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  Islanders Deliver Unlikely Finish
By Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 20, 1987; Page C07


Capitals Logo Kelly Hrudey recalled one of his half-delirious teammates standing up in the visitors' locker room during the sixth intermission, after the third overtime period Saturday night, and saying, "I don't know about you guys but I feel better now than I did in the second period."

Just about all of the New York Islanders laughed, Hrudey said, although few of them knew why. "I don't know if we had a great, positive outlook or if we were just punch drunk," Hrudey said. "Pat LaFontaine came up to me after the first overtime and promised he'd score the game-winning goal. But he didn't say when."

Punch drunk or not, delirious or not, LaFontaine delivered on his promise. At 8:47 of the fourth overtime, he took a desperation turnaround slap shot that ended the fifth-longest game in NHL history, gave the Islanders a 3-2 victory and an improbable seven-game victory after trailing the series, three games to one.

The Islanders tried to make sense of what had happened, but their words could not capture all the action that took place over 6 1/2 hours. After trying to describe the first five hours, Hrudey — the star of this series — finally gave up. "I have no idea what happened the first five periods," he said.

"When Pat's shot went in, I was too tired to feel any emotion. Your body just couldn't feel anymore. Your mind was trying to play the game. You didn't even look at the clock anymore. Your body was just saying, 'Here I am.' "

That was sort of the way LaFontaine, the veteran center, felt. Gord Dineen had tried, unsuccessfully, to jam the puck into the corner of the net. And it somehow found its way into the middle of the ice.

"I just turned and hit the thing," LaFontaine said. "I was just hoping it would hit somebody in front of the net and be a shot on goal. Dale Henry screened {Capitals goalie} Bob Mason, and I could see the puck hit the post."

After almost any great game, players on the winning team talk about how bad they feel for the losers. But in the New York locker room, some of the Islanders said they had never felt as bad for an opponent as they did for the Capitals.

"I went over to Mason and told him he was unbelievable," LaFontaine said. "I mean, geez, it's all over. We just looked at each other. We had been holding each other and knocking each other down for seven periods, true. But we had all been in the thing together."

The Islanders — relieved, exhausted, happy, discombobulated as they were — could have been out of this series Tuesday after falling behind by two games. They had to play without defenseman Denis Potvin, center Brent Sutter and winger Mike Bossy, stars all.

For the Islanders to tie the series at three games each was a surprise to most people. For them to survive a 75-shot assault by the Capitals Saturday night was even more impressive. If not for Bryan Trottier's goal with five minutes left in regulation and a sparkling defensive play to stop Bob Gould's breakaway with 25 seconds left in regulation, there would not have been a marathon at Capital Centre.

"Everybody wrote us off at 3-1," Hrudey said. "If I was a writer, I'd have written it, too, that we had no chance."

Patrick Flatley said his team's seven-game triumph created "an unbreakable bond" that should help the Islanders through their fatigue and into the series against the Flyers, which begins tonight in Philadelphia.

But it was too soon for most of the Islanders to think even that far ahead. Most of them were still trying to figure out what happened over seven periods of play.

Asked what he told his players during the three intermissions after regulation, New York Coach Terry Simpson said, "Nothing really. Just to get it out of our zone and get it into their zone. Get a break. There wasn't much to say at that point. It was quite a game, wasn't it?"

© Copyright 1987 The Washington Post Company

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