Former Islanders star and NHL Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine recalls his goal that ended the ‘Easter Epic’ in the fourth overtime of Game 7 of a playoff series vs. the Capitals.
The Islanders will visit the Capitals tonight for a Game 7. Barring four overtimes, it won’t top the only other time these two teams faced off in a deciding game.
Just ask Pat LaFontaine, who can still see the play that launched him into Islander lore 28 years ago.
Saturday night turned into Easter morning, April 18, 1987, when the Islanders and Capitals collided in Game 7 of the Patrick Division semifinals in Landover, Md. The Isles had climbed back from a 3-1 series deficit to force the decisive contest at Capital Centre and had tied Game 7 with just over five minutes to play in regulation on a Bryan Trottier backhander. Once overtime started, the end did not come quickly.
The first overtime period turned into a second, a third and then a fourth extra frame. An exhausted LaFontaine peered up at the stands at some point during the fourth overtime when the Capital Centre organist played the only music that seemed appropriate.
“Just before I jumped on, the organist has played music from the Twilight Zone and I remember hearing the music and looking up in the stands and there were people sleeping,” LaFontaine told the Daily News by phone on Sunday. “Six and a half (periods) with the overtimes, 75 shots to I think 57 shots. To put it in perspective there, it was kind of surreal what was going on.”
Things came back into focus when equipment manager Jim Pickard squeezed a water bottle down the back of LaFontaine’s neck and said, “Pop, I think you’re going to get one on this shift.” And then, at long last, it happened.
The puck found it’s way to LaFontaine at the blue line after a blocked shot. He collected it, fired blindly at Washington goaltender Bob Mason and hoped for the best. At first all he heard was the clang of iron, but a split second later Mason’s shoulders slumped and LaFontaine was being mobbed with the last ounce of energy in his teammates six hours and 18 minutes after the first puck had dropped.
“Whatever you do, you find a way. You’re willing to do anything to help your team win a game,” LaFontaine said. “I just threw a knuckleball in there…I was at the point covering for a defenseman. I turned and I never shot a puck like that since, but I was lucky that the one time I did it was for the game-winner.”
LaFontaine’s heroics came at 8:42 of the fourth overtime in the classic contest that was dubbed the “Easter Epic.” Kelly Hrudey finished with a playoff record 73 saves
for the win. Mason made 54 stops, 36 in the OTs. The Isles marched on to the Patrick Division Finals, but were defeated by the Flyers in seven games.
Monday night, the Isles and Capitals will suit up for another decisive Game 7, 28 years after LaFontaine broke Washington’s heart.
“It’s been a special year, especially how the (Islanders) have played. A walk down memory lane. To have it come to an actual 28 years (since) our Game 7 in Washington, I think that makes it extra special,” LaFontaine said. “Let’s keep all the positive energy going. I’m enjoying the ride.”
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