We all here remember the championship-breed New York Islanders. 1979 through 1984 was a magical time for Long Island’s hockey team. 5 straight trips to the Stanley Cup Finals with 4 consecutive Cups. But, as we all know, success of that nature doesn’t just happen spontaneously. One has to start somewhere.
For that we look at the 1974-75 season, where the seeds of the Islanders dynasty may be found–a team many critics and fans fail to give its due credit. Islanders broadcaster Howie Rose is a huge proponent of this team and has consistently lobbied for their recognition.
The Islanders were really a neophyte team in 1974. They were entering their third season and had never sniffed a winning record. Al Arbour clearly had his work ahead of him. The team finished last in the league for the 2nd year in a row. No one had any idea what magic was still to come.
The team made a number of key acquisitions before and during the season that would help them along the way. They traded for Bob Bourne before the season, and in 2 consecutive days in January of 1975 they acquired both Jude Drouin and J.P. Parise. No one knew just how key these acquisitions would be.
When the season began, the Isles shot out of the gate, winning all but one of their first 10 games. Much like the 2001-02 Islanders, the team then played well enough the rest of the way to qualify for the playoffs, their firs ever post season berth. They finished at 33-25-22, tied for 2nd in the Patrick Division with the New York Rangers. They would meet that very same team in the 1st round of the playoffs.
The boys in Blue and Orange were not given much of a shot against the wily veterans from NYC. In 1975, the first round of the playoffs was a 3 game series. The Islanders surprised many by taking the 1st game at MSG by a score of 3-2. The Rangers returned the favor by blowing the Isles out of the Coliseum in Game 2, 8-3. That set up a decisive Game 3 at MSG. It was fun while it lasted, but obviously the Rangers had the advantage and would take care of their cross-town rivals easily. Well, apparently the Islanders didn’t get that message. They stormed out to a 3-0 lead and seemed destined to move on to Round 2. Unfortunately, the Rangers were not done. The Broadway Blueshirts crept back into the game, eventually tying it at 3 and sending the game into overtime.
However, the Isles were ready for what was to come. It took just 11 seconds for them to shock the Rangers and send them home. Jude Drouin sent a pass to J.P. Parise who was parked in front of the net all alone. He slid it past Ed Giacomin for a 4-3 victory and the Islanders’ first ever playoff series win.
Listen to J.P. explain it:
Great explanation, but sorry JP, not one of our fans deep down is anything but an Isles fan.
After this hard fought series against the Rangers, the Islanders would then move on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens, who had swept the Blues in the 1st round, finished the regular season with 89 points, just one more point than the Isles.
The Rangers series obviously took a lot out of captain Ed Westfall and the Isles. Before you could bat an eyelash, the Isles were down 3-0 in the best of 7 series against Pittsburgh. But Coach Al Arbour was not interested in giving up, and he didn’t think his team should either. Up until then, there was only one other team that had ever completed a comeback from 3-0 and that would be the 1942 Maple Leafs.
Arbour did not doubt that his players had it in them to come back. “I didn’t think it was a big deal. I just told the boys, ‘If there’s anyone who doesn’t think we can win four in a row against Pittsburgh, please get the heck off the ice.” As they would learn to do for many seasons to come, the Isles followed the advice of their fearless leader. They were not done. They would not give up and they reeled off 3 straight victories to force a Game 7 in Pittsburgh.
The gutty, gritty Islanders kept the game a scoreless tie into the third period. Ed Westfall put the Isles ahead for good with just over 5 minutes to go in the game. Chico Resch helped by stopping all 30 Pittsburgh shots, and the Isles won the game 1-0 and the series 4-3, in historic fashion.
Up next for the boys from Long Island? The Philadelphia Flyers aka The Broad Street Bullies. This was not going to be an easy task for the Isles, as the Flyers were the President’s Cup winners and had only lost 18 times during the regular season.
After 3 games in the series, the Islanders found themselves in a familiar hole. They were once again down 3-0 to a tough opponent. Dave Schultz led the known universe with 472 PIM,
Apparently no one told Clark Gillies. Jethro was not backing down from anyone!
With Bobby Clarke having 89 assists during the regular season, and Bernie Parent recording 12 shutouts, the uphill climb would not be easy for the Islanders. If they were to come to back again from down 3-0 in the series, they would need a special effort. They got just that. They won the next game 4-3 in OT, then followed that up with a 5-1 thrashing of the Flyers in Philly. They capped it off with a 2-1 squeaker of a victory back at the Coliseum. That once again set up a Game 7 for the Isles, after being down in a series 3 games to none.
Game 7 started off in classic fashion before the puck was even dropped. Islanders’ captain Ed Westfall hatched a brilliant plan to steal the mojo from the Flyers. He would present a bouquet of flowers to famed God Bless America singer Kate Smith after she was done singing. Smith was somewhat of a good luck charm to the Flyers and Westfall was out to change that. In one of the most memorable moments in Stanley Cup Playoff history, Westfall and the Islanders did just as planned.
Great plan. Great drama. However, the results did not follow. The Islanders could not complete their second historic comeback in a row. Although the Flyers would go on to beat the Sabres, and win the Stanley Cup in 1975, they have not had a visit with Lord Stanley in the 38 years since.
However, the future was bright for these Islanders. 5 years later the Islanders started their dynasty. They won 4 straight Stanley Cups, and went to 5 straight Cup Finals. This is a feat that has not been equaled by any American sports franchise since.
Although the 2012-13 Islanders came up empty in their pursuit of a series victory in the playoffs. There truly is a lot to look forward to in the future. A lot of parallels can be drawn between these upstart Islanders of 2013 and those gritty Isles of 1975.