This was a Wilson Pickett Special. Wait Till The Midnight Hour. That’s when your love comes tumblin’ down.
The Bruins took a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals at 12:13 a.m. Thursday when Patrice Bergeron slipped the puck past Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun in the 16th minute of the second overtime to give Boston a 2-1 victory.
“We found a way,” said Bergeron. “It wasn’t necessarily our best effort in the first 60, but we regrouped in overtime. We are pretty tired, but it’s rewarding when you get results.”
Some of Boston’s most memorable sports moments have transpired in the midnight hour. Carlton Fisk’s moonshot off the foul pole in 1975 was struck at 12:34 a.m. David Ortiz’s Game 4 ALCS walkoff against the Yankees was hit even later. Adam Vinatieri’s overtime kick against the Raiders in the final game at snowy old Foxboro Stadium was a midnight-hour special. The Bruins and Edmonton Oilers went three overtimes in the Stanley Cup Final here in 1990.
NHL playoff overtime is a wonderful thing. There’s no phony shootout or game-deciding free throw contest. Sudden death. The game is a walkoff/skateoff. Skate till you drop.
And so they played on and on. While fans wondered about late trains and parking garages that might be closing, the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins kept skating. Sixty minutes. Eighty minutes. Ninety-five minutes and 19 seconds, to be exact.
One overtime. Then a second overtime. Tuukka Rask (53 saves) and Vokoun (38) stopped all the hard rubber that came their way.
We thought this one was over several times.
We thought it was over in the third minute of the first overtime when Nathan Horton broke in alone on Vokoun. No.
We thought it might be over when Chris Kelly lost his helmet and the Bruins couldn’t clear and James Neal had a nice rush. No.
We thought it was over when Horton got a clean look and fired at 7:38 of the first overtime. No. Horton hit the post.
We thought it was over when Kelly went off for tripping at 8:27 of the first overtime and the Bruins had to play a man short. Then Dennis Seidenberg lost his stick. But the Bruins managed to kill the penalty.
We thought it was over when Brooks Orpik went off for high-sticking Brad Marchand. No. Tyler Seguin could not convert.
We thought it was over when Evgeni Malkin was penalized for delay of game after inadvertently flipping the puck over the glass with 1:37 left in the first overtime. No. The Bruins could not score and it was on to a second OT.
We thought it might be over when the Bruins were whistled for too many men on the ice in the fourth minute of the second overtime. Shades of Don Cherry and Montreal in 1979. Bad luck, for sure.
But no. The Bruins killed the penalty.
We thought it was over when Craig Adams blasted a one-timer past Rask late in the second overtime. Adams’s shot hit the post.
Then it really was over. Jaromir Jagr, the 41-year-old wheezer who won two Cups with the Penguins a million years ago, won a battle for the puck by the boards in the middle of the rink. Jagr fed Marchand, who whizzed the puck toward the middle, hitting Bergeron in stride for a table-hockey goal.
“Great play by Jags to dig that pick by the wall,” said Bergeron. “We [Marchand and Bergeron] have that chemistry where we know where we’re going on the ice.”
So there. For the second time in three years, the Bruins are going to the Stanley Cup Final.
Say this for the Penguins. They certainly restored their manhood in Game 3. Coach Dan Bylsma made the right decision, going with Vokoun in net. Perhaps tired of being mocked or maybe finally realizing that they were not going to advance to the Final on reputation, the Sidney Crosby All-Stars went toe-to-toe blades with the Bruins for almost 100 minutes.
“We threw a lot at them,’’ said Bylsma. “We played exactly how we wanted to play, we just couldn’t find that second goal. We’re going to regroup and get back and play just like that again.’’
There was a lot of heat on Pittsburgh coming into this game, and the Penguins absorbed the full fury of the Garden sellout in the minutes leading up to the first faceoff. Local fans were hardly in need of more inspiration, but got an extra jolt with the sight of honorary banner waver Officer Richard Donohue, who was wounded in the Watertown shootout involving local authorities and two Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
When David Krejci scored in the second minute of play, it looked like more humiliation for Pittsburgh, but that was it for the Bruins until the end of the second overtime.
Penguins winger Chris Kunitz beat Rask from the left circle in the second period, and that was it until Bergeron’s winner. Sticks were broken, helmets were dislodged, and posts were hit, but nobody scored until after the clock struck 12.
It’s the midnight hour for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Bruins are going to the Final and the once-dominant Penguins are just trying to avoid the indignity of being swept.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.