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Brian Boucher sits ringside for marathon NHL playoff game 20 years after his own

From left, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh hits Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand as Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy watches the play during the second overtime in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup first-round playoff series on Tuesday in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Brian Boucher had a feeling by the second overtime that this game was going a while longer, and he knew from personal experience.

Twenty years ago, Boucher was in goal for the Philadelphia Flyers when they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the longest playoff game in modern NHL history, a five-overtime thriller. He was between the benches Tuesday night for NBC Sports’ television broadcast of the second-longest modern game and fourth all-time when the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 10:27 into the fifth overtime.

“It just seemed to be settling in like that,” Boucher told The Associated Press by phone Wednesday. “You could start to see some of the players as the game wore on, they give a little chuckle to the linesmen and it almost becomes to the point where it’s fun to play in a game like that.”

Halfway through the fourth overtime, Boucher took the kind of breath he was unable to back in 2000 and summed up what the players on the ice were feeling.

“The thing you’ve got to keep in mind, too, the physical exertion, the cramps that start to come in,” Boucher said. “It was around this time that the body started to break down.”

Brayden Point’s goal ended the Lightning-Blue Jackets game 95 seconds short of the time of Boucher’s game that finished with Keith Primeau’s wrist shot past Ron Tugnutt.

With Boucher at center ice and 2000 Flyers forward Keith Jones in the studio, the broadcast had a direct connection to the NHL’s longest game since the 1930s.

“It was so great to be able to have the bench of talent that we have that includes people like Keith Jones, who can speak to this, that includes Brian Boucher who’s working on the game who has firsthand experience having played in a five-overtime game,” NBC Sports producer Kaitlin Urka said late Tuesday night. “That just doesn’t happen. To have two people on air tonight that could speak to that in firsthand experience and provide context in that way is just incredible.”

Boucher made 57 saves compared to Columbus goaltender Joonas Korpisalo’s Stanley Cup playoff-record 85. But from inside Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, he could describe how Korpisalo and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy were heating up, literally.

“You can’t imagine with that gear how hot it gets inside your mask, inside your pads and the amount of much sweat that these guys have,” Boucher said. “It’s almost impossible not to start to feel those cramps. But they’ve both been sharp.”

While Urka was biting into dessert for some sugar after an ill-advised decision to skip lunch, Jones described how the concessions were empty at the old Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh when the Flyers and Penguins got to the fifth overtime. He poked more than a little fun at himself for (technically) being on the ice for Primeau’s goal, even though he had turned away to skate to the bench.

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