|Bob Nystrom's 10-minute misconduct penalty in Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Final helped the Islanders win their first Stanley Cup.|
By noon, the temperature in the New York area was in the 90s and people were headed to Long Island, not necessarily to the Nassau Coliseum, but rather to Jones Beach and the Hamptons for a dip into the Atlantic Ocean. It was an early summer 3-H day -- hot, hazy and humid -- and those conditions would make the Nassau Coliseum steamier than normal.
It was the kind of day where a 10-minute rest in the penalty box might be helpful. Just ask Bob Nystrom, who would play a major role in Game 6.
The Islanders had a 3-2 lead in the series and a chance to win the Cup on home ice. It was a tough game, as the ice was somewhat slushy. Referee Bob Myers was busy handing out more than a dozen penalties in the first period, including a 10-minute misconduct penalty to Nystrom. No one knew it at the time, but getting that 10-minute penalty might have been the best thing for the Islanders that afternoon. The first period ended in a 2-2 tie, but the Islanders opened a two-goal lead in the second period on goals by Mike Bossy and Nystrom.
The Islanders had a 4-2 lead going into the final period and the team was just 20 minutes away from winning its first Stanley Cup, but the Flyers scored twice in the third period on goals by Bob Dailey and John Paddock and forced overtime.
"I was involved in a couple of altercations," said Nystrom of his first-period activities, which caused an extended stay in the penalty box. "Just due to really a skirmish where we were just sort of yapping a little bit, I got a 10-minute misconduct, so I watched a large portion of the game in the penalty box.
"Even now, when I watch the video tape of the game, my son (Eric, who is now a member of the Calgary Flames) says to me, 'Why are you in the penalty box all the time?'
"So, interestingly enough, I was fairly refreshed from that and I had a lot of energy going into the overtime. No question about it. I don't normally like to take misconducts, but I will tell you what -- it was kind of nice and relaxing sitting over there and watching the guys do their thing out there, and when I got the chance I was able to be in the right spot at the right time."
In those days, the Islanders players would go into the dressing room after a playoff game was tied and someone would get up and ask who is going to be the hero. After blowing a two-goal final-period lead, the Islanders' room was reasonably calm and the question was raised. Who was going to be the hero?
"Well you think of the accomplishment and just the fact that I scored that goal," said Nystrom of the Cup clincher that came at 7:11 of the overtime. "The goal was really made by John Tonelli. If anyone really came up with clutch goals, he was the guy. But right there, I just did the thing we had done in practice over and over and over again, go to the net and he feathered a nice pass to me and all I did was deflect it.
"I will tell you what -- it was the biggest of my career."
While there was a reasonable calm in the Islanders room after the third period, there was another realization too that dawned on the players. The Islanders were scared. They saw the possibility of the Cup slipping away.
"I can honestly tell you, the fear of having to go back to Philly (for a Game 7)," he said with his voice trailing off. "It was a grueling playoffs and honestly we were all just physically beat. I was down 13 pounds and I was just exhausted. You know the conditions in the building, most of us went with just shorts underneath our equipment because it was so warm. Normally you wear full underwear, but the conditions were a little bit more towards beach than hockey but hey the guys just persevered and they went out there and gave it their best shot after blowing that two-goal lead."
The winning goal started innocently enough. Lorne Henning picked up the puck just outside the Islanders blue line and passed it to Tonelli, who hit Nystrom with a pass, and Nystrom deflected the puck in over Pete Peeters in the Flyers net.
Henning was the Islanders' second pick in the 1972 NHL Draft, Nystrom, the third pick. Eight years later, Henning and Nystrom finished off the Islanders' journey to the Cup.
The Islanders began a four-year run of Cup titles, tying Montreal for the second-best streak of Cup wins. The Montreal Canadiens between 1956 and 1960 would win five straight Cups and 11 straight playoff series. Nystrom and a core group would win 19 straight playoff series and would finally lose to the Edmonton Oilers in 1984 Stanley Cup Final in the team's bid to win a fifth straight Cup.
The Islanders dynasty may have started because Nystrom took a misconduct penalty, which allowed him to get a rest, and kept him fresh on a hot, humid Saturday afternoon in New York in 1980.