Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
There is nothing like it in professional sports. Anyone can argue with me if they wish but probably will not win. Keep the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals, PGA Championship and even the beer pong world series…..The NHL playoffs are unrivaled in terms of a sporting spectacle and to experience a game seven to boot? No contest.
You witness the blood, sweat and tears of training, practices, video review and meetings. Players putting everything on the line for the sake of their teammates and organizations for whom they skate with pride each and every night.
The New York Islanders and New York Rangers rivalry is storied in its past, giving us years of entertainment, enjoyment and disappointment along with being the topic of discussion that ruled my teenage years growing up on the streets of Staten Island, NY.
My friends and I would argue for countless hours on who was the better team and back then, the discussions were more times than not illogical in their origin and end result. The fact remains that in the early 80s, my buddies on Park Street and Cranford Avenue were most often losing those aforementioned sessions as the Islanders ran the gamut over the entire league to 4 consecutive Stanley Cup championships and 5 straight appearances on the leagues biggest stage.
Fortunately for me, when the Rangers finally broke their streak of cup-less seasons in 1994 along with winning the President’s trophy as the league’s best team, I was in my early 20s and had moved out to start a life with my wife , daughter and still unborn son. So the razing I would have been subjected to was never felt.
We used the simulation engine of What-If sports to play out a seven game series between these two cup winning teams and the results were fabulous. With the Rangers dominating almost every game in terms of offensive attempts and subsequently shots on goal, it was the Islanders, down 3 games to 1, who showed what they were made of back then, storming back behind the goaltending of one of the NHL’s best playoff performers, Billy Smith and the timely heroics of hall of famers Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy.
Game seven was to be simulated at Madison Square Garden in the heart of Manhattan as the Rangers earned that privilege by having more regular season points in 1994 than the Isles were able to muster in 1980. No lineup changes, same goaltenders. Let’s see where this great series would end up.
New York Islanders @ New York Rangers
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Game seven of best of seven series (Series tied 3-3)
First Period : It was a tense beginning for both clubs, as they clearly sensed the importance of the moment. The offensive fireworks so present in the series previous six games had eroded and what was left was tight checking, ultra intense and dump it out hockey. As each team fired in around the boards attempting to set up a worthy forecheck to generate something in the offensive zone, just as quickly the puck was sent out and everything fizzled. The Rangers failed on a power play opportunity early when Denis Potvin was sent off at 3:46 for closing his hand on the puck and likewise the Isles could not capitalize on two chances when Alexander Karpotsev and Alexei Kovalev were spending time in the sin bin. The first period would end with Anders Kallur earning a two minute minor for roughing up Brian Leetch right at the home team bench at 19:55 and the blueshirts would begin the second stanza on the power play. Isles outshot their rivals 9-5 in a rather boring first period.
Second Period : As the second period began, the Rangers took the lead on the powerplay. Mike Gartner used his speed to gain the Islanders zone and wheeled around the boards before sending the puck back to the point. Sergei Zubov received the pass cleanly and swept it across laterally to Brian Leetch, unchecked on the opposite point. As Butch Goring struggled to get out to cover Leetch, the Rangers defenseman sent a floater towards the goal that eluded both Dave Langevin and Adam Graves, tussling in front, and past a screened Smith. The crowd erupted into a frenzy as the momentum shift which had swung so widely all series long, edged towards the Rangers now. After killing a Graves penalty for boarding at 3:11, they found their offensive mojo and were swarming the Isles, who seemed to be just holding on and trying to survive the onslaught. Billy Smith stood tall once again, turning aside wave after wave of red, white and blue as the crowd lustfully yearned for more goals. But they would not come on this night, said Mr.Smith as he personally saw to the visitors heading into the final twenty of game seven only down 1-0. Shots in the second would end 24-5 for the Rangers but their dominance would not be reflected on the scoreboard.
Third Period : The Islanders were hardly shaken by much in the early 1980s and this game would be no exception. Being careful to not over-expose their defense in trying to get only a goal back, they played their trademark lunch pail carrying style into the third. It would payoff at the 3:46 mark when Anders Kallur, so underrated on these dynasty teams, took a pass from Goring at the bottom of the offensive zone faceoff circle and whipped a twisted wrister that beat Richter far side to tie the game. With the crowd silenced and sensing the Islanders were not going to go quietly into the night, they had more reason to be nervous at the 7:50 mark. As Brian Leetch raced for a potential icing, he slammed on the brakes, hitting a rut in the ice, his left ankle twisting grotesquely. With the crowd now in complete silence and both teams huddled around the all-star blueliner, he was helped directly into the dressing room, unable to put any weight at all on the injured extremity. That seemed to suck the life out of not only the building but the Rangers as well as a mental breakdown occurred just 47 seconds later. Sergei Zubov and new partner Jeff Beukeboom misread a dump out of the Islanders zone and allowed the puck to bounce between them. Caught flat-footed, Clark Gillies picked it up and raced in on a breakaway. Shooting rather than deking, he could not beat Richter, who made a fabulous pad save. Problem occured when nobody picked up Bryan Trottier trailing the play and he scooped up the rebound and circled the Rangers cage before sending a pass out to the slot for Mike Bossy to rifle home. Richter, clearly frustrated at the lack of defensive support, could only sit on his bum and contemplate what just had happened. Pulling Richter with 1:30 to play would prove to be no benefit as the Rangers never sniffed the Islanders crease again with Smith leaping high into the air at the final buzzer, celebrating a hard fought 2-1 game seven victory.
ISLANDERS WIN BEST OF SEVEN SERIES 4 GAMES TO 3
We hope you enjoyed our little take on this fantasy series between these two rivals using the What-If sports simulation engine. There were a lot of comments on facebook from both sides about what would have happened if they played for real, but the fact remains purely simple….this was a simulation run by a computer algorithm and as we have all seen before, anything can happen when two teams meet on the frozen tundra that is a NHL surface. Thanks for reading and would training camp just get here already!
Shots by Period
Stars of the Game
Billy Smith, 1980 NY Islanders