Both SidesPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Caps head coach Dale Hunter and assistant coach Jim Johnson have the unique distinctions of playing in the longest game in Capitals history and coaching in the longest game in Verizon Center history. Both men were behind the bench for Wednesday’s triple-overtime loss to the Rangers at Verizon Center, the third longest game in franchise history and the longest ever played at the Phone Booth. Hunter and Johnson were also both participants in the longest game in franchise history, a game that required 79:15 of overtime to settle. That was Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 24, 1996. “It’s a pretty special game to be in,” recalls Johnson, “number one, to play in a game like that, because you know one mistake is going to cost you a game and especially when they’re so important at this time of year. You’re really just trying to play off your reserves and your instincts at that time on the ice.” There is a good deal of difference in playing in the game and in being behind the bench. “The difference in being on the bench is you’ve got less control,” says Johnson. “You’re trying to keep guys fresh, make sure they don’t overextend their shifts on the ice to make sure that they don’t get caught in a line change or a possible icing or their fatigue. I couple of times we did [on Wednesday], but I thought we battled out of it. “That power play that [the Rangers] had in triple overtime, I think they started to gain momentum from that. But it was two shifts after that I thought we started to get the momentum back. We actually had a nice point shot tip that hit the post the shift before [the game ended], so I thought we were starting to get that momentum back, and then they come back the next shift and [New York’s Marian] Gaborik scores. “It’s a special game to be in and when you’ve gone that far, you know you’ve got two teams that are willing to lay it on the line and compete the way they did on both sides. I was proud of our guys. I was really proud of the way they battled. I just wasn’t happy with the outcome.” Johnson’s recollections of that 1996 marathon against the Penguins are harrowing. The fact that the Caps lost that game as well (3-2, 45 seconds shy of a fifth overtime), is only part of the story. The physical toll that game took on Johnson is scary. “I think I played 70 shifts,” he recalls. “Almost every other shift I was going against [Pittsburgh’s Jaromir] Jagr or [Mario] Lemieux. I just recall at the end of that game, I had lost 11 pounds. It ended at 2:38 in the morning; I remember that. And I was severely dehydrated. “When I was driving home that night, I kept turning up the heat in my car. My wife was driving home with me; she was asleep in the wives’ lounge after the game when I came back because I had to ice and try to rehydrate a little bit. But going home, I kept turning the heat up because my body was ice cold with the chills. I hadn’t drank enough fluids after the game, and that’s all it was, was water weight. I got so severely dehydrated. “The next day in practice, my heart rate was over 200 beats [per minute]. I remember going over to the trainer, and I ended up damaging my heart in that game because I lost so much water weight in that game. That’s the main thing when you get into a game like that is to tell the guys, ‘Make sure you’re drinking fluids. Make sure you’re getting enough water and Gatorade and electrolytes.’ “I wasn’t a guy that drank a lot [during games]. Other than water, I didn’t do any electrolytes and Gatorade and things like that because I always got indigestion from it. I was just drinking water. My wife pulled over and grabbed two Gatorades and got them in me. I was starting to shake going back to Annapolis after that game. That was a long night and a long game and unfortunately we ended up on the wrong end of that one, too.” The box score shows that Pittsburgh’s Petr Nedved ended the game at 19:15 of the fourth overtime with a power play goal, the Penguins’ third power play chance of the four overtime periods. The Caps also had three power play opportunities after the first 60 minutes, and one failed penalty shot bid from Joé Juneau. The box score also shows that it was Johnson who was in the sin bin when Nedved scored the game-winner. “I was in the box,” admits Johnson. “You did your research. I think it was a call at the line, an interference call against Jagr or Nedved, one of the two. They had come across the line and had the puck. I think I stepped up on them and they called the penalty. I was in the penalty box for the winner.” It was actually a hooking call. The real question is, does Johnson think it was a legit call, one that could reasonably be made in the wee hours of a Thursday morning, with a four-overtime Stanley Cup playoff game and a season on the line? “No, for sure not,” he snaps. “No way it was legit.” Bum rap.
Less than three weeks ago, the Washington Capitals forged a one-goal win in a crucial game on home ice, namely Game 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Boston Bruins. That win enabled the Caps to avoid digging a 3-1 hole for themselves in that series, and they were able to go