Sunday, 18 August 2013

Cruisin’: The night of the "Easter Epic"

Where were you when the the "Easter Epic" ended?

What is the "Easter Epic" you ask? Well, back in 1987, it was not called that, but as the legend grew, one of the most famous first round series' and the longest Game 7 in Stanley Cup history, acquired this name.

Incidentally, I was in my parents’ 1974 Oldsmobile Omega cruising the streets of Lethbridge.

Nice night for a drive…and an overtime marathon
It was the spring of 1987, April 18 to be exact, and I had had my licence about six months. A normal Friday night for me was going to the Lethbridge YMCA with my friends, dropping down a $1 bill for “Teen Night”, and playing some racquetball, and later basketball. The place closed at 10 p.m., so we got something to eat, then went cruisin’.

We always took turns driving. This particular night, I picked up my best friend Chris Vining. Before I left the farm, I had watched a couple minutes of the Capitals-Islanders game. It was the Patrick Division semi-final, tied three games apiece with the deciding Game 7 in Washington. When I pulled up to Vining’s place in Coaldale, he told me it was 1-1.

That was the last we thought of the game.

Instead, we played some ball, had something to eat and cruised. It was the same route over and over, but we never got bored. Why? Because there was always the promise, or so we thought, of finding some girls to hang out with – no matter how remote the possibility was.

When I dropped Vining off, I joked: “I wonder if the game is still on.” It was about 12:30 a.m.
The New York Islanders celebrate Pat LaFontaine's goal in the fourth overtime period of Game 7 of the 1987
Patrick Division Semi-final. It remains the longest Game 7 in Stanley Cup playoff history.
LaFontaine's heroics
The next day, Vining phoned me.

“You know what?” he said. “When I walked in the house, mom said the game had just ended a few minutes earlier.”

It had turned out to be an epic battle. Washington came out flying, but could not beat Islander goaltender Kelly Hrudey. Finally, with 48 seconds left in the opening period, Mike Gartner scored for the Capitals, with assists from Greg Adams and Scott Stevens, to give them a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Pat Flatley tied it for New York with 8:25 to go in the second period, but Washington responded. With 1:15 left in the period, Grant Martin put the Capitals ahead with help from Adams and Larry Murphy.

That 2-1 score held up until Bryan Trottier tied the game 2-2 with with just over five minutes remaining in the third.

There was no more scoring in regulation time, or the first, second, or third overtime periods. Finally, with eight minutes gone in the fourth overtime period, New York's Pat LaFontaine took a turnaround snap shot from near the top of the face-off circle. It looked harmless, but beat goaltender Bob Mason to end the game after 68 minutes and 47 seconds of overtime. The assists went to Ken Leiter and Gord Dineen.

Everyone was exhausted, but they had cemented their place in history. Hrudey stopped a record 73 shots, including 50 straight after Martin's goal had made it 2-1 for Washington.

The situation
Washington had finished second and New York third in the Patrick Division that year, setting up a semi-final series that was the fifth straight year the two teams met in the playoffs. The year before, the Capitals eliminated the Islanders the earliest time in their history, although New York had won the other three series.

Washington jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, before the Islanders won two straight to set up the decisive Game 7. Their victory was just the second time in 12 years a team had come back from that kind of deficit.

There was no rest for the wicked as the Islanders had to re-group to face the well-rested Philadelphia Flyers. Again, the Islanders fell behind in the series 3-1, and again they battled back to force a decisive Game 7. The clock struck midnight for this Cinderella, as the Flyers won 5-1 to take the series. They would go on to the Stanley Cup final, losing in seven games to the Edmonton Oilers.

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