If the rumor mongers are right, they may never play another hockey game in the old Arena. If they play 1,000, it is unlikely that they will top the one tonight.
Doug Wickenheiser's second goal of the night at 7:30 of sudden-death overtime lifted the St. Louis Blues to a 6-5 victory over the Calgary Flames and evened the Campbell Conference championship series at three games apiece.
The Blues were being counted out when they trailed by three goals at 5-2 with 12 minutes left in regulation. But Brian Sutter scored on a rebound of a Greg Paslawski shot and Paslawski himself scored twice, the game-tying goal coming with only 1:08 on the clock.
Calgary's Joe Mullen fired a 55-foot shot off a post moments before the Blues' Bernie Federko stole the puck from Paul Reinhart in center ice to set up the winner. Federko fed Mark Hunter on the right wing and Hunter's shot was blocked by Mike Vernon, but Wickenheiser swept in to net the rebound and create pandemonium among the remnants of a crowd of 17,801.
"I've never been involved in anything like that, but all playoffs long we've been down and we keep coming back," Wickenheiser said. "They call us the team that won't die, and I guess that proved it.
"Vernon came out to make the save on Huntsy and the defenseman slid across. The puck came right out to me. I was coming late down the middle and there was nothing between me and the goal. It was a combination of relief and elation. When you come from that far back, you don't want to lose it."
A seventh game will be played in Calgary Wednesday to determine Montreal's opponent in the Stanley Cup finals. The Blues, variously rumored to be headed for Hamilton, Ontario, or Dallas after this season, just want to go after the Cup.
But for a long time tonight, it appeared that the Blues were arranging their own vacation. Overlapping penalties against Sutter and Doug Gilmour allowed Calgary's Dan Quinn to break a scoreless tie with the Flames two men up early in the second period.
The Blues' Lee Norwood promptly punched Quinn twice in the back of the head to create another two-man shortage and Quinn scored again, a mere 97 seconds after the first.
Cliff Ronning, a 5-foot-8, 157-pound sharpshooter making his series debut to pump up the Blues' sagging power play, scored his first NHL goal with Calgary's Mike Eaves off for hooking to halve the deficit.
Before the second period ended, however, Jim Peplinski and John Tonelli scored off faceoffs in the St. Louis end, Tonelli on a power play, to boost the Flames' lead to 4-1.
The crowd, meanwhile, was littering the ice in protest of some of referee Kerry Fraser's rulings and engaging in some fisticuffs that brought police nightsticks into play. Few could have foreseen what would develop in the third period.
"Our backs were against the wall," Federko said. "That's a long way to come back. But if you keep plugging, you don't know what will happen."
The first thing that happened was consecutive cross-checking penalties, 14 seconds apart, to Quinn and Al MacInnis. That gave the Blues a two-man advantage, and Wickenheiser converted it with a short-side blast from the top of the right-wing circle.
That stirred the crowd a bit, but Mullen cooled things off when he hit from the slot 64 seconds later to make it 5-2. Then, 64 seconds farther along, Sutter scored his first goal of the playoffs to close to 5-3.
It became most interesting with 4:11 remaining when Sutter backhanded a centering pass out of the right-wing corner that was mishandled by Vernon. Paslawski, standing just outside the crease, poked the puck in, and it was a one-goal game.
Wamsley kicked out a drive by the luckless Mullen with 2:42 left, then Paslawski raced out from behind the Calgary net to steal the puck from Jamie Macoun, trying to carry it at Vernon's right. The startled goalie left the short side open and Paslawski tied it.
"I just picked up his stick, spun and shot," Paslawski said. "I didn't even look. When the fans yelled, I knew it was in."
Mullen's post shot in overtime gave the Blues a lift. "When it happened," Wickenheiser said, "Bernie Federko turned to Hunts and said, 'We'll win it.' It seems like whenever a team misses a great chance like that, the other team comes down and scores."
The Flames were shocked by the ending. "We made a few mental errors and it cost us," Vernon said. "A few mistakes by different guys, including myself, and we're back in a hole again. Now we've got to regroup and bounce back."