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Systems Analyst Classics: The Long Game

Breaking down the Hurricanes’ heartbreak in 2002.

Red Wings v Hurricanes Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI

Fresh off the franchise’s first ever conference championship, the Carolina Hurricanes opened the 2002 Stanley Cup Final by taking Game 1 in Detroit. When the series arrived in Raleigh with a 1-1 deadlock, the Hurricanes looked to hold serve at home in search of the Stanley Cup.

Game 3 would turn into an instant classic, one that still stands as the third longest game ever played in the Stanley Cup Final.

15 minutes into the opening period, the Hurricanes would break the ice on a beautiful goal from Josef Vasicek.

After the puck is chipped into the offensive zone, Martin Gelinas ties up his man and the puck bounces to open ice at the top of the circle. Vasicek beats Steve Duchesne to the puc, feathers the puck through Duchesne’s legs and fends off two-time Selke Trophy winner Sergei Fedorov to get a shot off.

With Dominik Hasek already down, Vasicek elevates the puck just over his elbow to open the scoring.

It was Vasicek’s third goal of the postseason and the final postseason goal of his NHL career.

The Hurricanes carried the lead into the second until 41-year-old Igor Larionov tied the game.

Sean Hill over skates the puck in the corner and tangles with referee Bill McCreary. The chaos allows Brett Hull to come away with it and find Larionov in front for the equalizer.

With Glen Wesley closing on him, Larionov angles his stick blade to elevate the puck over Arturs Irbe with a light touch.

The game would remain tied until seven minutes into the third when Ron Francis found Jeff O’Neill with a gorgeous seam pass.

In the clip below, Francis’ eyes are up the whole way on his skate through neutral ice. He spots O’Neill behind Detroit defenseman Fredrik Olausson. Olausson, number 27, is skating with his stick off the ice, a poor use of the best weapon for breaking up passes. As a right-hand shot, Olausson’s elevated stick is pointed outside, towards the boards. That prompts Francis to pass the puck towards Olausson’s inside skate. The defenseman’s kick attempt is a failure and O’Neill has a partial breakaway.

Olausson’s defensive partner, some guy by the name of Nicklas Lidstrom, comes all the way over and gets a stick on O’Neill’s shot, potentially altering it’s course.

The puck beats Hasek glove-side high and gives the Hurricanes a third period lead.

With just over a minute to play Steve Yzerman beats Rod Brind’Amour on a faceoff in the Carolina end. Fedorov collects the puck and moves it across the blue line to Lidstrom who puts a weak wrister towards the net.

The puck deflects off of Hull in front and evens the score at two.

Lidstrom fans out wider than a defenseman would normally like to in order to find a shooting lane around Erik Cole. Sean Hill is unable to tie-up Hull’s stick and the 37-year-old sniper redirects the puck past Irbe.

The Hull equalizer would propel the game into overtime. At the tail end of the clip posted above, a distraught Brind’Amour, one of the league’s best faceoff men, glides into frame with the knowledge he lost a very important draw.

Statistically, Carolina had the upper hand in OT games in 2002. The Hurricanes had won seven of their eight overtime contests in the playoffs, while the Red Wings had won just one of their five games that went past regulation.

But it was Detroit who carried play for the first overtime period.

Early on, a 23-year-old rookie named Pavel Datsyuk dangled his way through the Hurricanes’ defense and just narrowly missed beating Irbe five-hole.

The Canes would generate some near misses of their own in the second overtime period, like this Sami Kapenen feed which barely escaped the stick of Erik Cole.

The Red Wings nearly struck minutes later on a gorgeous tic-tac-toe passing play between Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan and Yzerman.

Irbe makes a great desperation save after Kapenen was able to apply just enough pressure to prevent Yzerman from ending the game.

Kapenen played a large part in the overtime frames, including generating another chance late in the second overtime.

Ron Francis drives by Hasek, initially blocking the goaltender’s vision before getting in position for a rebound, but it is worth wondering what would have happened had Francis continued to block Hasek’s sightline instead.

Without a winner, the game headed into its third overtime period.

As the game crossed the halfway point of the third overtime and moved into the early morning, Carolina dumped the puck in behind Hasek. Right defenseman Niclas Wallin would be the first in on the forecheck, crashing down the boards.

The puck would get past Wallin though and Larionov would chip it out of his defensive zone all the way into Carolina ice.

Red Wing Tomas Holmstrom beats Marek Malik to the loose puck and leaves it for Larionov following up the play.

With Wallin still deep in the play and the left defenseman, Malik, occupying Holmstrom, winger Bates Battaglia is the lone Hurricane back.

Larionov, the oldest player on the ice and playing in his 143rd postseason game, would tally his first career overtime winner, carrying the puck past a diving Battaglia and backhanding a shot by Irbe.

Battaglia’s diving effort is pretty pathetic, with his stick directed towards the corner, rather than up-ice. If his stick is facing towards the blue line, it likely takes away Larionov’s ice and discourages him from cutting back towards the slot.

Detroit defenseman Mathieu Dandenault had joined the rush, and sets a screen on Irbe, making sure to stay outside the blue paint. Irbe makes a strong effort, but Larionov elevates the puck over his outstretched arms.

At 114:47 of game time, the contest was just five seconds shy of becoming the second longest Stanley Cup Final game in history (1999, BUF-DAL, 114:51) and just 27 seconds short of being the longest Cup Final game ever played (1990, EDM-BOS, 115:13).

The Red Wings would win Game 4 and close out the series in Detroit in Game 5, ending the Hurricanes’ first Stanley Cup Final berth.