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|Date||April 18, 1987|
The Easter Epic is the nickname given to a 1987 Stanley Cup playoff game between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, played April 18–19, 1987, at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland. It is so named because the game started on Saturday evening but did not finish until the early hours of Easter Sunday.
The game is notable because it is the longest Game 7 in Stanley Cup playoffs history and one of two series-deciding games to need more than three overtime periods. It was the first game since 1971 to go to a third overtime and the first since 1951 to go to a fourth.
The game finally ended at the 8:47 mark of the fourth overtime when Pat LaFontaine was able to keep the puck in Washington's zone, firing a slapshot over the glove side of Washington goaltender Bob Mason.
The game was included in its entirety on the New York Islanders 10 Greatest Games DVD box set released in 2009.
The 1987 Patrick Division Semifinals pitted the third place New York Islanders against the second place Washington Capitals in a best of seven series. It was the fifth consecutive season these two teams matched up with each other; the Islanders had won three of the previous four, but looked to avenge their earliest exit ever from the playoffs at the hands of the Capitals the previous spring.
The first two games were played at the Capitals' home, Capital Centre. Washington won Game 1 4–3, and the Isles were victorious in Game 2 3–1, sending the series to Long Island tied at one game apiece.
At home, the Islanders dropped Games 3 (2–0) and 4 (4–1), to fall behind in the series 3–1. No NHL team had won a series coming back from this kind of deficit in 12 years; coincidentally, it was the Islanders who performed the feat, coming back from a 3–0 deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1975. In similar comeback fashion, just two years earlier, the Islanders also became the first team to win a best-of-5 series after trailing 2–0; that series was against the Capitals.
Armed with that history, the Islanders staved off elimination, winning 4–2 in Game 5. Their momentum continued, and the Islanders won Game 6 5–4 at home. This brought the Islanders and Capitals to a decisive Game 7, before a sold-out crowd on Washington's home ice.
With national television audiences watching in both the United States on ESPN (with Mike Emrick and Bill Clement on the call) and in Canada on Hockey Night in Canada (with Bob Cole and Harry Neale on the call), Game 7 began shortly after 7:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. (ESPN was blacked out in the New York City and Washington D.C. markets, to protect the Islanders and Capitals broadcast outlets.) This was the lone game of the night, because the other seven series were finished.
The first period was dominated by the Capitals, but the game was scoreless through nineteen minutes, when Mike Gartner beat Islander goaltender Kelly Hrudey to give the Capitals the lead after one period, 1–0.
Patrick Flatley tied the score at 1 midway through the second period, but Grant Martin responded for the Capitals, and after 2 periods, they led 2–1. Washington had outshot the Islanders to this point 25–10, and carried the play for most of the first forty minutes.
The game remained 2–1 through most of the third period, thanks to the strong netminding efforts of Hrudey and Mason, respectively.
Then, with just over five minutes remaining in regulation, Islander legend Bryan Trottier backhanded a shot between Mason's pads - thanks in part to a strap breaking on one of Mason's pads. A frantic final minutes produced no further scoring, and the game went into sudden death overtime. Little did anyone know that this game hadn't even reached its halfway point yet.
In the first overtime, many scoring chances were thwarted by Mason and Hrudey, and the game remained tied. Greg Smith of the Capitals had the best chance with seconds left, as his long range slap shot beat Hrudey, but caught the right post and bounced away.
As the game moved on into the second overtime, the players began to show fatigue. Short bursts of action were replaced by longer periods of slow play. Hrudey continued to shine, stopping 17 shots in the second overtime session alone; Mason contributed nine more saves and was aided by a shot that hit the post by Randy Wood.
Slowly, the Islanders began to finally take the play from the Capitals, and outshot the Capitals 11–10 in the third overtime. They had the better chances as well, but Mason continued to shine as the game remained tied. For the first time since March 27, 1951, an NHL game was headed into the fourth overtime.
LaFontaine wins it
With both teams tired, play was choppy through the first eight minutes of the fourth overtime, the seventh period total. The Capitals had managed only one shot to the Islanders' five. Finally, with eight minutes elapsed in the fourth overtime, Ken Leiter of the Islanders carried the puck into the Capitals' zone and sent a pass through the slot.
Gord Dineen pinched in and carried the puck around the net for a shot which was blocked out to near the blueline. The deflection bounced to Islander star Pat LaFontaine, who had gone back to the blueline to cover for Leiter. He spun and launched a slapshot toward the net. Mason, screened on the play, never saw the puck as it clanged off the post to his left and into the net for the game winner. The then-fifth-longest game in NHL history, and longest since 1943, was over after 68:47 of overtime. The Islanders, weary but jubilant, mobbed LaFontaine, and then Hrudey, having won Game 7 3–2.
The Capitals had not trailed the series up until that point, nor had they trailed in the game. It is still the longest game in Islanders history and was the longest the Capitals had ever played; the Capitals would lose a longer game (79:15 of overtime) to Pittsburgh in the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
|April 18, 1987||New York Islanders||3-2||Washington Capitals||Capital Centre|
|1st||WAS||Mike Gartner (4)||Greg Adams, Scott Stevens||19:12||1–0 WAS|
|2nd||NYI||Patrick Flatley (3)||Steve Konroyd, Bryan Trottier||11:35||1–1|
|WAS||Grant Martin (1)||Greg Adams, Larry Murphy||18:45||2–1 WAS|
|3rd||NYI||Bryan Trottier (5)||Alan Kerr, Steve Konroyd||14:37||2–2|
|4OT||NYI||Pat LaFontaine (4)||Gord Dineen, Ken Leiter||8:47||3–2 NYI|
- Number in parenthesis represents the player's total in goals or assists to that point of the playoffs
The "Epic" concluded at 1:58 a.m. local time, 6 hours and 18 minutes after the first face-off. Kelly Hrudey stopped 73 shots over the 7 periods, including 50 straight from the end of the second period on. Mason stopped 54 shots, including 36 from the end of regulation until LaFontaine beat him to end the marathon.
The Islanders had to regain their composure, as well as their strength, as they advanced to the Patrick Division Finals against a rested Philadelphia Flyers squad. They once again fell behind three games to one, and once again tied the series with consecutive victories. But there was no second miracle this season, as Philadelphia won Game 7 decisively, 5–1, and won the series, before eventually losing in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Edmonton Oilers.
At the time, the game gave the Islanders franchise the unique accomplishment of having won both the shortest (0:11 in game 3 of 1975 preliminary series vs. the New York Rangers) and longest overtime series-deciding games in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The longest elimination game mark would be surpassed in 2008 when the sixth and deciding game between the Dallas Stars and the San Jose Sharks took 16 seconds longer than the Easter Epic before the Stars scored to eliminate the Sharks.
- Lorenzo, Stephen (April 26, 2015). "HOCKEY; LaFontaine recalls four overtime classic between Islanders". New York Daily News.