HARTFORD—There was no Claude Lemieux this time. But there still was Russ Courtnall.
It was the longest, most brilliant hockey match in Whalers history. But the Whalers still lost. Their season is still over. The ghosts in Montreal Forum still had the last laugh.
Courtnall scored at 5 minutes, 26 seconds of the second overtime to lift the Montreal Canadiens to a 3-2 victory over the Whalers in the decisive seventh game of the Adams Division semifinal playoff series.
The game ended at 12:02 a.m. today.
After losing control of the puck briefly in the slot after Randy Ladouceur had broken up his first attempt, Courtnall turned around and slid a shot through Frank Pietrangelo's legs.
Pietrangelo, who made 53 saves, had been superb all Friday night and into the next morning. In the first overtime period, he made 18 stops and saved the Whalers' season on a handful of occasions.
But in the end, Whalers defenseman Todd Richards would lose the puck behind the Hartford net to Shayne Corson, and Corson chased the puck to the right corner. Corson sent the puck back behind the net for Gilbert Dionne, who sent it out to Courtnall.
After clearly establishing himself as the best Whalers player in this series, Pietrangelo gave up a kind of soft goal. It was Richards, however, who lost possession.
"For some reason, it wasn't meant to be," Pietrangelo said. "But we can hold our heads up high. It wasn't a lack of effort. We had a lot of heart and desire.
"From my view, I thought Courtnall had lost puck. He was facing the other way. I didn't think he was going to shoot. By the time I picked it up, it was too late. He shot between my legs."
Pietrangelo's voice cracked and he had tears in his eyes -- but it is no exaggeration to say that no Whaler goalie ever gave a better account of himself in a series.
This was the fourth-longest seventh game in NHL history. What
could have been the Whalers' greatest NHL victory never happened.
The previous longest Whalers game ended at 15:12 of overtime on April 9, 1989, against Montreal.
The scorer? Courtnall. He caught Kay Whitmore out of his net.
The Canadiens advance to play Boston Sunday night at the Forum.
"I thought our guys played a heck of a game," Whalers coach Jim Roberts said. "You couldn't ask for more of an effort than we got tonight. You couldn't ask for a better series than Frank had. I'm proud of our guys."
This was the 16th seventh game in the Canadiens' storied history since seven-game playoff rounds were started in 1939. Montreal is 9-7. The Canadiens are 7-3 in seventh games at the Forum. The last time they won here in Game 7, Lemieux beat Mike Liut high on the glove side at 5:55 to win the Adams Division championship.
The Whalers, who lost all four games at the Forum in this series, are 0-3 in seventh games. After losing in Montreal in '86, they went down quietly, 3-1 to the Bruins in the Garden in Game 7 in 1990.
As he stood in the press box after the third period, Whalers general manager Ed Johnston said: "We're going to win -- and you can quote me."
Johnston had plenty of reason to believe. In the third period, Yvon Corriveau -- who won Game 6 in overtime -- had three excellent chances to win it. The Whalers had come back from a 2-0 deficit on second-period goals by Andrew Cassels and Geoff Sanderson.
Montreal came out flying. The best save by Pietrangelo was getting a glove on Kirk Muller on a diving stuff attempt at the crease.
At the 3-minute mark of the second overtime, Corriveau shot high and wide on a clean breakway. At 3:35, Patrick Roy (39 saves) made a great pad save on Mikael Andersson.
"As an overtime game goes on like that, you get a little fatigued and you lose your sharpness," Roberts said. "If it had been earlier in the game, I'm sure it would have been in the net. He played a lot of hockey for us. He played great. That line of Cassels-[Murray] Craven-Corriveau was outstanding."
"I was going top corner all the way from the red line in," Corriveau said. "Roy gave it too me. The bottom line I missed it. We've showed a lot of character, but that breakaway was the difference between winning and going golfing."
The night started out badly for the Whalers. Craven went off for interference against Corson at 5:37 of the first period and Mathieu Schneider responded with a 55-foot slap shot for a power play goal at 6:08.
Adam Burt, who sat on the bench after his mistake, lost the puck to Stephan Lebeau at 11:07 of the first period. Dionne that spun wide of the diving Burt and beat Pietrangelo with a rising shot.
At 8:13, Schneider bounced the puck off the left sideboards in an attempt to move it out of his defensive zone. But as he was hitting it, Corriveau got a piece of the puck. This allowed Cassels to step in, intercept and move down the right wing. As Cassels shot, Corriveau stuck out his stick and Sylvain Lefebvre and Craven were in the way too. The shot rang in the net just inside the far post.
The shocker came with 4:24 remaining in the middle period.
Bobby Holik, who had never scored a playoff point, dumped the puck behind Roy. Patrick Poulin fielded the puck off the left boards and dropped it back behind the net for Holik. Holik sent the puck back out to Sanderson, who also never had scored an NHL playoff point. Using Lefebvre as a screen, Sanderson beat Roy from the slot.
"We couldn't have come closer, but close wasn't good enough," Cassels said. "You can't say enough about Frank Pietrangelo. If it wasn't for him, it could have been a much different game. He stood on his head.