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Maven's Memories: Fighting for First Place in 1988

Stan Fischler chronicles the stretch drive in the 1987-88 season and Mike Bossy Night

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

At first the Islanders stumbled in their 1987-88 homestretch drive and who could fault them?

Their Super-Scorer, Mike Bossy, had missed the entire season with back problems. Other injuries of major consequence pock-marked the lineup. 

Ever-reliable left wing Patrick Flatley exited for the season in February 1988 with torn ligaments in his right knee. Plus, deals were made to fill the gaps; except they didn't quite do the trick.

Forward Rich Kromm, obtained from Calgary in exchange for clutch Cup hero John Tonelli, looked attractive on paper but on the ice was as effective as the last rose of summer.

Defenseman Steve Konroyd -- also part of the Tonelli trade -- hardly shone as a two-way, defense-offense force a la Denis Potvin, despite an encouraging scouting report. 

Just past the second week in March 1988, the Islanders theme song could have been "Stumbling." They had lost both ends of a home-and-home series with Detroit; the end of a 3-6-2 slump. A prescription was needed to produce smiles.

Video: Mike Bossy New York Islanders Radio Interview

It was delivered on March 10, 1988 when Bill Torrey orchestrated "Mike Bossy Night" at the Coliseum. 

The Isles were hosting the Quebec Nordiques and that alone pleased Mike. It meant that his friends and family back in La Belle Province would be able to watch the festivities on television. 

In retrospect -- as the super-scorer described it in his autobiography, Boss -- this was, "one of the happiest nights of my life."

Many family members and close pals flew in from Quebec and the Coliseum crowd went nuts when everyone gathered at center ice. 

Both Bow Tie Bill and Radar delivered kind words as well as a gift trip for Mike and Lucie Bossy to Paris.

Bossy: "That (trip to Paris) was the second best gift. My best one was when Trots leaped off the bench, skated over to me, grabbed my hand and whispered, 'I'm proud of you, buddy!'

"As close as we had been over the years, we hadn't had many emotional moments, but that certainly was one of them," Bossy said.

For his part, Trots called it "one of the most chilling moments of my life." He added that "for a 'high,' it was right up there with winning the Stanley Cups."

All those involved commended the Torrey-Arbour high command both for the original idea of a "Mike Bossy Night" as well as how well it was presented.

"We did it," Bow Tie Bill explained, "to honor Mike for all he's done for our Islanders organization from his rookie year to now."

Nevertheless, the Nassaumen blew an early lead and went on to lose the game. Although few could imagine it when the final buzzer sounded game's end, that defeat eventually would prove to be the start of something big.

Precisely what Simpson did from March 18 through the schedule's end should have been recorded in a "Terry's Coaching Manual," because his club suddenly became -- not just good -- but that good.

For starters, Young Turk forwards such as Allan Kerr, Mikko Makela and Randy Wood began peaking as aces. Each of the trio featured a bit of sandpaper in his game; the kind of ice irritant that produces wins.

Newcomer defenseman Jeff Norton -- fresh from the 1988 American Olympic team -- fit smoothly on the blue line and added an offensive fillip to his game.

Pat LaFontaine, Brent Sutter and Bryan Trottier all significantly contributed to the push while the Billy Smith-Kelly Hrudey goaltending duet was nothing if not dependable.

Over a seven-game span, from March 18th through March 31, the club catapulted to seven wins and tied one. 

Still at stake was first place in the Patrick Division and right down to the end it appeared as it might result in a photo finish. Washington and Philadelphia were going neck and neck with Simpson's skaters, and going hard.

It was most appropriate that Denis Potvin's last regular season NHL game was played on March 31, 1988 against the Capitals. New York prevailed, 7-3, while Potvin was hailed for his remarkable -- eventual Hall of Fame -- career.

"I dedicated myself to the sport and played for the Islanders with pride," the outgoing captain declared.

When the 80-game schedule concluded, the Islanders somehow "found a way" and finished first, three points ahead of both the pursuing Flyers and Capitals.

By far the best postscript to that regular season accomplishment was delivered by speedy Randy Wood; truly a sparkplug in the Islanders Duane-Brent Sutter tradition

"In the last 10 games we showed we could play with anybody in the league."

As we shall soon see, Randy was right; but with one exception!

Video: Islanders Pronounce Long Island Town Names


1. POTVIN PREVAILS: Captain Denis scored his record 300th goal on January 14, 1988 in an 8-5 win over the Quebec Nordiques.

2. PATTY PRODUCES: Center LaFontaine ended the season with 47 goals, ranking among the NHL's best forwards.

3. RESILIENCY: On the ropes after a late-season 3-6-2 slump, the Isles rebounded with a 6-0-1 spurt to beat Washington and Philadelphia in the race for first place in the Patrick Division.

4. NEW LEADERSHIP: As Denis Potvin concluded his regular season career, the captain's torch was passed to Brent Sutter. He succeeded Potvin by beating out Bryan Trottier in team voting.

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