Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since 2002.
Maybe the oddest thing about Pat LaFontaine's goal, which ended the most recent Islanders-Capitals Game 7 in 1987, was not that it occurred in the fourth overtime or that it was just before 2 on Easter Sunday morning or that Islanders equipment trainer Jim Pickard predicted it. The weirdest part was that LaFontaine spun and fired from the right circle.
"I've never shot a puck like that since," the Hall of Famer said. Nor had he shot one like that beforehand.
The lesson, going into Islanders-Capitals Game 7, Part II Monday night, is that there is no way to know what to expect.InteractiveVote: What will you miss about Nassau Coliseum?
What happened two days ago has no more bearing on this Game 7 than what happened in the Easter Epic 28 years ago. You might see anything in an event that is an elimination game for both sides, and it might take you a while to see it.
LaFontaine recalled recently that the atmosphere at Capital Centre, then the Washington team's home, became so surreal that he heard himself asking an athletic trainer, "Can we have some oxygen?" He recalls that one teammate lost 12 pounds of fluid in a match that went as long as two regular games, and then some. LaFontaine and teammate Mikko Makela drank carb-laden shakes between periods, something he doubts the medical staff would allow now.
"I looked up in the stands, it's almost 2 in the morning, and the organist starts playing the music from 'The Twilight Zone' -- you know, 'Doo-doo, doo-doo,' " he said, singing the familiar tune as he recounted it during a late-season visit to Nassau Coliseum. "There was a moment when I said, 'What's going on here?' "
Pickard was being less existential when he pressed a water bottle to LaFontaine's neck to cool him. "He used to call me Pop," LaFontaine said. "He said, 'Pop, you're going to pop one in there, I can feel it.' "
Soon after that, LaFontaine hopped over the boards and covered the defenseman's spot while Gord Dineen was chasing the puck down low. Dineen's pass was deflected by Washington's Rod Langway to LaFontaine, whose unorthodox attempt gave new meaning to the hockey term "one-timer."
"I just remember turning and shooting," he said. At first, he was dejected because he heard it hit the post. But the next thing he knew, he saw Capitals goalie Bob Mason -- his former U.S. Olympic teammate -- slouching and the other Islanders leaping.
"I don't know where that adrenaline came from,'' he said. "That was a special night as an Islander, one I'll never forget."
About all anyone can say for sure about Monday night is that one way or another, it will be memorable. "Just go out there, work hard, play your game and don't be scared out there," said Isles defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who had a plus-2 rating in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final for the victorious Bruins. "Stay in the moment. Don't let your emotions get the best of you."
Cal Clutterbuck, who may or may not have scored the last goal ever at Nassau Coliseum (it depends on whether they win Monday night), said after practice there Sunday: "I think there's a feeling of guys realizing how hard it's been to get to this point and there are a lot of guys in this room who aren't ready to let that go."
Maybe the Islanders will regret not having home-ice advantage, maybe not. Last season, five of the six Game 7s were won by visiting teams.
Who knows if it matters that most of the Caps have been in Game 7s and few of the Isles have? Seven of the Caps' past nine series have gone seven. They have lost five of those.
Will Alex Ovechkin have a world-class player's world-class game, or will he add to his shaky postseason reputation?
Will it go four overtimes? Will someone spin and shoot like LaFontaine (whose team then took the Flyers to seven games)? There is absolutely no way to predict anything in Game 7.
"It's going to be a fun game and everybody's going to remember it," Boychuk said. "Yeah, you enjoy it. You enjoy it a lot more when you win a Game 7."
LaFontaine said on the phone Sunday night: "This whole year has been a trip down Memory Lane for former players, so a Game 7 against Washington brings back a lot of emotions."
When he was asked what advice he would give players, he said: "Play with no fear. You're not going to have to worry about adrenaline."
And he said that another teammate from 1987, Bryan Trottier, texted him Saturday after having watched a tape of the Easter Epic, suggesting it didn't have to be so epic. The text read, "Boy, you and Mikko had a lot of chances."