April 27, 1997 wasn’t Mario Lemieux’s last game for the Pittsburgh Penguins. No one knew that at the time, obviously; it appeared he was headed for retirement after one of the greatest careers the NHL has ever known.
How great? Even the fans that loathed him the most gave him a sendoff.
The Philadelphia Flyers ousted the Penguins in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference playoffs’ opening round that night, leading to a surreal moment that’s captured in this NHL Rivals video from NBCSN: Flyers fans giving a Penguins star a standing ovation in what they thought would be their final battle.
Check it out, along with some Ron Hextall and Eric Lindros nostalgia:
In an almost fitting bit of irony, Flyers captain Eric Lindros bid adieu to Lemieux in Philadelphia after Lemieux welcomed Lindros into the NHL in the Pittsburgh Civic Arena back in 1992. Philadelphia fans came out in record numbers to see Lemieux's last game.
A CoreStates Center crowd of 20,009 -- a record for hockey -- packed the building and gave a spirited ovation for Lemieux as the career of one of the NHL's most prolific scorers came to an end.
It was the first playoff battle between Lindros and Lemieux, ending with Lindros’ team on top. What did Mario say to “the next one” in the handshake line?
"I just told him it was his time," Lemieux told the media. "They've got a great chance to win the Cup this year. He's just got to keep playing the way he's playing and stay out of the (penalty) box."
“NHL Rivals” airs at 7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network, after the pregame show and before the Flyers face the Penguins in the Wednesday Night Rivalry game. Enjoy!