Photo Credit: NHL (Video Still)

On Sunday, April 4th, 2004, the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers played to a 6-6 tie at the Office Depot Center (now BB&T Center) in Sunrise, Florida. It was the final regular season game of the 2003-04 season for both teams, and eventually became the final draw in an NHL game to date.

The teams came into the game with very little to play for at that point in the season, as both teams had been eliminated from playoff competition. However, the Panthers still had the opportunity to leap-frog the Hurricanes in the standings and take the third spot in the Southeast Division with a win, as the Hurricanes only held a one point advantage over the Panthers.

Also notable was the fact that the second-to-last tied result in an NHL game occurred on the same day as this game, as the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders finished with a 3-3 score to close out their respective regular seasons. However, the Flyers-Islanders game finished up before the Hurricanes-Panthers game did; had the Flyers and Islanders finished afterwards, I would be writing an article about that game right now instead of this one.

Hurricanes goaltender Arturs Irbe came into the game with a limited amount of starts, as he had spent most of the season as backup to starting goaltender Kevin Weekes. However, in the games that he did enter, he played well, as he earned a 5-2-1 record on the season and looked to improve on it further as he picked up the start in the final game of the season. Meanwhile, Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo was making his 72nd appearance of the season, and had a 25-33-13 record coming into the contest.

The game got underway at about 3 p.m. local time and the Hurricanes came out firing early, with forward Radim Vrbata finding the back of the net on a power play opportunity at the 5:21 mark of the first period, followed by an even strength tally from forward Jesse Boulerice at the 8:22 mark. The Hurricanes continued the offense into the second half of the period, as forward Rod Brind’Amour scored at 16:42 to give the team a 3-0 lead and fellow forward Erik Cole scored with just 27 seconds remaining in the period to give the Hurricanes a 4-0 advantage at the end of the first period.

Despite the slow start for the Panthers, interim coach John Torchetti opted not to pull Luongo in favor of backup Steve Shields, and Luongo headed back between the pipes to start the second period.

The Panthers came back to life in the second, starting with a goal 1:14 in courtesy of forward Mikael Samuelsson to cut the lead to 4-1. The score would remain there for much of the period, until the Panthers offense struck again at the 15:48 mark with forward Christian Berglund scoring in what would be his final NHL game, followed by a power play goal from forward Donald Audette just 15 seconds later to make it 4-3, where the score would stand as the teams went into the last 20 minutes.

In the third, it didn’t take long for the Panthers to find the back of the net again as Berglund got his second of the game, completing the comeback to tie the game back up at 1:46. After that, Irbe was taken out of the game, and Weekes was placed in net for the Hurricanes in the remainder of the afternoon.

The Panthers were not deterred by the change, however, as they took the lead on a power play goal courtesy of forward Kamil Piros at 4:14, which would also be his final NHL goal in his final NHL game. The team then added an insurance goal on Audette’s second of the game at the 6:23 mark, to make it 6-4.

The Panthers continued to hold the lead until young Hurricanes forward Eric Staal gave his team hope with less than five minutes remaining in regulation, scoring with 4:56 to go with the Panthers clinging to a 6-5 lead. With 2:26 to go, however, the unlikeliest of heroes came through for the Hurricanes.

Hurricanes defenseman Brad Fast, who was making his NHL debut that afternoon after spending much of the season with the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate in the Lowell Lock Monsters, took advantage of his opportunity to make his mark as he took a pass from behind the net by Brind’Amour, shooting the puck from the left circle and past Luongo blocker-side.

With the game still tied 6-6 at the end of the third period, the teams headed into a single five-minute overtime period, with both teams playing four-on-four. Despite the Panthers getting five shots on net and the Hurricanes getting three, neither team was able to break through. A last-second scoring chance by Cole was blocked by the Panthers, as the teams finished the game in a 6-6 draw.

Weekes picked up the tie, with 8 saves on all 8 shots that came his way, to finish the season with a record of 23-30-11 while Luongo also picked up a tie, making 26 saves on 32 shots faced to finish with a 25-33-14 record. Irbe had a no decision in the game with 25 saves on 31 shots, and thus his record remained at 5-2-1.

At the time, it was not known that this would be the final tie for the next 15 years, as the 2004-05 season looked to be right around the corner following the 2004 playoffs. However, the next season was cancelled due to a lockout, a topic which I won’t get into here but I might do an article on in the future. The point is that the 2004-05 season never happened, and so there were no tied games to unseat the Hurricanes-Panthers game as the most recent one.

On Friday, July 22nd, 2005, the NHL decided to adopt new rules for overtime games starting with the 2005-06 season, which stated that the five-minute overtime would be followed by an indefinite shootout round if neither team scored in the overtime period, all but assuring that a game will not end in a tie again as long as the rules are still in place.

Fast remained stuck in the minor leagues for the 2004-05 season due to the lockout, and in 2005-06 remained at the AHL level despite being signed by the Los Angeles Kings. For the 2006-07 season, Fast left the NHL system completely to embark on a career in Europe, leaving behind an NHL career with exactly one game played and exactly one goal scored. However, that one game he played was an important one that shouldn’t be forgotten.

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