The Washington Capitals have seen plenty of overtime action in the playoffs, but long postseason games are nothing new for the team.
All three games that the Caps played this postseason, have, amazingly, ended in overtime. In Game 1, Washington and Toronto were tied at 2-2 at the end of regulation time. Tom Wilson buried the puck past Frederik Anderson 5:15 into overtime, to take the victory for the Caps. The second and third games also ended in overtime periods, where the Maple Leafs came out on top.
Washington has played a total of four overtime periods. Amazingly, there have been two moments in team history where this same number of overtime frames happened in a single game. More coincidentally, these two games also happened during the month April, in 1987 and 1996.
Longest Game 7 in History
The “Easter Epic” got its name because it happened on Easter Sunday in 1987 and carried over into the early hours of Monday. To date, the game remains the longest Game 7 in league history.
That year, the Capitals faced the New York Islanders for the fifth consecutive time and the rivalry was intense. The Isles overcame a 3-1 deficit to tie the series with wins in Games 5 and 6. When the Easter weekend came, it was do-or- die for both teams. The Islanders — having lost to the Caps in the Patrick Division semifinals the year before — were eager to win.
It was 7:30 p.m. eastern time when the game started. For the Caps, it was their chance to impress the home fans at Capitals Center. Washington seemed to have the momentum, but it wasn’t until the final minute of the first frame that the Caps managed to get onto the scoreboard. Thanks to Mike Gartner’s goal, Washington was able to take a 1-0 lead into the second.
Then came the second period. New York’s Patrick Flatley was able to tie the game before Grant Martin reestablished the lead for the Capitals. With strong goaltending by both teams, the score remained 2-1 in favor of Washington throughout the final period. It seemed as though the Caps would win this one, but with five minutes remaining, Islanders legend Bryan Trottier got the equalizer.
Now came the overtime and whoever scored would automatically win the series. Good scoring chances came along the way, but there was no joy for either team. As the game dragged on, fatigue also began to take a toll on both teams’ players. Miraculously, after 68:47 seconds of overtime play, Pat LaFontaine of the Islanders brought the game to an end. He hammered the game-winning goal from near the blue line, earning the comeback for the Isles.
In the end, the 1986-87 season was a disappointment for the Caps and the longest game in team history was yet to come.
Longest Game in Team History
Nine years later, in 1996, Washington had another postseason game end after four overtime periods. This time, the team played 79:15 of overtime, almost 11 minutes longer than the Easter Epic. It isn’t the longest overtime game in the league, but it is the longest in team history. Unfortunately, the Capitals came out on the wrong side of the scoreboard again.
In the first round of the 1996 playoffs, Washington had another tough opponent to battle: the Pittsburgh Penguins. That year, the Capitals were the seventh seed and faced the second-seeded Penguins. Although Pittsburgh had home-ice advantage in the first two games, Washington took the series lead 2-0. The Pens managed to cut the Caps’ lead in half in Game 3 before the four-overtime game came.
Like the Easter Epic, the four-overtime game that the Capitals played in 1996 was also on home ice. Still, the match ended in a comeback victory for the visiting team. The Caps had a 2-0 lead over the Pens a little under eight minutes into the second frame. Despite the trail, Pittsburgh was able to tie things up before the end of regulation time.
In the first overtime, Washington nearly won the game when Joe Juneau fired a shot from the left circle. The puck was inches from the goal line, but the Pittsburgh defense cleared it out. In the end, Petr Nedved got the victory for the Penguins in the fourth overtime.
The Caps never recovered. After the loss to Pittsburgh in Game 4, Washington dropped two more games and lost the series 4-2.
Washington might have seen plenty of overtime action by this point in the playoffs. Still, nothing compares to the games the team played back in 1987 and 199 and it’s unlikely that the Caps will end up playing a longer playoff game than those two.
I am a Vancouver-based sports journalist currently reporting for The Ubyssey, the campus newspaper of the University of British Columbia. Sports I have covered before include hockey, basketball, football, baseball, volleyball, rugby, field hockey, swimming and track and field.