Sports Uncovered is a six-part weekly podcast series that explores the stories that took the national sports world by storm. The newest episode, Marathon On Ice, dives into the longest game of the NHL’s modern era. Not surprisingly, the Washington Capitals have their own history of epic Game 7s.
One of the most legendary hockey games in Capitals history is, unfortunately, a loss. The Easter Epic, a four-overtime Game 7 played between Washington and the New York Islanders, resulted in a loss for the Caps as Pat LaFontaine ripped out the hearts of Washington fans everywhere with his goal. In sports, sometimes there are losses that scar sports fans forever, That game was certainly one of them for Caps fans. Just one year, later, however, Washington found itself on the winning end of a Game 7 overtime as Dale Hunter restored hope to the franchise.
If you have ever been to a game at Capital One Arena, you will probably recognize Hunter’s breakaway overtime winner. It is played before games, but you may not know why it is significant. Long before Alex Ovechkin led the Caps to a Stanley Cup, Hunter’s goal was the biggest goal in the history of the team.
In 1988, Washington finished the season in second place of the Patrick Division and drew the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. Looking to erase the memory of LaFontaine’s goal, the playoffs got off to a horrible start. Murray Craven scored less than two minutes into overtime of Game 4 to give Philadelphia a 3-1 series lead and it looked like the Caps were headed for an early exit. Instead, that’s when the team dug in its heels. After wins of 5-2 and 7-2, the Caps forced a decisive Game 7 in Washington.
The Easter Epic took place on April 18, 1987. On April 16, 1988, the Caps once again took to the ice at home in a Game 7 to determine which team would advance.
The game got ugly fast as the Flyers took a 3-0 lead early in the second period, but Washington rallied for three goals to tie it before the period was out. Hunter then scored on the power play early in the third as the Caps incredibly took a 4-3 lead in a game in which they had trailed 3-0. Brad Marsh, however, scored just over a minute later and the game was tied at 4.
In overtime, Craven, the overtime hero for Philadelphia in Game 4, had the puck stolen away by Larry Murphy at the blue line. Seeing the lane, Hunter swung around in the neutral zone and bolted up ice and Murphy fed him perfectly as Hunter split the defense for the breakaway. Hunter beat Ron Hextall through the 5-hole with the shot and the series was over.
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The Capitals’ postseason history includes plenty of heartaches and, before the team won the Stanley Cup, it was hard not to see past those. But the team's history is full of great moments as well and Hunter’s Game 7 winner is one of the greatest. While Evgeny Kuznetsov’s Game 6 goal to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins or Lars Eller’s Cup-clinching goals may loom larger in the minds of Caps’ fans now, don't forget Hunter’s goal that restored hope to a franchise that seemed to have lost in just one year prior.