NOTE: Caps Extra will count down each week with one of the top 12 events in Washington Capitals’ history.
In early April 1988 the Washington Capitals appeared to be doomed yet again – down three games to one to the defending Wales Conference champions and one loss from another early playoff exit.
After Washington rallied back to force Game 7, the team appeared to be out of luck again when the Philadelphia Flyers raced to a 3-0 lead in the decisive game at Capital Centre. A resilient Capitals group forced overtime, and then April 16, 1988, become one of the most memorable days in franchise history.
Larry Murphy connected on a perfect pass with a guy in his first season with Washington, and then Dale Hunter broke in alone on Philadelphia goaltender Ron Hextall. The goal was Washington’s first signature hockey moment, and remains one of the great tallies in NHL postseason history.
“I remember between the third period and overtime, Lou Strulder, the team’s vice president of marketing at the time, saying to me, ‘If there is a God in heaven, we shouldn’t lose this game,’ ” former Capitals play-by-play man Ron Weber said. They had come so close in either just missing the playoffs or with blowing leads. It was just a lot of postseason heartbreak. This was just such a relief and it felt good for everyone just to feel good.”
The year before Washington lost a Game 7 at home to the New York Islanders in the fourth overtime. The Capitals had won two first-round series before, but the franchise was known more for its near misses than anything it had accomplished.
Washington was unable to maintain the momentum from Hunter’s overtime heroics and lost to the New Jersey Devils in seven games in the next round, but an iconic moment in franchise lore had been created.
“I will always remember Hextall just laying back in his goal after he saw it go in with the back of his head on the ice,” Weber said. “The other thing I remember is people didn’t want to leave. They just kept applauding and applauding.”
The goal also helped forge a love affair between Hunter and the hockey fans in this city. His number was retired after 12 seasons with the Capitals, and Hunter remains among the top 4 in franchise history in games played, assists and points – not to mention the 2,003 penalty minutes that easily tops the organization’s list.
“He was really the heart and soul here for years,” general manager George McPhee said. “He was an interesting guy. He was a quiet guy who would come to the rink with a smile on his face, but on the ice he was as fierce and competitive as anybody.”