DALLAS - The Dallas Stars have finally made it back to the Western Conference finals. It took the eighth longest game in NHL history to do it.
Brenden Morrow scored a power-play goal 9:03 into the fourth overtime by deflecting a pass from Stephane Robidas as the Stars eliminated the pesky San Jose Sharks 2-1 in a game that ended early Monday morning - the longest game in the NHL playoffs this season, and the longest in San Jose history.
''Robie made a good, heads-up play, faked the defender down and I was there for an easy one. I shouldn't miss that one,'' said Morrow, the Stars captain. ''At that point of the game, you don't really know what you've got left.''
The Stars are going to the conference finals for the first time since 2000, when they returned to the Stanley Cup finals the year after winning the franchise's only championship. They play Game 1 on Thursday night in Detroit, which wrapped up its second-round sweep of Colorado on Thursday night.
After winning the first three games in the series, the Stars finally knocked out the Sharks on the third try and avoided having to go to San Jose for another game. The win came after having two apparent goals by Morrow disallowed following video reviews in Game 5, and Evgeni Nabokov's sensational glove save early in the first overtime of Game 6 - well before midnight.
It was the fourth overtime game in the series, and the fifth game decided by one goal.
''This whole series was a coin flip,'' Sharks centre Jeremy Roenick said.
The deciding game lasted five hours, 14 minutes - ending the third-longest in Stars history. They lost the other two, but Morrow made sure that didn't happen again with his seventh goal of the playoffs.
''That was as fitting as anything I've every seen in sports, that Brenden Morrow got the game-winner,'' coach Dave Tippett said. ''It's been a long time since I've seen somebody have a series like that. That's him taking the team on his back and carrying us. Turco was great too.''
Marty Turco had a franchise-record 61 saves for the Stars. Nabokov stopped 53 shots, but not the one set up after Brian Campbell was called for tripping Loui Eriksson close to the Dallas net.
''You're trying to battle for a puck. From my point, he started flopping,'' Campbell said. ''I can't do much about it.''
Coach Ron Wilson didn't dispute the call.
''Well, it was tripping,'' Wilson said. ''It was a trip, we had to kill it off, and we didn't.''
San Jose thought it had a game-winner midway through the third overtime, with Ryane Clowe poking a puck around Turco. Clowe and nearby teammates wearily lifted their arms, but the puck was under the goalie's glove and not in the net. The Sharks even had a power play in the third overtime when Nicklas Grossman was called for hooking, but couldn't convert.
Nabokov's incredible glove save 1:31 into the first overtime kept the game going and prevented a series winner by Brad Richards.
Nabokov made a stab of Richards' one-timer, grabbing the puck with his glove sweeping just inside the post and the puck above the goal-line. Referee Tim Peel was behind the net and quickly waved off the goal even though the red light lit up. The play was reviewed by off-ice officials, who determined the puck didn't completely cross the goal-line.
Mike Ribeiro had three chances to score in the final 75 seconds of the first overtime. He was rejected on a pair of bang-bang attempts, then with 47 seconds left had another shot that deflected off Nabokov and then the crossbar.
Turco was sprawling out of the crease when he stopped two shots by Sharks captain Patrick Marleau with just over eight minutes left in the first overtime.
''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 per cent fun tonight.''
San Jose played in overtime without Milan Michalek, who was face down on the ice when regulation ended after taking a hard hit from Morrow. Michalek, who scored the go-ahead goal in Game 4, had to be helped off the ice and never returned to the bench. He was later shown on TV leaving the locker room with his left arm in a sling.
''We have nothing to hang our heads in shame about. We showed character and kept going,'' Wilson said. ''We were down a player, played overtime without him - a full game with a short bench. Our guys kept going and going and going. We had a ton of chances.''
Wilson refused to discuss the injury, saying ''it's irrelevant'' since the season is over.
After some spectacular saves by Turco, he appeared off-guard when the Sharks got even 1-1 only 1:39 into the third period. Craig Rivet knocked down the puck in the right circle, then Clowe spun and knocked it toward the net. The puck skirted the inside of the right post and went in for Clowe's fifth goal of the playoffs.
At the end of the second period, three Sharks were swarming near the net when Turco pushed away a shot by Jonathan Cheechoo with his stick. That came about a minute after his pad save on a shot by Tomas Plihal.
Antti Miettinen scored on a rebound 4:49 into the second period to give Dallas a 1-0 lead.
Sergei Zubov took a shot that ricocheted off Nabokov, who then collided with Niklas Hagman. There was no whistle, and Nabokov lost his stick in a desperate dive to his right trying to stop Miettinen's putback.
Turco got a break soon after that, when a shot by Pavelski from the side slid through the crease between the posts and the goalie on his back.
Notes: The previous longest game this post-season was Game 4 of the Eastern Conference series between Philadelphia and Washington that lasted 86 minutes, 40 seconds. . Stars C Stu Barnes missed his third straight game since taking a hard hit to the head in Game 3 on Tuesday night. . Zubov was in his 108th playoff games for Dallas, the third most in team history behind Mike Modano (167) and Neal Broten (115).