DALLAS - As the third overtime turned to a fourth, more than an hour after Sunday night became yesterday morning, Dallas Stars goaltender Marty Turco could think back to the other two NHL playoff marathons he played and what it was like afterward.
The dead-limbed weariness. The strange sensation of calm after being so intense for so long. The day-after crash from being so physically and mentally drained.
And, worst of all, the sting of losing a 2-games-in-1 thriller.
This time, though, Turco got to find out how the other half lives. Thanks to captain Brenden Morrow's power-play goal 5 hours and 14 minutes after the first puck was dropped, the Stars beat the San Jose Sharks, 2-1, in the eighth-longest game in NHL history. The victory ended their second-round series in six games, earning the Stars a spot in the Western Conference finals for the first time in Turco's career.
"It's nice to be on this side of it for once," Turco said. "We've had some long ones before. But none of them was more memorable than this one. It was 99 percent fun tonight."
Predawn finishes are a big part of Stars lore.
Dallas has been involved in five of the 18 longest games in NHL history, more than any other club. All have come since 1999, the year the Stars won their lone Stanley Cup title - in triple overtime, of course.
Dallas made it back to the finals in 2000, but hadn't gotten past the second round since. Along the way, disappointments have included losing to Anaheim 48 seconds into a fifth overtime in 2003 and losing to Vancouver 18:06 into a fourth OT last year.
Turco was in goal and Dave Tippett was coaching in both those losses, and for much of the post-2000 skid. So for them, finally getting to the conference finals, and getting there like this, is certainly something they'll never forget.
"This one ranks the best for me," Tippett said. "It's way nicer when it ends this way."
Turco came away the unquestioned star.
He made a franchise-record 61 saves, one more impressive than the next, especially in the extra periods. The best was a barrel-roll to smother a puck inches from the line in the third OT, a play so close that several Sharks raised their arms in triumph.
Next up for Turco and the Stars is a trip to Detroit to face the Red Wings, starting Thursday night.
Thanks to their vast experience, Dallas players and coaches knew how to handle their unscheduled doubleheader.
"When you go into overtime, you keep going and going and don't have to think. You go and play," said defenseman Stephane Robidas, who set up Morrow's winner. "I felt great. Everything's good."
The game started at 8:10 p.m. before an announced crowd of 18,532. It ended at 1:24 a.m. before an estimated crowd of 14,000.
Fans were still going strong, too, cranking up a robust chant of "Let's go Stars" just a few minutes before Morrow sent them home happy. But they were in no hurry to leave. Several thousand folks stuck around to holler "Mar-ty! Mar-ty!" as Turco was being interviewed on the ice after the post-series handshake.
To many frustrated fans and league observers, the loss cemented San Jose's place as the NHL's most talented mediocrity, a regular-season powerhouse that consistently makes postseason noise but just can't manufacture the luck or the will necessary for a serious pursuit of the Stanley Cup.
"There's no consolation in how well you played or how long the game went," said veteran forward Curtis Brown. "It's very disappointing. We had higher expectations and higher hopes than what we did this year."
The whole series was great. Five games were decided by a goal and four needed overtime. Dallas won the first three games, then San Jose won the next two and nearly forced a deciding game at the Shark Tank.
But the Stars prevented it.
"This group of players, their will and effort is phenomenal right now," Tippett said.