Caps correspondent Brad Parker gets your mind right for tonight’s Game 7.
Things were very different for D.C. sports fans a quarter-century ago. The Redskins ruled the town, but then it was from a position of power. They’d won the Super Bowl in 1983 and would win another the following season.
The Bullets were in the playoffs for the 21st time in 23 seasons. And they had Manute Bol (and Moses Malone) on the roster.
Baseball fans had to drive up to Memorial Stadium to see the “hometown” Orioles with Cal Sr. managing Cal Jr. and Billy Ripken.
The Hoyas were the No. 1 seed in the Southeast and made the Elite Eight.
The Terps were reeling from the death of Len Bias 10 months before.
And no one was “Rocking the Red.” The home teams still wore white and the Caps had a cult following at best. They were in the playoffs for the fifth-straight time, but there were still rumors that the team would move.
The Caps were the sixth-most important team in the yet-to-be-named DMV. But 25 years ago last week they were thrust into the national headlines for a game that would change hockey history and set the tone for a franchise that has yet to be changed.
It was freshman year of college, we were all home for Easter break and there was a keg at Whitehair’s. Usually we got a few cases of Milwaukee’s Best, but for some reason we splurged that night.
We started early. I mean, it was Saturday and none of had to be anywhere until Monday at the earliest. There was a solid group of people on the deck at 7:30, me and the other two guys that cared were on the couch ready for them to drop the puck. The only red being rocked was on our Solo cups.
(Another big difference 25 years ago: The game was on ESPN, when they pretended to be aware of hockey, but blocked out in D.C. so we could see it on HTS. I’m pretty sure it was Mike Fornes and Al Koken on the call.)
The Caps had never won anything of significance, but they had just started making the playoffs. Two years earlier they took a 2-0 lead on the Islanders in a best-of-five series (remember those?) and promptly became the first team in NHL history to blow one. This was the night we’d get revenge.
I vividly remember Pete Peeters and Al Jensen to this day. Without this game the name Bob Mason would be long gone from my brain. He shared time with Peeters all season, and they’d each played three games in this series, but Mason got the nod for the first Game 7 in Capitals history. And he was brilliant. He kept the Isles scoreless in the first and with less than a minute to go in the period Mike Gartner gave the Caps a 1-0 lead.
There were 18,130 (as always) at the Capital Centre but so far only a few stragglers left the keg to check on the game. There wasn’t a ton to see until midway through the second when Patrick Flatley finally got NY on the board.
Some of my all-time favorite Caps were on the ice that night (Kelly Miller, Mike Ridley, Gaetan Duchesne, Bobby Gould, Michal Pivonka, Lou Franceschetti , Dave Christian, Rod Langway and my first favorite player Scott Stevens), but it was a guy playing in his first game of the series that put us back on top. Grant Martin only took two shots that postseason, but at 18:45 he beat Kelly Hrudey and gave the Caps a 2-1 lead into the third.
Over the next half hour the keg got lighter and the room got more crowded. We had to tell people to get out of the way and ask someone to fill our cups so we wouldn’t lose our spots on the couch.
The teams traded chances but for nearly 15 minutes nothing changed. With 5:02 to go Bryan Trottier (of course) beat Mason five-hole and the game was tied. We went from the verge of a celebration to explaining the overtime rules to a suddenly interested crowd.
If the game had ended late in the first OT it still would have been the night I learned that overtime playoff hockey is the best that sports has to offer.
Each team had 11 shots on goal in the frame but Mason and Hrudey were stellar. The Caps outshot New York 17-9 in the second overtime (17!), still nothing. At some point we realized that it was Easter morning and the keg was floating. If they didn’t pull it out we had no way to drown our sorrows. If they won, we’d toast with Coke.
The room started to clear out again. We were in college but we were home for the weekend, lots of people headed back their parents’ house.
This was an epically long game that was actually filled with chances. In the third overtime the Caps took another 10 shots, the Islanders fired 11. Nothing! After 120 minutes of play the shots were NY 52, Washington 74!
That’s when Mike Emrick and Bill Clement officially lost it.
It was going to take something out of the ordinary to end this thing. Six hours and 18 minutes after the game started, after 128 minutes and 13 seconds of hockey, after 68-plus minutes of overtime, it finally happened.
Gord Dineen skated behind the net, came out front and fired. It was blocked by Kevin Hatcher but bounced across the zone. Pat LaFontaine, smartly covering the point for Dineen, had his back to the net, turned and fired blindly. Mason never saw it.
Islanders 3, Capitals 2.
It was the longest Game 7 in NHL history. It was 1:58 in the morning on what was one of the longest nights of my life. I remember not moving, or talking, or doing anything for a few minutes.
Most of us eventually got up, thanked Whitehair and headed home. A couple guys were passed out on the floor. I envied them.
The Redskins would win that Super Bowl the next year, and another in ’92, but then came Danny Boy and Zorn and the Maroon & Black and Haynesworth and … but now, RGIII (not 3, right?).
The Orioles would get Camden Yards and the streak, but then more than a decade of losing. But now, first place.
D.C. would get the Nats and the worst record in baseball, twice! But now, Strasburg and Harper (soon) and first place.
The Terps would suffer through Bob Wade and probation. But then Gary, two Final Fours and a national championship, and now Turgeon and an awesome recruiting class.
The Hoyas would have the Esherick era. But now, JTIII and a Final Four.
The Wizards have stopped making the playoffs and now have nothing but wicked pixels.
The Caps have spent 25 years finding amazingly dramatic ways to get eliminated. They lost another four-OT playoff game (this one was even longer), multiple 3-1 leads have been blown, President’s Trophy winners have been ousted in the first round.
Including the Easter Epic the Caps have been in a Game 7 nine times. They are 2-7.
Tonight they put us through it for the 10th time. Just like in 1987 I’ll sit down with a beer at 7:30 feeling optimistic, but all that matters is how I’ll feel at 1:58 in the morning.