The Shifting of a Dyansty (p. 2)
The Islanders' reign runs out
by Pat Calabria
As if the series didn’t already have enough ingredients, Game 1 in Edmonton featured two events which fueled the drama. First, Bossy was a surprise scratch because of a sudden, mysterious illness, later described as tonsillitis. Then, after some verbal sparring, Anderson and Smith exchanged slashes, with Smith’s clubbing of the Oiler forward inciting the hometown fans, not to mention Sather. But Smith kept his composure and protected the tender 1-0 lead Duane Sutter had provided with a first-period goal. Ken Morrow’s empty-net goal in the final seconds cemented the shutout of the astonished Oilers.
But game two was no less shocking, with the Oilers top guns again held in check and the Islanders scoring three times in the first period, enroute to a 6-3 victory. The game marked the return of Bossy, whose goal gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead, but the biggest news continued to be the Islanders’ handling of Gretzky. He again failed to score and was credited with only two assists in the game, far from the explosion the Oilers and their followers anticipated.
“You don’t expect to win the first two games of the finals when you’re on the road,” said Islander Brent Sutter, Duane’s younger brother. “But then a lot of things have happened that we didn’t expect.”
With the series moving to Nassau Coliseum on Long Island for the next two games, the Oilers vowed they would turn the series around with the display of firepower for which they had become famous. But with only 19 seconds left in the first period, Islander Anders Kallur scored for a 1-0 lead. Kurri evened the score in the second period, but third-period goals by Bourne, Morrow and each of the Sutter brothers propelled the Islanders to a 5-1 victory and onto the threshold of a fourth straight title.
The team’s careful defensive style and opportune goal-scoring confounded the Oilers early in game four, too. The Islanders scored three times in the first period, the Oilers replied with two goals in the second and Smith acrobatically preserved the lead until Morrow added another empty-net goal for a 4-2 victory. Gretzky was held without a goal — and to just four assists — in the series and Smith was voted the Conn Smythe Trophy.
The Islanders allowed the mighty Oilers only six goals in the four games. They trailed in the score merely six minutes the whole series. They extended their streak in Stanley Cup finals to nine straight victories and their record in the finals to a remarkable 16-3. They became only the second franchise in history to win as many as four straight Cups, joining the Montreal Canadiens which won four, 1976-79, and five, 1956-60.
“They dominated us completely,” Edmonton defenseman Kevin Lowe said. “They were always ahead and it’s virtually impossible to try to play catch-up with them.”
“The Oilers are a great hockey team” said Bourne, conciliatory after helping his team clinch. “They’re going to win the Stanley Cup some day, but right now we’re still the best team. Why? Because we’re scared of losing. We know the feeling. We remember it, and that’s what keeps us going. We like being champions too much. Tell ‘em, we’ll see ‘em again next year.”
Bourne’s words turned out to be prophetic. The Islanders rose back into first-place in 1983-84 with an impressive 50-26-4 record, their 104 points lagging only behind the Oilers’ resounding 57-18-5 mark for 119 points. Edmonton also set another record with 446 goals, Gretzky pacing the club with 87 goals and 118 assists for 205 points. But while Edmonton faced only one big obstacle in its march back to the finals — winning the seventh game of the division final against Calgary — the Islanders struggled much of the way.
They needed overtime to eliminate the Rangers in the conclusive fifth game of the division semifinals, lost the first game against Washington before rallying to win four straight games in the next round, and lost the first two games against the inspired Canadiens — hoping to keep the Islanders from matching their record of five straight Cups — before winning the last four games of the conference finals.
That victory extended the Islanders’ winning streak in playoff series to an eye-popping 19 straight, a record. But the offense was slumping, the team was among the oldest in the league, and several key players were injured, including Pat LaFontaine, the speedy center who had joined the Islanders after the Olympics and given them a much-needed jolt. And they no longer had much of an edge in experience over the Oilers, who still badly desired the Cup, but no longer seemed awed by the opportunity to compete for it.
They proved that with a 1-0 victory in the opener on Long Island, turning the tables on the Islanders’ strategy with a sound defensive performance of their own. That ended Edmonton’s 10-game losing streak to the Islanders extending back to 1981, and more important it shattered the aura of the Islanders’ invincibility. The Islanders once again smothered Gretzky, tangled the
Oilers in checks, and still the Oilers showed their patience and maturity in finding a way to win. The turning point came after two scoreless periods, thanks not to one of the stars in the Edmonton galaxy, but to Kevin McClelland and Pat Hughes. The journeymen forwards teamed up on the play which deposited the puck past Smith, Hughes passing from the corner and McClelland directing the puck inside the far post 1:55 into the third period. At the other end of the ice, Edmonton goalie Grant Fuhr — supplanting Moog in the net — held on to the lead, despite a flurry of Islander shots in the final seconds.
“Aah,” Fuhr said. “It was a piece of cake.”
Behind a hat trick by Gillies, the Islanders rebounded to win game two by a score of 6-1, a victory that appeared to get the four-time champions back on track. They had, after all, played two games, permitted only two goals, and had blanked Gretzky on the scoresheet — only the seventh time all season the Oilers’ famed number 99 had not recorded a point. But now the series was moving to Edmonton, not for two games as had long been the practice in the playoffs — but for three.
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