Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - New York Islanders - 1979-83
One on One Turning Point

11 JULY 2013
New Islander captain Denis Potvin and teammates celebrating with the Stanley Cup following their 1980 Stanley Cup win over the Philadelphia Flyers. (Photo by Mecca/Hockey Hall of Fame)
In the spring of 1978, the New York Islanders had been eliminated by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the semi-finals. The next year, the New York Rangers dumped the Islanders in the semi-finals.

Bryan Trottier hoisting the Stanley Cup in 1981. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Blessed with great young talent like Denis Potvin (first Islanders' selection in 1973 NHL Entry Draft), Clark Gillies (first pick by Islanders in 1974 Entry Draft), Bryan Trottier (the Islanders' second selection in 1974), Mike Bossy (New York's first choice in 1977 Entry Draft), Dave Langevin and John Tonelli (both arriving from the newly disbanded World Hockey Association) as well as goaltender Billy Smith (claimed from the Los Angeles Kings in the 1972 expansion draft), General Manager Bill Torrey realized that his Islanders were poised for greatness, but were just a few pieces away from winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship.

By 1979-80, the team had finished the season on a roll. Duane Sutter had been summoned from junior. It also helped that in March of that season, they had plucked Ken Morrow from the U.S. Olympic Team after their gold medal victory and added him to the roster, Denis Potvin had returned from a badly injured thumb and they dealt Billy Harris and Dave Lewis to the Los Angeles Kings, receiving Butch Goring in return.

"You need chemistry, and no slight to Chico Resch, but when we went with Billy Smith in net, all of a sudden, teams were a little more afraid to go around the crease," explained Bryan Trottier. "They stayed a little further away because he was a battler. He was a money goalie."

1982 Stanley Cup Final action between the New York Islanders and the Vancouver Canucks. The Islanders swept the Canucks in four games to capture their third consecutive Stanley Cup. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Hockey Hall of Fame)
"We had been thinking for three years that we had the team to win the Cup," recalled Mike Bossy. "Our strong finish helped us believe that this was our year."

In the opening round, the Islanders defeated the Kings, with former Islanders Billy Harris and Dave Lewis in the line-up. They then eliminated the Bruins, beating them twice in overtime in Boston. Next up was Buffalo, and they beat the Sabres. That led to the Stanley Cup match-up: the New York Islanders against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The first game was won by the Islanders 4-3 in overtime. But the Flyers roared back in Game Two, slamming New York 8-3. Game Three was a 6-2 Islander win, followed by a 5-2 win. Up three games to two, Philadelphia proved that they weren't yet finished, winning an 8-3 contest.

Billy Smith enjoying a drink from the Stanley Cup after a four game sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in 1983. Smith was named recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts in the post season. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Game Six saw the series shift back to Long Island. "We wanted to win it at home in front of our loyal fans," stated Bossy.

At the end of regulation, the teams were deadlocked at four apiece. With the fans hoarse from cheering for the home team, Bob Nystrom scored a beautiful goal at the lucky 7:11 mark of OT to give his Islanders their first Stanley Cup victory.

New York Islader Clark Gillies wore this jersey during the 1980 Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers. (Photo by Hal Roth/Hockey Hall of Fame)
"I just leaped over the boards, jumped on the ice, threw my gloves in the air and started screaming with joy," recalled Bossy.

That was the first of four consecutive championships for the New York Islanders.

In 1980-81, they defeated the Minnesota North Stars for the Stanley Cup, with Bryan Trottier named the playoff most valuable player. It was a sweep of the Vancouver Canucks that gave the Islanders the Cup in 1981-82, and Mike Bossy won the Conn Smythe that year, and another sweep, this time over the Edmonton Oilers, that gave them a fourth consecutive Stanley Cup championship. That year, Billy Smith was named playoff MVP. But a fifth win, which would have tied them with the Montreal Canadiens for most consecutive Stanley Cup celebrations, was not in the cards. In 1984, the Oilers came back to haunt the Islanders in a re-match of the previous spring and ended the Long Island squad's reign as Stanley Cup champions.

When we look back at the great dynasties in this great game, no one can ignore the extraordinary accomplishments of the New York Islanders in the early-1980s.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.