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Maven's Memories: Easter Epic Pt. 3

Stan Fischler concludes his three-part series on the Easter Epic

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

Read parts one and two of Stan Fischler's three-part series on the Easter Epic.

(Editor's Note: The Islanders-Capitals. Easter Epic, April 18-19, 1987, was rated second greatest game ever by The Hockey News. As for the marathon, after three periods and three overtime periods, the game remained tied. Here's what happened next:)

It was early Easter Sunday when the Islanders and Capitals took the ice for the fourth overtime on April 18-19,1987 in Landover, Maryland.

Most of the capacity crowd at Capital Centre had become exhausted by this marathon seventh game of the series. Some fans couldn't handle the fatigue and just fell asleep in their seats.

There was, however, no rest for the weary players. Awaiting the call for sudden-death period #4, the Islanders sought whatever encouragement they could get from the staff. One of them, equipment guy, Jim Pickard had an idea.

Looking around the room, he sought a good suspect for the winning goal so he approached Pat LaFontaine. Pickard carried a water bottle just in case it might be a refresher for the Isles center.

"You're gonna get the goal," Jim said to Patty, "You're gonna pop one in!" As a coda to his comment, Pickard squeezed hard on the water bottle.

The H2O tonic coursed down LaFontaine's neck at almost two in the morning. At that moment, the Capital Centre's public address operator played the theme song of "The Twilight Zone." Pat remembered it well.

LaFontaine: "I said to myself, 'Is this really happening?'"

Video: 1987: Pat LaFontaine wins "Easter Epic" for Islanders

Across the hall, in the home team's dressing room, Capitals players, such as pesty Lou Franceschetti were juice-ing themselves up for one more goal. 

Franceschetti: "We has as many oranges as we possibly could," Franceschetti told Adam Proteau of The Hockey News. "Some guys stocked up on liquids and we all tried to conserve our energy."

Many players on both sides figured that a freak goal would prove to be the decisive factor ending the series. As it would happen, the winner would turn out to be the result of a spontaneous play that could have backfired on the winners.

Here's how the ultimate finale played out:

More than eight minutes had elapsed in the fourth sudden-death. Islanders coach Terry Simpson had the defense pair of Gord Dineen and Ken Leiter on the ice and prepared to change lines on the fly.

"I was ready to jump over the boards to get in the play," said LaFontaine. "Just as I went over, Dineen came skating right by me."

At that precise moment, there was no indication that a dangerous thrust would soon take place. Meanwhile, the puck skimmed around the boards in Washington's zone and came to Leiter who shot and missed the net.

Dineen, who was fresh having just projected himself into the fray, left his defensive position, causing some anxiety on the New York bench because he left an unfilled gap. Seemingly unconcerned, Dineen skated hellbent down the left boards.

Wisely, LaFontaine raced to the blue line where Dineen might have been had he not taken the big gamble. Now Gord was skating behind Cap goalie Bob Mason's net.

Dineen: "I came out the other side and tried to score myself but the puck was blocked out in front."

Video: LaFontaine reminisces about 4OT Easter Epic game

Washington's large, reliable defensemen, Kevin Hatcher and Rod Langway were guarding the ice right outside of Mason's crease. Suddenly, the puck skittered away from Langway's ability to corral it.

Away from Rod's out-stretched stick, the puck seemed to have a mind of its own as it pinballed in the general direction of the blue line -- and LaFontaine.

At the other end of the rink, Nassau's goalie Kelly Hrudey noticed that fourth-liner Dale Henry moved toward his encampment right outside goalie Bob Mason's paint.

"Dale was creating havoc as much as he could, trying to screen Mason and maybe get a deflection or something," Hrudey recalled.

Having failed on his scoring thrust, Dineen giddyapped back toward the blue line, his back to the ensuing play. Meanwhile, the loose puck was passing Gord in the other direction on its fateful trip to Patty.

Since the biscuit really was a rebound of sorts that caromed off Langway, its ice path toward LaFontaine was not like a straight pass from a teammate. 

Rather, it had the inexplicable movement of a baseball pitcher's knuckler. As a result it arrived at LaFontaine on its side.

"I spun around," said Patty, "because the puck was coming at such an interesting angle. I don't think I have ever shot the puck the same way since. All I wanted was to get the shot off and then hope for the best."

Hrudey: "From my crease it looked like Patty turned around and shot without even looking."

Video: 1984 Round 1, Gm7: LaFontaine nets historic 4OT goal

Mason was looking, all right, but he couldn't detect the rubber, no-how. His man Langway had inadvertently screened him -- as did Henry -- and Hatcher was no help to his beleaguered goalie either.

From the rinkside seats, it appeared as if there were too many bodies converging on the six foot wide and four feet high net for a puck to get through.

As if a miniature radar set had been built into the six-ounce hunk of vulcanized rubber, the puck cha-cha-cha-ed its way through the tiny opening and then grazed the goal post with a "clang" loud enough for Patty to hear.

The shooter's initial reaction was that the "clang" mean he had hit the post and that the puck had innocently rebounded out of danger. When Patty saw Mason drop to his knees in abject despair, he knew that the marathon was over.

Hrudey wasn't so sure. "When the red (goal) light went on, my first reaction was disbelief. I thought, 'No, this game can't end, we've been playing this long. There must be a penalty or a man in the crease.' Then I realized it was over."

With what energy remained in their gas-tank-emptied bodies, half the Islanders sped to Patty enveloping him with joyous hugs while the other half headed to Kelly. 

"Randy Boyd was the first to get to me," said Hrudey. "First he hugged me and then he knocked me over."

Adam Proteau of The Hockey News wrote that Mason was surprised to see Isles future Hall of Famer Bill Smith on the post-game handshake line. 

Mason: "Billy grabbed my hand and said, "That's the best goaltending game I've ever seen in my life!"

That helps explain why The Hockey News picked the Easter Epic as the "Second Greatest Game" ever played!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Several valuable sources helped me write about this singular game in Islanders history. They include author Adam Proteau's excellent "Easter Epic" story in the Hockey News' Collectors Item edition of "Greatest Games of All-Time." In addition editor Chris McDonnell's selection of "The Game I'll Never Forget," published by Firefly Books included Barry Wilner's interview with Kelly Hrudey. Other excerpts were taken from the 25th anniversary Islanders book which I co-wrote with Chris Botta, with an Introduction by Al Arbour.

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