VANCOUVER, Canada — They had skated through 86 minutes 31 seconds of playing time.
They had sweated through more than four hours of actual time.
They had bumped and battled into the fifth period, their minds weary, their muscles cramping.
And then suddenly, dramatically, with a flick of Gary Shuchuk's stick, the longest night in King history was over.
But the memories will linger for all those who participated in Tuesday night's 4-3 double-overtime victory over the Vancouver Canucks at the Pacific Coliseum in Game 5 of the Smythe Division finals.
The rookie--Shuchuk had waited an agonizing seven games to get back into the lineup. He wasn't about to let a little thing like a mind-rattling collision with Canuck defenseman Gerald Diduck put him back on the bench.
Taken to the Kings' locker room for a quick examination, Shuchuk kept assuring everyone he was fine.
He strapped on his helmet.
No, he was told, he would have to take his helmet off and be checked.
Shuchuk nodded. But they were going to have to fight him to get that helmet off.
In the end, the helmet came off and he received medical clearance to go back in. He had won his point and ultimately the game.
The veteran--Wayne Gretzky playing defenseman? That's what he decided to be as the game dragged into overtime.
"Go up there and score a goal," Gretzky told teammate Jari Kurri.
Then Gretzky, the most prolific goal-scorer in league playoff history, took a back seat.
"I played back more than I ever have before in my career," Gretzky said. "When you get that far, you don't want to get scored on."
The goalie--It has been a rough, inconsistent year for Kelly Hrudey.
But now, faced with the most pressure-packed game of the season, Hrudey shed any feelings of tension.
As he sat in the locker room waiting for the second overtime, he felt strong. His pads, though soaked with perspiration, almost seemed light.
"I was excited," Hrudey said. "I thought, 'Let's get back out there and play.' "
Funny the thoughts that roll through a player's head at such moments.
As Gretzky headed out for the second overtime, he glanced at a clock. It was moving toward midnight. He searched his mind, wondering if he had ever played this late into the night.
He had, he recalled. In the 1987 Canada Cup, one game had ended at 12:45 a.m.
Hrudey's mind also wandered to another time and place back in 1987 as he crouched in the crease in the fifth period Tuesday.
Looking at referee Andy Van Hellemond, Hrudey remembered Van Hellemond was also on the ice the night Hrudey was in goal for the New York Islanders in Game 7 of the Patrick Division semifinals when he stopped 73 of 75 shots in a quadruple-overtime victory over the Washington Capitals.
When Shuchuk's shot won Tuesday's game, Hrudey mouthed the words, "Haven't we been here before?" to Van Hellemond as he skated off the ice.
Then Hrudey broke into a grin. Van Hellemond was mouthing the same words back to him.
Luc Robitaille had set up the game-winning goal by dumping a pass from behind the net to Shuchuk, who was standing unencumbered near the left post. Shuchuk shot the puck under goalie Kirk McLean's right arm, the puck bouncing off McLean's hip and into the net.
At that instant, time seemed to freeze.
The crowd went silent, the Kings stood still in anticipation, but the light behind the goal remained dark for an instant before flashing red.
"It seemed like it took forever for the light to go on," said Dave Taylor, a 16-year veteran who thought about all the teams he has been on that never got this far.
"A lot of thoughts go through your mind," said Hrudey, who hung in suspense at the other end of the ice. "Does it count? Is there a penalty? Did it really go in? You run the gamut."
Up in a luxury box, owner Bruce McNall strained to see what was happening.
"I was thinking, 'Oh God, what's wrong? Why isn't the light on?' " McNall said. "When I saw Luc raising his arms, I thought, 'Is is possible? Are they really cheering? We've put so much effort into it, can it really be happening?' "
As his teammates celebrated, Gretzky had the presence of mind to skate over to retrieve the puck Shuchuk had shot.
This is one, he thought, the rookie just might want to keep.