On April 18, 1987, the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders engaged in one of the most memorable Game Seven battles in Stanley Cup Playoff history. Unfortunately for the Capitals, the Islanders prevailed by a 3-2 score on a goal by Pat Lafontaine in the fourth overtime.
The game began at 7:35 on a Saturday night – Easter Eve. A sellout crowd of 18,130 was in attendance at the Capital Centre, hoping to see the Caps eliminate their most heated rivals of the day from the playoffs. It was the fifth time in six seasons the two teams had met in the playoffs and Washington had won only one of the previous for series.
With less than a minute remaining in the first period, Mike Gartner’s fourth goal of the playoffs gave Washington a 1-0 lead. The Caps fired 15 shots at Islanders netminder Kelly Hrudey with New York countered with just five against Washington’s Bob Mason.
Midway through the second period, the Islanders’ Pat Flatley tied it up at 1-1. Just over seven minutes later, Grant Martin gave Washington a 2-1 lead. It was the only playoff game of Martin’s career, the final NHL game of his career and the lone NHL goal of his career. He played in 20 regular season games with Washington and 24 games with Vancouver but registered no goals and four assists. The Caps outshot New York 10-5 in the second period. Hrudey denied the Caps on a two-on-none break, a save that would get bigger as the game went on.
For a while, it looked as though Martin might become an unlikely hero. His late second period goal stood up until noted Cap-killer Bryan Trottier tied it up at the 14:37 mark of the third. Hrudey made two big saves as time expired in regulation. The two clubs would skate for nearly 70 more minutes before another puck would cross the red line. Each team had 11 shots on goal in the third.
The Caps and Isles played penalty-free hockey through the first overtime and once again matched each other with 11 shots on goal. Mason stopped a pair of New York breakaway chances in the first OT – one by Bob Bassen and the other by Duane Sutter – and came up big on a point blank chance by Lafontaine.
In the second overtime, the two teams were twice whistled for matching minors and Washington’s Greg Adams received a 10-minute misconduct. The Caps outshot the Isles 17-9 but the two teams remained deadlocked.
New York held an 11-10 advantage in shots during a scoreless third overtime. Players were on the verge of exhaustion by now and many later reported losing 7-10 pounds on the night. There were no whistles for penalties as the law of the Old West prevailed on the ice. Scoring chances were abundant but goals were still absent.
As 2:00 am on Easter Sunday morning approached, Lafontaine took the ice. The puck found him out near the right point and he shoveled a shot netward. The disc weaved its way between a tangle of bodies and into the back of the net. A dejected and exhausted Mason slumped to the ice in defeat while the exhilarated Islanders mobbed Lafontaine. The Islanders were going on to the second round while the Caps were going home. Lafontaine’s goal came at 8:47 of the fourth overtime on New York’s fifth shot of the session. Washington had only one shot in the fourth OT.
It was the fifth longest game in Stanley Cup history and the third longest since 1943. Lafontaine’s game-winner earned him the honor of first star. Hrudey made 73 saves and was named second star. Mason’s 54 saves made him the game’s third star. Washington’s Bobby Gould accounted for 12 of the Washington shots on goal.