In our ice world there have been hockey games which have been so uniquely special; so extraordinary, that it would be sheer folly for a follow-up melodramatic contest to match the original classic.
So, it was for the Islanders Easter Epic which began on Saturday night, April 18, 1987 and ended early on Easter Sunday, April 19th.
For so many reasons, it was beyond extraordinary, a colossal battle between two game teams, bolstered by superior goalies, Kelly Hrudey (73 saves) and Bob Mason (54 saves). The marathon on April 18, 1987 spanned three regulation periods and four overtimes before Pat LaFontaine finally beat Washington Bob Mason at 8:47 of the fourth sudden-death period to clinch the series in Game Seven.
"It was the best game I ever played," Hrudey allowed, "and the greatest game I've ever been a part of."
Cup-hardened veterans such as Bryan Trottier and Ken Morrow, as well as the Young Turks, such as Bobby Bassen, Alan Kerr and Gord Dineen, shared Hrudey's view.
Alan Kerr: "The Easter Epic was a big moment for us young guys. It was the first time a lot of us were able to put a stamp on Islanders history. Now we felt that we could do some great things like the dynasty teams did."
Neither Kerr, Hrudey nor their teammates finished with their playoff work. The Washington series was merely Chapter One in their 1987 Cup quest.
Meanwhile, the thoroughly exhausted Islanders had become continent-wide heroes with the first-round triumph; but it was only the first round and there was precious little time for a respite for the heroes to regain their collective breaths.
Analyzing the series, one media wag threw out the question: "Who won the seventh game between the Islanders and Capitals?"
His answer: "The Flyers!"
Yes sir, Philadelphia's Broad Street Bullies were next on the Islanders agenda and coach Terry Simpson had less than two days to shape up his physically spent troupe for the Flyers challenge.
Gambling that Hrudey could maintain his first round magic in The City of Brotherly Love, Simpson started Kelly, relegating future Hall of Famer Bill Smith as his back-up goalie for Game One.
The gamble worked -- but for Philly!
Hrudey was riddled for three goals in the first period and got the hook in favor of Smitty who finished the losing game.
Worse still, Mike Bossy was on the injured list suffering from a bad back and now had a brace on his left knee. He would miss the first three games of the series.
"I was a mess," Mike admitted, "but I wanted us to win." So did Denis Potvin who also missed the first game but the Captain came back strong in the second encounter.
Magically, Denis kept his troops in the game as they battled through almost three full periods tied 1-1. Then the Nassaumen got a break. Both Flyers centers -- Pelle Eklund and Peter Zezel -- together hopped on the ice.
Philly took a too-many-men penalty and with a mere three seconds left in the third frame Mikko Makela potted the winner. With the series tied at one apiece, the teams moved on to Uniondale for Games Three and Four.
Home ice was blown ice. With 4-1 and 6-4 advantages, the Flyers blew their foes to the brink. Leading the series three games to one, Philly could wrap it up with what could be the decisive fifth game on Broad Street.
A beat-up Bossy had returned for the fourth game but was a shade of his former starry self. "My back hurt just waiting for a face-off," he moaned. "I gritted my teeth and did the best I could."
So did the rest of the Islanders especially clutch defenseman Ken Morrow.
whose eternal heroics returned once more; this time it happened early in the third period.
While the hostile crowd swallowed heavily, the 1980 Olympic and four-time Cup hero wristed a shot that caromed off Randy Wood for the 2-1 winner. Could this be yet another Islanders miracle in the making?
It sure looked that way in Game Six. With the capacity crowd roaring its approval at The Old Barn, it seemed like old times with goals by Bossy, Bobby Bassen and Trottier (2) pacing The Comeback Kids to a 4-2 decision.
Suddenly hope sprung eternal in Uniondale.
After six games, the Islanders had scored 15 goals for the series. Twelve players had one each. Trots had three. "It shows we're not relying on one player," said defenseman Steve Konroyd.
There was, however, a disturbing finish to Game Six and, to some observers, it was more than just a pushing and shoving scrum; far from it.
While the citizens of Islanders Country cheered the sound of the final buzzer, a disturbing scene emerged at one end of the ice. The game was over; the Flyers had lost, fair and square; or at least it seemed that way.
But the Bullies from Broad Street were neither interested in the fair nor the square. Led by big, burly Tim Kerr -- he testily accosted his smaller Islanders namesake Alan Kerr -- the visitors were hellbent on making mayhem.
"It's the old Flyers trick -- send a 'message' for the next game," a veteran writer observed from the press box.
By the time the ice had cleared, some of the pseudo-shrinks in the media wondered what effect the bullying would have on the Islanders in Game Seven at Philly on April 2, 1987.
There was yet another factor that favored the Flyers. Their captain and inspirational center Dave Poulin had been out for six games with bruised ribs and his return was problematic for Game Seven.
But just hours before the opening face-off Poulin declared himself ready and was fitted with a flak jacket to protect his injured rib cage. The psychological effect on Dave's teammates was immensely positive to say the least.
When Poulin stepped on the ice the fans hailed their conquering hero; and did he ever conquer. Philadelphia's captain immediately thrust his body into the action and in no time at all the Flyers were up 2-0.
First muscleman Dave Brown -- who rarely scored -- tallied followed by a shorthander courtesy of Brian Propp. Poulin assisted on both goals.
Once more the visitors went on a power play but soon the intensity would be sucked out of the Islanders PP and nobody could do much about it -- especially Hrudey in goal.
Despite the Islanders man advantage, the Flyers took command again.
Only this time it was lumbering defenseman Brad Marsh who did the damage. Stationed at the left point inside the Isles' zone, Marsh fired a remarkably slow shot at Hrudey.
In fact, it almost seemed as if the wobbly puck didn't even want to reach the crease, but it did, caroming off Hrudey's big goalie stick and, shockingly into the net.
The score was now 3-0 for the Flyers and -- based on the improbable Marsh goal -- the game for all intents and purposes was over. 5-1, Philly, was the final score.
There were no more miracles available for the Islanders; just the despairing thoughts of missed power-play opportunities and Kelly's less than clutch goaltending. What's more, Hrudey was the first to admit the stark truth.
"They say you can't be a winner until adversity is staring you in the face," Kelly concluded. "Well, right now, it's touching my nose."
He would get over it and so would his disappointed teammates. Rebuilding by Bow Tie Bill Torrey would take place over the summer leading to pleasant surprises in 1987-88.
Alas there would be a sad surprise as well -- Denis Potvin's revelation that '87-'88 would be his sayonara to the National Hockey League!
LISTS: FOUR GOOD THINGS ABOUT TERRY SIMPSON'S ROOKIE YEAR AS ISLES COACH:
1. EASTER EPIC: Few coaches could boast that they orchestrated one of the greatest games in the NHL's long history. But Terry could.
2. DEVELOPING THE NEW BREED: Young players such as goalie Kelly Hrudey and forwards Alan Kerr, Mikko Makela, Pat LaFontaine and Patrick Flatley all improved their games under Simpson.
3. SUCCESSFUL CHANGING OF THE GOALTENDING GUARD: Simpson made a very tough decision, moving Bill Smith to back up for Kelly Hrudey. As the Easter Epic proved, the switch worked.
4. KEEPING THE TEAM COMPETITIVE DESPITE SERIOUS INJURIES: Future Hall of Famers such as Denis Potvin and Mike Bossy were seriously slowed by injuries, yet the Isles still gained a playoff berth.