The Easter Epic is the nickname given to a National Hockey League Stanley Cup playoff game between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, played on 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 series Edit
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, and each team claimed a victory, sending the series to Long Island tied 1-1.
On home ice the Islanders dropped Games 3 (2-0) and 4 (4-1), falling 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 from three to nothing to rally and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1975. In similar comeback fashion, just two years earlier, the Islanders also became the first team to rally to win a best of five series after trailing 2-0; that series was against the same Washington Capitals.
Armed with that history, the Islanders staved off elimination, winning 4–2 in Game 5. Their momentum continued, and the New York Islanders took Game 6 on home ice, winning 5–4. This brought the Islanders and Capitals to a decisive Game 7, before a sold-out crowd on Washington's home ice.
Game 7 Edit
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. ET (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 7 series were finished.
The first period was dominated by the Capitals, but the game was scoreless through nineteen minutes, when sniper 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 40 minutes.
The game remained 2–1 through most of the third period, thanks to the strong efforts of both Hrudey and Washington net-minder Bob Mason.
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 remaining, 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 would begin to show their fatigue. Short bursts of action were replaced by longer and 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 in the third overtime period, out shot the Capitals 11-10. 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 4th overtime.
LaFontaine wins it Edit
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 1 shot to the Islanders' 5. Finally, with eight minutes elapsed in the fourth overtime, Ken Leiter of the Islanders pinched in to keep the puck in the zone. He circled behind the net and fed Gord Dineen, whose shot was blocked in front of Mason. 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 behind him, 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's still the longest game in Islander 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.
|Date||April 18, 1987|
The "Epic" concluded at 1:58 a.m. local time, 6 hours and 18 minutes after the first face-off. Kelly Hrudey stopped an amazing 73 shots over the 7 periods, including 50 straight from the end of the second period on. His 73 saves still stands as an NHL record; Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2003) and Roberto Luongo (2007) have both recorded 72-save games. 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 3-1, 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 bowing out 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. 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.