Schwartz: Before The Easter Epic In 1987, The Islanders Had To Win Game Six

When you’re down three games to one in a playoff series, the task to come back and win seems like a big one.  But that’s when the famous sports cliché “one game at a time” is really more than just a cliché.  It’s reality.  The current-day Islanders are now one step into their process after beating Tampa Bay 2-1 in double-overtime Tuesday in game five of the Eastern Conference Final.  The Islanders live to play another day and now their focus is on game six Thursday night (8pm NBCSN).

The Islanders are attempting to become the 30th team in NHL history to rally from a 3-1 deficit and come back to win the series.  Among the 29 teams that have already done that were the 1975 Islanders, who were down 3-0 to the Penguins, and the 1987 Islanders who came back to beat the Capitals in the opening round of the playoffs after trailing 3-1.  That series will always be remembered for “The Easter Epic” when Pat LaFontaine scored in the fourth overtime of game seven to give the Islanders a 3-2 victory in a game that started on April 18th and finished on Easter Sunday April 19th.

But before the Islanders could get to that game seven, the journey started with a 4-2 in game five at the Capital Centre on April 14th. Then, in order to have the series go the distance, the Islanders had to win game six on Thursday April 16th at the Nassau Coliseum.  The Easter Epic is always the first thing you think about when it comes to that 1987 series, but there was plenty of twists and turns in game six that many people overlook.

The Islanders jumped out to a 2-0 lead on first period goals from Bryan Trottier and Duane Sutter.  Then, in the second period, the Capitals scored three goals in a span of just over five minutes as Michael Pivonka, Gaetan Duchesne and Edward Kastelic all tallied to give the Capitals a 3-2 lead midway through what was a very chippy second period.

There were 44 penalty minutes in that second period including a hooking call assessed to Capitals forward Mike Gartner setting the stage for Pat LaFontaine to tie the game with a power play goal at 11:31. A minute later, there was a skirmish that sent four players, two from each team, to the penalty box with roughing penalties.  Then at 14:21, LaFontaine set up Mikko Makela with the go-ahead goal that gave the Islanders a 4-3 lead.  Exactly two minutes later, LaFontaine gave the Islanders some insurance with his second goal of the game.  After some more rough stuff, including a fight between Islanders defenseman Gerald Diduck and Capitals defenseman Scott Stevens late in the third followed a few seconds later with a bout between Islanders forward Randy Wood and Capitals forward Lou Franceschetti, the Islanders had a 5-3 lead going to the third period.

In the third period, the Capitals’ Kelly Miller scored at 6:19 to cut the Islanders lead to one, but Isles goalie Kelly Hrudey shut the door the rest of the way and the Islanders held on to win 5-4 forcing what turned out to be an “epic” game seven.

The journey from being down 3-1 and coming back to win has to have multiple memorable moments because you can’t get to game seven without winning games five and six.  Everyone remembers the 1987 Easter Epic because it was game seven but not many remember what helped the Islanders get to that point.  Game six was pretty significant as well and now the current Islanders have a chance to duplicate what the 1987 team did.

One shift at a time, one period and a time, and one game at a time.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club.

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