Before the dark ages descended upon the Penguins franchise in the early 2000’s, there was one final moment of triumph that will remain in Penguins lore for the rest of time. On the evening of May 10, 2001, Darius Kasparaitis became the unlikeliest hero in franchise history with his Game 7 overtime goal against the Buffalo Sabres to send the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals.
If you have been a Penguins fan long enough, this moment is forever ingrained in your memory and you can probably pinpoint exactly where you were when it happened and who you were watching the game with.
For those who were not yet into hockey or the Penguins at the time, you are likely still familiar with this moment since it stands out as one of the foremost moments in franchise history and has been the subject of various history pieces done by the Penguins or their broadcast partner in recent years.
What made this moment even more surreal was it almost didn’t happen at all. Just two night earlier back in Pittsburgh, the Penguins were less than 90 seconds away from elimination and their season looked dead. Then, in a stroke of Mario magic, the Penguins tied the game in the dying seconds before Martin Straka forced a decisive Game 7 with an overtime winner.
That brings us back to Kasparaitis and his unlikely Game 7 heroics in Buffalo. Once again the Penguins had to dig themselves out of a hole, coming back twice to send the game the game to overtime knotted 2-2 with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line.
Just past the 13 minute mark of the first overtime period, on what looked to be a routine zone entry, Robert Lang slid a pass to a streaking Kasparaitis in the slot. With a clean look at goal, Kasparaitis wasted no time and wristed a shot past future Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek and set off one of the more memorable goal celebrations in the aftermath.
While the victory was not overly shocking to many Penguins fans or others around the league, the fashion which it came about certainly was. If you had to put money on which player you thought was likely to play overtime hero that night, Kasparaitis was surely not someone you would have chosen. Add in the fact that he scored on arguably the greatest goaltender of all time in the process just compounds how unbelievable it was.
It’s unfortunate this moment occurred well before social media because Twitter may have crashed in the Western Pennsylvania area. There are plenty of moments like this scattered throughout Penguins history that would have been incredibly fun to cover here at Pensburgh but they came about just a few years too early.