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On This Date in Sports April 18. 1987: Easter Epic

in collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

 

It is epic Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals battle into the early hours of Easter at the Capital Centre. The game called the Easter Epic would be the longest Game 7 in NHL Playoff history, with the Islanders winning 3-2 at 8:47 in quadruple overtime on a goal by Pat LaFontaine to advance to the Patrick Division Finals. 

The New York Islanders glory days were in their sunset years by the 1986/87 season. Three years removed from losing in the Stanley Cup Finals, in their quest for a fifth straight championship, the Islanders were still a strong team in the Patrick Division, posting a record of 35-33-12 for coach Terry Simpson. 

The Washington Capitals were a team on the rise in 1987. After failing to reach the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, the Capitals first made the playoffs in 1983, losing to the Islanders in the first round. After winning their first playoff series in 1984, the Capitals were beaten by the Islanders in the Patrick Division Finals. After losing to the Islanders again in 1985, the Capitals finally bested the New York in 1986, sweeping their first-round series in three games. 

The 1987 Stanley Cup Finals brought a change to the first round, as it became a best-of-seven series for the first time. It would mark the fifth straight season that the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals met in the postseason. Coached by Bryan Murray, the Capitals finished second in the Patrick Division with a record of 38-32-10. 

The Capitals took the opener 4-3, while the Islanders recorded a 3-1 win to even the series. In New York, the Capitals would shutdown the Islanders, winning 2-0 in Game 3 and 4-1 in Game 4. In the past, the series would be over, but with the format change, Washington needed to win one more game. With Kelly Hrudey making 40 saves, the Islanders had 4-2 win in Game 5 at Landover. The Islanders would also win Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum 5-4, setting up Game 7 on a Saturday night at the Capital Centre. 

The pressure was on Washington, after seeing their 3-1 series lead evaporate as they hosted the Islanders on the night before Easter. Mike Gartner gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead late in the first period. The Islanders would get the equalizer midway through the second period on a goal by Patrick Flatley. Grant Martin again gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead with 75 seconds left in the second period. The 2-1 lead lasted most of the third period before Bryan Trottier tied the game 2-2 with just over five minutes left in regulation.

Overtime would turn into a marathon, as neither team was able to score in the first, second, or third period of sudden death as midnight came and went in suburban Washington. Kelly Hrudey was keeping the Islanders in the game, as he faced 75 shots, including 38 overtime. Bob Mason, meanwhile, faced 57 shots, including 36 in overtime. Finally, at 8:47 of the fourth overtime, Pat LaFontaine put a slapshot past Mason to win the for the Islanders 3-2.

It remains the longest Game 7 in NHL history. It was the first triple-overtime game since 1971 and the first quadruple overtime game since 1951. The Islanders would lose to the Philadelphia Flyers in a seven-game battle in the Patrick Division Finals.