1989 would be a big year for upsets once the post-season began. The Long Island Concordes, after another series of big off-season moves, hoped to return to the Lewis Cup Finals a year after losing to Milwaukee. The Concordes narrowly missed out on a division title, losing to Boston in overtime in their final game. It would prove to be extremely costly. The Concordes faced those same Bulldogs in the first round. The teams were tied 2-2 after the first four before disaster struck for Long Island. Pascal Renaud was chased from the net in an ugly 8-4 win for the Bulldogs to give them a 3-2 series lead. The Concordes were simply unable to withstand Boston’s grit and tight-checking style, and that continued right through game six as Craig Bush and Jason Luna each scored twice in a 6-3 win as the Bulldogs completed the upset and moved on. The Philadelphia Redshirts also got quite a scare in their first-round series with Washington, as the Generals jumped to a 2-0 series lead. The Redshirts managed to win two games on the road, however, before winning two more to take the series in six. Philly avoided being the second contending team to be upset in the first round, the Pittsburgh Stingers, however, were not so lucky, losing a stunner to Detroit in four straight. Nova Scotia also advanced in a surprisingly tight five-game series against Quebec.
In the West, St. Louis had high hopes of winning Lewis Cup number five despite dropping to a third-place finish in their conference. Almost nobody gave the Vancouver Bighorns a chance against Dave Appleby and the Spirits, but Vancouver’s critics were quieted after a surprising 5-3 Vancouver win in game one. Game two would go to St. Louis, but veteran forwards Brett Townsend, Donald Stone, and Joe Tyler showed up big in the remainder of the series, while rookie goaltender Niklad Asplund shut the door as the Bighorns stunned the Spirits in five games. It was a shocking upset and the first playoff series victory in the 20-year PHL history of the Bighorns. Another team that built a surprising series lead early was the Minnesota Lumberjacks, who went up 2-0 on the first-overall Seattle Grey Wolves with budding superstar Jason Crowley leading the way. The Wolves would rebound on the road, tying the series before taking a 3-2 lead and an opportunity to eliminate the plucky Lumberjacks. Minnesota played an incredible at home however in game six, as Crowley scored twice in a 5-3 win.
Game seven took place on April 20, 1989 and would make history for a few reasons. The game was tight right through to the end of regulation, reaching overtime. Nobody had any idea what would follow, however. Goaltenders Brian Westin and Jeff Brackley put on a show for the ages as the game went to two, than three, than four extra periods. The fifth overtime nearly ended when Jake Fairbanks beat Brackley but hit the post. The fifth overtime ended and the sixth began as the game became the longest in PHL history. The exhausted teams simply could not get anything together as the goaltenders continued to dominate. At 2:30 AM local time, the unprecedented seventh overtime began as fans on the east coast were surprised to find the game still on instead of the morning news. Just three minutes into the tenth period, defenseman Jeff Winslow blasted a hard shot from the point that beat Brian Westin and finally ended the marathon, completing another stunning upset and sending the Lumberjacks to the second round. “I’m just glad that’s over” said an exhausted Winslow after the nearly seven-hour game.
In other Western Conference action, Edmonton won their rematch against Winnipeg in another hard-fought seven-game series, while Milwaukee eliminated Chicago in five games.
The second round would feature one of the most heated rivalries in PHL history when the Philadelphia Redshirts took on the Boston Bulldogs. Philadelphia found themselves in an even worse position than they had against Washington, going down 3-1 as the Bulldogs tough checking proved to be too much for the aging Redshirts. Game five was a must-win game at the PhillyDome and the Redshirts responded in a big way, skating through a 3-3 tie deep into the third period before exploding for three goals in only two minutes from Jeff Waters, Roni Laukkanen, and Stuart Holly. The lead held and Philly won 6-3 to stay alive. Prior to game six, most experts felt Boston would finally wrap up the series on home ice. They were stunned when Philadelphia routed the Bulldogs 7-1 to force a game seven. At the end of the game, emotions finally boiled over as two line brawls erupted with the fighting even spilling into the stands as security struggled to maintain order. “Just another Philly/Boston showdown, what else is new” said commentator Don Chafee. Game seven at the PhillyDome was much tighter, as the Redshirts nursed a 2-1 lead throughout most of the game. Laukkanen managed to increase the lead to 3-1, but Boston responded quickly with a goal from Colin Fleming to make it a one-goal-game once again. In the dying minutes it was all up to goaltender Antero Parvainen to preserve the lead as the Bulldogs peppered the Philly goal. Parvainen lived up to the challenge as the Redshirts completed the comeback and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
The Redshirts would face Nova Scotia for the Eastern Conference title after the Claymores defeated the Detroit Mustangs in five games. In the West, Milwaukee would face Edmonton after sweeping Vancouver, while the Northern Lights took six games to defeat Minnesota. Philadelphia certainly had an uphill battle against a powerful Claymores squad playing in the Eastern Conference Final for the fourth time in five years. Philadelphia took control of the series early on, winning the first two games at home. Back in Halifax, however, the Redshirts struggled while the Claymores rode the enthusiasm and noise of their fans to a pair of wins of their own to tie the series including an emotional overtime win in game four where veteran Russel Buchanan, playing in his final post-season, scored the winner. Game five would be pivotal, as the winner would have an opportunity to close out the series two nights later. Nova Scotia appeared to have the upper hand, carrying a 3-2 lead into the third period. Late in the third, however, Stuart Holly tied the game for the Redshirts, sending it to overtime. Dave Mack had an incredible chance to end the game just minutes into OT, but Parvainen stood tall. Finally, Holly came up big once again, winning the game with his second goal of the night. Game six back in Halifax was a must-win for the home team. A capacity crowd of 13,500 packed into the Barrington Arena as fans from all over the Maritimes showed up to support their desperate team. Mack, Buchanan, James Russell, and Owen Kennedy each scored in a big 4-2 win to force game seven. The Milwaukee Choppers were now awaiting the winner, having won a hard-fought series with Edmonton in six games. In Philadelphia, the PhillyDome was packed nearly to capacity. In Halifax, thousands of fans gathered at Grand Parade in downtown Halifax to watch the game on a projector. The game was a tight one, tied at two through two periods. In the third, Jeff Waters beat Brent MacDonald to give the Redshirts their second lead of the game. Nova Scotia pushed hard for the tying goal, pulling MacDonald for the extra attacker. The move backfired as Roni Laukkanen scored the empty-netter to make in 4-2. With only 13 seconds to go, Dave Mack scored for the Claymores to bring it within one, but it was too little too late, as Philadelphia advanced to the Lewis Cup Finals for the first time since 1974, where they would face the defending champion Milwaukee Choppers. “This is unbelievable” said captain Gary Johnson, about to appear in his first-ever finals. “I’ve been in this league a long time and to finally reach this point after seventeen years, I can’t even describe it.”