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LaFontaine needed oxygen to get through 'Easter Epic' for Islanders

Quadruple-overtime Game 7 of 1987 Patrick Division Semifinal against Capitals among 100 greatest moments in NHL history

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Game 7 of the 1987 Patrick Division Semifinal took Pat LaFontaine's breath away.

Literally.

"In between periods, I don't know if a lot of people know this, but for some reason I asked one of the trainers, 'Is there a chance we can get some oxygen?' It was in between the third and fourth overtime," said LaFontaine, who scored the game-winner at 8:47 of quadruple overtime to give the New York Islanders a 3-2 victory against the Washington Capitals at Capital Centre on April 18, 1987. "He went and asked, and of course they brought some oxygen. We were laying down with our feet up in the air trying to do everything. The technology today is totally different.

"We came out, and I just remember that the first five or six minutes of each period it seemed like everybody was flying around, and the last 14 or 15 we were kind of on automatic pilot. You're just hoping to keep Washington from not scoring. It was surreal. [Goaltender] Kelly Hrudey was unbelievable that night, as he was many nights."

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

Hrudey made 73 saves in Game 7, which ended after 2 a.m. ET on Easter Sunday. Nobody was more relieved than him when LaFontaine's turnaround slap shot from just inside the Capitals blue line found its way past goalie Bob Mason.

"I think I hesitated a little bit because when Pat spun and the puck went in the net, there was kind of like disbelief by everybody," Hrudey said. "I didn't want to get too excited because I was just unsure if the goal was going to be allowed, if it was going to be called back or whatever, and I didn't want to let my guard down. The second that I recognized that it was going to be allowed, that it was a good goal and we were moving on to play [the Philadelphia Flyers], I think that's when my arms came up. What a sense of relief, just to think this game is finally over."

"The Easter Epic" is among the Greatest NHL Moments Presented by Coors Light and Pepsi Zero Sugar. As part of the NHL's Centennial celebration, a blue-ribbon panel of broadcasters from NBC Sports Group, NHL Network, Sportsnet and TVA Sports selected 64 moments. Fans can vote on them in a bracket-style tournament with four rounds, semifinals and a final.

Round 1 began last Wednesday and runs through Tuesday. The Easter Epic is facing Auston Matthews' four-goal NHL debut for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. The Greatest NHL Moment will be announced during the Scotiabank NHL 100 Classic between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa on Dec. 16.

"I think most of the guys felt after the second overtime, you kind of hit this point of suspended animation where you go back to your childhood playing on a lake or an outdoor rink for seven hours," said forward Patrick Flatley, who played for the Islanders from 1984-96. "It just brings you back to that kind of euphoric state. It was so much fun because everything was just natural. There was really very little thought; it was just a natural process at that point. You weren't nervous. You were just instinctually doing what you've been doing your entire life with no nerves. It was a really fun opportunity."

It was the biggest goal during LaFontaine's time with the Islanders, which started in 1984 and ended when he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 25, 1991. LaFontaine had 1,013 points in 865 NHL games with the Islanders, Sabres and New York Rangers.

"It was surreal," LaFontaine said. "I'll never forget just before the goal, (former Islanders equipment manager) Jim Picker was squeezing a water bottle down the back of my neck and he was like, 'Hey Pop, you're gonna get one, I can feel it.' The organist had played music from 'The Twilight Zone.' We were kind of sitting back and there's 75 shots to 57. It's almost 2 o'clock in the morning and I looked in the stands and there were people sleeping in the stands. I was wondering, 'Is this really happening?' But sure enough, we were able to score that goal and come back from down three games to one.

"I think the thing I remember the most is how a group of young players in Islander tradition kind of came together being down three games to one and finding a way to win it in Game 7. That made it extra special."

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