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Maven's Memories: A Comeback to Remember

The Isles rally from an 0-2 hole to beat the Capitals in five games in the 1985 playoffs

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

A pair of totally unrelated -- and unlikely -- events brought smiles to the faces of Islanders fans after the 1984-85 regular season.

For starters, the normally truculent Bill Smith -- alias The Darth Vader of Hockey -- had metamorphosed into Mister Nice Guy.

Nobody could believe the mellowing process; least of all the formerly Bad Boy Billy, himself. "Not even my kids will believe this," chuckled the greatest clutch goalie in hockey annals.

But Smitty, Mrs. Smitty and the kids changed their minds when the Islanders media presented formerly Bad Boy Billy with the group's annual Good Guy Award.

As one reporter whispered during the ceremony, "This proves that miracles really can happen."

Yet it wasn't long after that when the Isles legendary goalie pulled off what the media corps regarded as a post-season miracle in the first playoff round against a strong Washington Capitals sextet that had finished well ahead of New York.

Led by hot goalie Don Beaupre the Caps took advantage of home ice in Landover, Maryland and opened the best-of-five series with a pair of victories.

Reporters who had come to Capital Centre from Uniondale came away convinced that the one-time Dynastic Ones were as invigorated as a cadaver. 

After all, no team in history had ever rebounded from a two-nothing deficit to win a five-game series. But there was one prominent dissenter in the crowd: Al Arbour. 

"We still have confidence in ourselves," said the coach. "This is just the beginning."

If there was to be a sterling comeback, it would have to take place at Nassau Veterans' Memorial Coliseum in Game Three. 

When arena doors opened and fans streamed in they knew that the force was with them. And to underline the point, management presented the Faithful with "laser" weapons while the Star Wars theme blared over loudspeakers.

As for the Islanders comeback-ability on the ice, this would be demonstrated by the pair who had come through so nobly during the four-straight Cup years. 

With the score tied 1-1 and the next goal a likely clincher, Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier orbited on a two-on-one break. Trots accepted the Boss' pass and happily concluded the play with a laser past Beaupre at 5:11 of the period.

The 2-1 triumph convinced the winner's dressing room that there still was winning life in the onetime champs.

Denis Potvin: "When people look at our age and say, 'The team is crumbling,' we're looking at each other and saying, 'I don't think we believe that."

Backing his endorsement with action, The Captain helped enhance the series comeback in Game Four as The Old Barn rocked to its very foundations.

Another Islanders win seemed imminent as Radar's skaters nursed a 5-4 lead into the final minute of the third period.  

The energetic Caps stormed the Islanders end causing chaos around the home crease. As players collided with players, Isles young defenseman Paul Boutilier fell into the net trying to assist his goaltender.

Getting back on his skates Boutilier pushed for a time-out by not-so-deftly shoving the goal nets off its pipes. What Paul accomplished was not what he had hoped for with his quasi-ruse.

He got the time-out alright, but it was because referee Andy Van Hellemond needed a respite. The veteran ref wanted to consult with his linesman regarding a possible infraction committed by the home club.

After considerable filibustering by skaters on both sides, Van Hellemond ruled that Boutilier deliberately unhinged the nets to calm his compatriots. 

But the penalty hardly was what the Islanders had contemplated. Washington was awarded a penalty shot and Caps coach Bryan Murray chose sharpshooting Bobby Carpenter to take the prize.

A total hush came over the Coliseum as collective breaths were held by the capacity crowd. Carpenter skated to center ice, took his cue from Van Hellemond and was off, his silver skates chopping through the ice.

Smitty stared him down, not committing himself until he could see the whites of Carpenter's eyes. Bobby seemed frozen by Smith's stoicism and shot the puck into the goalie's pads.

To that the crowd lustily cheered: "SMIT-EE, SMIT-EE, SMIT -EE."

Bow Tie Bill's son, Rich Torrey, recalled: "My Dad always said that if there was one Islander he'd prefer to go to war with it was Smitty."

Video: Billy Smith was goalie on Islanders' 1980s dynasty

The clutch save catapulted the Isles to a 6-4 decision with Bossy potting an open-netter just for good measure. Thus, the opening round would be decided in Game Five at Capital Centre.

"I still thought that my guys had the goods," said confident general manager Bill Torrey. The Isles major domo had seen his skaters beat the Capitals in the previous two years of players and believed they could do it one more time.

Not surprisingly, Bow Tie Bill was right.

From the opening face-off to the final buzzer, the Nassaumen dug deep and found that extra gallon in their tank; thanks to an unlikely hero.

A superb second and third-liner -- plus de luxe penalty-killer -- the Swift Swede, Anders Kallur, 33, put his team ahead for keeps at 10:18 of the second period.

"Some of the Capitals looked tense," said Kallur, "but we couldn't be nervous -- and we weren't."

Less than seven minutes later Brent Sutter -- one of the steadiest and best Islanders during the regular season -- continued to excel. He accepted a pass from Mike Bossy and put the Isles ahead by two at 16:56.

Silently, yet collectively, everyone seemed to know that now the onus was on Smith to do an imitation of Horatio At The Bridge; only this time in the Isles goal.

"Billy returned to form," wrote Craig Wolff of the New York Times. "He seemed to reach that level every playoff season."

Smitty wasn't flawless. He was beaten late in the middle period and was challenged to protect the one-goal lead for 20 more minutes in the finale.

His teammates seemed to know that Battlin' Bill wouldn't let them down. After all he already showed his mettle when the Caps had a two-man advantage for 85 seconds. Smitty's six huge saves just about saved the series for New York.

But Billy was the first to admit that he needed third period assistance; and that's where the Islanders Old Guard provided the required hard defensive checking.

Craig Wolff: "Denis Potvin, John Tonelli, Ken Morrow and Bob Bourne all showed their value as they protected their one-goal lead for the entire third period."

Video: Denis Potvin was captain of Islanders' 1980s dynasty

The final score was 2-1 for the Islanders thereby putting themselves in the NHL history book once more; this time being the first club to overcome a two-loss deficit to win the five-game series.

"The is as close to the most pleasing series I've ever been in," asserted Bob Nystrom, an ace in all four Cup-winning years.

In the loser's dressing room, Washington's captain Rod Langway couldn't say enough good things about the winners.

"The Islanders just wouldn't die," Langway concluded. "They proved that they just wouldn't be stopped."

As the Islanders toasted each other in the visitors locker room, reporter Wolff scanned the jubilant faces and then summed up the general appraisal of this amazing unit.

"The win was a celebration of the Old Guard that brought them four Stanley Cup championships."

One such member of the Old Guard, Mike Bossy, put it another way, "The mystique continued!"


1. CAPS PSYCHED OUT: No matter how hard coach Bryan Murray's Washington sextet tried, it couldn't top the Isles. This was the third straight year in which Al Arbour's skaters knocked off the Caps in the post-season.

2. SENSATIONAL SMITTY: Battlin' Billy never put on a better clutch performance that he did with the 39-save effort in Game Five at Capital Centre.

3. UNSUNG HEROES: Although Anders Kallur was not exactly a household name in Nassau nor Suffolk Counties, he was highly-regarded by his mates. His opening goal in Game Five well-tuned the Isles victory motor.

4. ARBOUR RULES: Once again Radar out-coached his foe; Bryan Murray. Al's skillful line changes and adroit placing of his backliners made the difference; along with Arbour's powerful will to win!

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