had a drink in my life, but I imagine that's what a hangover feels like. I had a hockey hangover.
The Devils eliminated the Sabres in Game 7 despite 44 more saves from Hasek. Brodeur needed to make only 17 stops, and Bruce Driver and Claude Lemieux provided the offense. New Jersey would later advance to the conference final by beating the Boston Bruins in six games. But in another Game 7 overtime, the Devils fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers.
Hannan: We lost 3-1 (actually 2-1) in Game 7, but it was closer than that. It was a good run for us. As you get older, you appreciate the fact that you got to be a part of it. The Buffalo fans were great. And I bet Marty Brodeur and Hasek must have bumped into each other at some point and talked about how great that night was.
Kevin Weekes, NHL analyst and former goalie (NHL.com in November 2015): It was one of the best games I have seen, if not the best. How does it get better than that? Not only the saves, but the quality of saves in the entire game and then with the game being on the line in overtime and the significance of the game.
Brodeur: It's one of the best games I ever played. It became a loss eventually, but I always had fond memories of that game.
Holik: I'd actually like to watch that game again. Well, the condensed version. I don't have half a day.
Vince Masi of ESPN Stats & Information and Sachin Chandan, a researcher with ESPN The Magazine, contributed to this story.