Only four NHL teams have ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the NHL playoffs. The New York Islanders were one of those teams.
The New York Islanders hold a 3-0 series lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins in their first-round matchup. A lead that is virtually insurmountable in the history of the NHL postseason. Like Eyes on Isles Matt O’Leary wrote, 98 percent of teams up 3-0 win their series.
But a 3-0 lead is by no means a guarantee. Four teams have come back to take a seven-game series after being down by three games. The New York Islanders were one of those teams back in 1975.
Down 3-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Islanders stormed back to win four straight games and the series. How?
Leave it to Westfall
After a 6-4 loss in game three, the New York Islanders found themselves in a 3-0 hole to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 1975 only a single team had come back from a 3-0 deficit, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs.
The New York Islanders were looking at an almost certain elimination from the postseason. But this was their first ever trip to the playoffs as a franchise, they weren’t about to just turn over and give up.
Game four started with the New York Islanders getting on the board first thanks to Andre St Laurent. Add two goals before the seven-minute mark of the third period from Clark Gillies and JP Parise (Ed Westfall would get a primary assist on the goal) and the Islanders would win 3-1 and were only down 3-1 in the series.
In game five, the Pittsburgh Penguins wanted to kill off the Islanders. They doubled the Islanders in shots but thanks to a game-winning power-play goal from Ed Westfall, the Islanders would walk away with a 4-2 win and cut the series deficit down to 3-2.
Chico Resch would put on a clinic in game six, stopping 39 of the 40 shots he faced (a 0.969SV%). The team ahead of him would pump the Penguins net for four goals. Westfall would get his third goal of the series and the third one for the Islanders that night. (Gary Howatt would nab a brace and the game winner).
Series tied 3-3. Game seven. The Penguins were clearly frazzled. They had the Islanders down and out with a 3-0 series lead. The series should have been over at this point. There shouldn’t have been a game seven.
The Penguins were frustrated that the series had dragged on this long and they let it show. They stepped up their physical play to stamp out the pesky Islanders, but the Isles wouldn’t be intimidated. In the first period alone there were 12 penalties handed out to both teams.
Chico Resch again stepped up for the Islanders. He stopped every single shot that he faced that night, keeping the Islanders in the game as the Penguins battered them with a 30-17 shot differential.
By the 14-minute mark of the third period, the score was tied 0-0 until big Ed Westfall stepped up. Receiving a pass from defenseman Bert Marshall just outside of the slot, Westfall almost literally walks right to the front of the net and backhands the puck past Penguins goalie Gary Inness (go to the 0:29 minute mark of the video).
That was Westfall’s third goal in three games and fourth of the series. All told he had seven points in seven games as the Isles captain powered his team to victory against the Penguins.
Comeback completed. The New York Islanders became only the second team in NHL history to perform that comeback. Sadly they’d lose to the Philadelphia Flyers in the next round, but the Islanders would be back.
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Even though only four teams have ever come back from being down 3-0, the 2019 New York Islanders have a job to do on Tuesday. They’ll be facing a cornered dog fighting for their playoff lives in the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Islanders need to match that intensity while simultaneously playing the game that got them to where they are right now. The might be close, but it ain’t over yet.