Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Rangers, fresh off their sweep of the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, came back home to Manhattan and Madison Square Garden looking to finish off their hated rivals in game five of our best of seven series using the What-If-Sports simulation engine.
After splitting the opening two games on the road, the Islanders were feeling real good about where they stood heading into game three but a 4-2 loss and overtime defeat left them on the brink of elimination heading into very hostile territory.
Al Arbour would give his team the day off prior to this tilt as if to tell the players, go home and re-charge the batteries, relax and spend some time with the family. Would it be a master stroke by the legendary Isles bench boss or a tactical mistake?
In the crease, ‘Battlin’ Billy Smith was looking to rebound from a horrific performance in the last game, allowing 5 goals before being pulled midway through the second period. The warrior always seems to come back strong from a sub-par performance and the blue and orange are going to need him to be at his very best if they are to survive and send the series back to Long Island for game six.
There would be no lineup changes for either team and the Garden crowd was especially voracious as they clearly smelled blood in the water from a wounded animal and tried to go in for the kill. But was the prey clearly wounded or just playing possum? Let’s find out.
New York Islanders @ New York Rangers
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Game five of best of seven series (Rangers lead series 3-1)
First Period : The key for any team facing elimination, especially on the road, is to come out like they have been shot out of a cannon and attempt to take the home crowd out of the game early. Clearly, that was the Islanders strategy and it worked as just 1:25 into the game as hulking defenseman Dave Langevin scorched a slap shot from just inside the Rangers blue line that eluded Mike Richter through the five hole. It was a rare bad goal given up by the New York goaltender who has been so solid in this series and the momentum the home team garnered coming out of the locker room faded quickly along with their will. 11:35 in, the visitors would make it a double as Bob Bourne again showed his tremendous outside speed and powered to the net flipping a shot over Richter’s shoulder. After the Isles killed a penalty to Gord Lane, a reversal of game one would take place as the blue and orange took a 3-0 lead at 17:19 when Clark Gillies deflected a Bryan Trottier shot waist high into the Rangers cage. The Rangers would not go down without a fight however, firing 8 shots in the final 3 minutes of the period as they frantically tried to get back into the game and awaken the home supporters. But Billy Smith was clearly back on his game, ending the first period by turning away 19 Rangers attempts on goal. The Islanders would tally 9 of their own.
Second Period : The second period started much like the first, with the Rangers trying to cycle for forecheck the Islanders defenseman down low but good puck control and safe clearances would mark the early stages and set up a fourth Isles tally. As Stefan Persson alluded the check of Glenn Anderson behind Smith, he chipped the puck up the glass and along the right wing boards. A pinching Brian Leetch saw it skip past him into the neutral zone and with Jeff Beukeboom horribly out of position, Clark Gillies sped in on a breakaway from center ice. ‘Jethro’, as he has been dubbed by his teammates, let out a voracious lion like roar as he skated in and Richter dropped his glove and blocker and skated into the corner leaving a wide open net for Gillies to deposit the biscuit. Never before has the league seen such intimidation tactics used before and word out of the league office quickly filtered down a rule was already being discussed to prevent such animalistic behavior from occurring again. With a cushy 4 goal lead, the Isles were content to sit back and absorb a little pressure, chipping the puck out to center on many occasions to keep the Rangers at bay. The home team would strike back at 15:32 when Adam Graves tallied but it was an extremely elevated up-hill climb for the home team on this night. Shots in the second ended 11-10 for the Rangers.
Third Period : With the Rangers content to spend most of the remainder of game five chasing Gillies around the ice looking for retribution, and Clark subsequently not taking the bait, offense was furthest from their mind. Mike Gartner would continue to torment the Isles in this series by scoring another goal at 8:46 but the glowing 4-2 on the scoreboard was a lot further away in the Rangers case than it seemed. Clearly out-classed and outplayed on their home ice with a clinch in sight, many fans wearing the red, white and blue had to start entertaining doubts that another famous collapse might be coming down the road. As if to further add insult to injury, literally, John Tonelli would take a cross checking penalty at 19:04 that would render Alexei Kovalev motionless on the ice in the offensive zone corner. It was a stamp on a devastating performance by the visitors, who controlled every aspect of the hockey game from start to finish. Shots in the third were 11-8 Islanders.
Continuing a trend that showed its face many times across the 1979-80 season, the Islanders proved to be a tough out. Not content to go down easily, especially to the Rangers, the pride and talent showed through on this night. However, a daunting task still remains. Win at home and attempt for force a decisive game seven on the road with the Rangers having secured home ice by having the better record and overall point total over the course of the regular season. While many in the Rangers colors might have been sensing gloom and doom, conditions still looked slightly favorable for them. Then again, odds never bothered this Islanders team before, did they?
Shots By Period
Stars Of The Game
RANGERS LEAD BEST OF SEVEN SERIES THREE GAMES TO TWO