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Goalie change sparked Isles 1975 legendary upset

by John Kreiser / New York Islanders
The 1975 New York Islanders weren't even supposed to have gotten to the Stanley Cup Playoffs quarterfinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The third-year Isles weren't expected to get past their big-city rivals, the Rangers, in the best-of-three preliminary round -- but they did, winning Game 3 in overtime at Madison Square Garden in a game then-Isles GM Bill Torrey later called "the biggest win in franchise history."

But a series against the Penguins was no bargain.

The Islanders had gone 0-for-Pittsburgh in their first three regular seasons, and nothing changed at the start of the playoffs. The Penguins took the first two games 5-4 and 3-1, then put the Isles on the edge of elimination with a 6-4 victory at the Nassau Coliseum on April 17.

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But sparked by a goaltending change -- coach Al Arbour sat Billy Smith in favor of Glenn "Chico" Resch -- the Islanders made sure they wouldn't be swept by winning 3-1 at home. They stunned a Civic Arena crowd that was ready to celebrate the franchise's first trip to the semifinals with a 4-2 win in Game 5, then delighted their home fans with a 4-1 win in Game 6.

No team since the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs had won a series after trailing 3-0; in fact, no team had gotten this far after losing the first three games since the 1945 Detroit Red Wings. At the start of Game 7 in Pittsburgh on April 26, the Isles looked like they'd have to settle for matching the Red Wings' accomplishment.

Pittsburgh came out flying, outshooting the Isles 14-5 in the first period and 11-6 in the second. But Resch -- with a little help from his goal posts, which stopped two other shots -- got them all, including a pair with his mask.

"We didn't make a bad mistake defensively," Torrey said afterward, "and nobody lost their cool."

The game remained scoreless past the 14-minute mark of the third period, but the Isles' defense started making like easier for Resch, and the offense began to generate some chances. At 14:42, captain Ed Westfall, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with Boston, took a pass from defenseman Bert Marshall and beat goaltender Gary Inness with a high backhander.

Resch didn't have to make another save the rest of the way, and a few minutes later, the Isles had completed their stunning comeback.

"We were written off in the New York series. We were down three here and they wrote us off, which just proves what great players we have," Arbour told the media after the game. "They never heard of the word quit."

The Isles nearly did it again, rallying from a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 7 against the defending champion Philadelphia Flyers before a 4-1 loss sent them home for the summer.

Author: John Kreiser | Columnist

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