Flyers wear out fans in seven-hour marathon

There were more than 6,000 fans still in the arena, but not all of them saw Keith Primeau's winning goal for the Philadelphia Flyers against the Pittsburgh Penguins here on Thursday night. The cheers, however, must have served as a useful wake-up call for the scores of spectators who were fast asleep in their seats.

It was 2.35 in the morning when Primeau's goal brought to an end the third longest match in National Hockey League history. The Flyers and the Penguins had faced off at 7.40 the previous evening. The winning goal came after 12 minutes of the fifth period of overtime and gave the Flyers a 2-1 victory to level the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final series at two wins apiece.

The game finished nearly seven hours after it had begun and after more than 132 minutes of actual play - its 92 minutes of overtime making it the longest NHL match for more than 60 years. In 1936 Detroit beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in an overtime period that lasted more than 116 minutes. Three years earlier Toronto beat Boston 1-0 after 104 minutes of overtime.

Despite the length of Thursday night's match, it was in the sport's best competitive traditions. "Guys were out there fighting and clawing and scratching and hacking and spitting and slashing," Matthew Barnaby, the Penguins forward, said. "After a while, you went past the point of exhaustion. Then you got a second wind and a sixth wind and a ninth wind."

Ron Tugnutt, the Pittsburgh netminder, stopped a staggering 70 shots on goal, while Brian Boucher, his Philadelphia counterpart, made 57 saves. "My head is splitting from constantly focusing on the puck," Boucher said. "I have a really bad headache."

Primeau, the match-winner, sounded equally exhausted. "It's the most important goal I've ever scored," he said. "Now leave me alone. I'm worn out."