The Shifting of a Dyansty (p. 3)
The Islanders' reign runs out
by Pat Calabria
It was the first time in history that the playoffs were scheduled this way, in an effort to reduce travel costs, and it worked to the Oilers’ advantage. Fuhr responded with an outstanding effort in Northlands Coliseum in pivotal game three, stopping Bossy and Kallur on breakaways in the first period to keep his team in the game. Edmonton’s dangerous Mark Messier scored a picturesque goal to tie the score tie, 2-2, in the second period, feinting past defenseman Gord Dineen and slapping a shot past Smith, and then Edmonton got goals from Anderson and Coffey only 17 seconds apart within the final minute of the period. That outburst sparked the Oilers to a rousing 7-2 victory and injected them with another dose of confidence.
They had dealt the Islanders one of the worst playoff losses in their history, and they knew it.
“They had done it to us before,” Gretzky said. “I always wondered what it would be like to do it to them.”
“This is not the same team we beat last year,” Islander defenseman Stefan Persson moaned.
“They are better — much better.”
With their 2-1 lead in the series, the Oilers also were once again a cocky bunch. During the Stanley Cup luncheon the next afternoon, the teams traded barbs, and a controversy arose over the early 9 a.m. practice time the Oilers had assigned to the Islanders that morning. Sather, the smart-alecky Edmonton coach, revealed that he had “discovered” that Smith was vulnerable on low shots. Smith, noting Sather’s journeyman career as a player, replied: “I never knew Glen Sather to be much of a goal-scorer.”
But the Oilers’ vast improvement became even more evident in game four. Led by Messier, they checked the Islanders hard without sacrificing any of their offense. And although a soft backhand shot by Gretzky just 1:53 into game barely slid across the goal line, it had the effect of a lightening bolt. Even with Fuhr sidelined with a bruised shoulder, backup goalie Andy Moog needed little help in keeping Edmonton in front. Just 89 seconds after the opening goal, Glenn Anderson curled around the Islander net, lost control of the puck and then brushed Smith as the Islander goalie reached to cover it.
But Oiler Willy Lindstrom beat Smith to the puck and poked a shot into the net for a 2-0 lead. Lindstrom’s second goal of the game in the second period pushed the Edmonton lead to 4-1 and behind another solid performance by Moog, the Oilers moved to within one game of their first Cup with another 7-2 victory. Said Messier: “I can’t sleep just thinking about it.”
When the teams appeared for game five, Northlands Coliseum was a cauldron of emotion — cheers and jeers and wild ovations, the crowd sensing that the Oilers’ time finally had arrived. If there was any doubt, it disintegrated along with the Islanders’ famous poise when Edmonton soared to a 4-0 lead after two periods. Two breakaway goals by Gretzky started Edmonton rolling and Smith was yanked in the second period and replaced by Rollie Melanson in the Islander net. Gretzky assisted on Ken Linsemen’s goal just 38 seconds into the second period and Kurri added another, carrying the Oilers to a 5-2 victory, the first sip of their long thirst for success.
“We got the Islanders in the position of having to come from behind,” Edmonton defenseman Kevin Lowe said. “We never allowed them to get ahead. We forced them to play a wide-open game with us.”
That was the undoing of the Islanders’ dynasty and the beginning of the one assembled by the Oilers. Edmonton practically invented the innovative “free-flow” offense — or, at least, refined it. Wings were no longer tethered to flanks of the ice, but were encouraged to weave and wander. Defensemen such as the dangerous Paul Coffey became part of the offense. Indeed, Coffey would rank among the top scorers for years. Messier, who was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, was the prototype of the next generation of forwards — not only fast, but strong and powerful, a forceful and intimidating leader.
Unlike previous champions, who stuck to a plan of trying to win a game by a score of 3-1, the Oilers were happy to win 7-4. They were exciting, flashy, entertaining, and their victory over the Islanders in 1984 was a promise of things to come. And while the Oilers expressed their utmost admiration for the Islanders and New York’s record streak of 19 playoff series, they had admiration for themselves, too.
“There have been a lot of great teams,” Messier said, “but I don’t think there’s ever been a team quite like us.”
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Well-known in New York communications circles, Pat Calabria, formerly of Newsday, reported on the New York Islanders from 1975 to 1986 and later served the club as its vice-president of communications. Article reprinted with permission from The Official National Hockey League Stanley Cup Centennial Book, Copyright 1992, The National Hockey League and Dan Diamond and Associates. Published by McClelland & Stewart.