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Maven's Memories: Going Through Manhattan to Win a Second Stanley Cup

Stan Fischler looks back at the Isles sweep over the Rangers in the 1981 Stanley Cup Semifinal

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

As just about everyone knows, finishing first overall never guarantees that a Stanley Cup will be won by the regular season leaders.

In the Spring of 1981, the defending champion Islanders finished at the top of the heap with a remarkable 48-18-14, record for 110 points It was difficult for any critic to believe that Al (Radar) Arbour's sextet would fail to retain its title.

This feeling was reinforced during the first two playoff rounds which included a three-game sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs followed by the elimination of Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers in six contests.  

The Crosstown rival Rangers were up next and, as every Islanders fan remembered from the 1979 playoff match-up, an underdog Blueshirt team could be trouble.

Except for the deal that sent Chico Resch and Steve Tambellini to Colorado for offensive-defenseman Mike McEwen, General Manager Bill Torrey had crafted virtually the same lineup that had won the Cup in 1980.  

An extra added attraction was the increased maturation and productivity of his rampaging Bryan Trottier-Mike Bossy duet; they had become Double-Dip Dynamos.

Mike finished with 119 points and Bryan had 103. It didn't matter whether Radar kept Clark Gillies as their regular left wing or if the coach occasionally inserted John Tonelli for Gillies. Or even Bob Bourne.

"Trots and Boss work so well together," Tonelli explained. "They create so many chances for themselves that whether I'm on the left or Clark is, one of us is bound to score. Anybody can play there."


The third "third man" was Bourne, who occasionally got the nod because his speed gave Boss and Trots an extra added scoring dimension.

Bourne: "They reach each other better than normal players can. They know exactly what the other is doing. Part of it is that they have so much talent and the other is that they play together so much. They're so far above everyone else."

The question now was how much better -- if at all -- would the defending champs be than the pesky Rangers? The initial answer was provided on April 28, 1981 at Nassau Veterans' Memorial Coliseum in "The Parkway Series, Part III." 

Delighted with their Cinderella status, the Rangers grabbed a 2-1 early second period lead but the Blueshirts threat was ephemeral. In the end, the Isles skated off to a thunderous ovation and a 5-2 decision.

On a roll in Game Two, Butch Goring manufactured a three-goal that hat trick that almost single-handedly vanquished the Visitors. Islanders 7, Rangers 3.

"We refused to waver," Bourne asserted. "We simply didn't want them to get a single win."

Now the derisive "NINE-TEEN-FOR-TY" chant of Islanders fans carried all the way to The Garden. In Game Three, the Nassaumen punished Rangers goalie Steve Baker to the tune of 5-1.

The fourth -- and final --game, at The Garden, March 5, was punctuated with three first period plays. First, Tonelli scored at 1:03; whereupon Bossy tallied two successive power play goals. Dominance was complete.

When the final buzzer sounded, it was 5-2; a Suburban Sweep. Author Zachary Weinstock neatly reported: "If revenge is a dish best served cold, then Garden ice was every Nassau-man's ideal platter."

Ah, but there was more business ahead if a second Cup were to be paraded down Hempstead Turnpike. Facing the Champs in the Final was another upstart team, the Minnesota North Stars, managed by one of Torrey's best, humorous pals, Lou Nanne.

"You can learn a lot from a Bill Torrey," Nanne joked "Like where to buy the best bow ties." Learning how to beat The Champs was another story Nanne had not yet been told.

In Game One, New York's Anders Kallur set the pace when he scored before the Final Round was three minutes old. Later in the first period, Bourne took a five-minute major penalty which could have meant big trouble for the hosts.

Instead, Bourne's mates got him off the hook with a pair of shorthanded goals! The game ended 6-3, New York.

The North Stars simply couldn't keep pace with the Champs, who iced the second game at the Coliseum by another 6-3 score.. It wasn't much different in Minny as the Isles steamroller produced a 7-5 margin. Champagne almost could be tasted in Arbour's room. Almost.

By now, the Stanley Cup was well-guarded for possible presentation to the defending Champs in Minnesota but this time the challengers played their best game, winning 4-2 with two late third period counters.

In a sense, the loss wasn't the worst thing for the Isles since it meant that Lord Stanley's mug would be shipped to the Coliseum for possible presentation before an eager home crowd after Game Five.

"Not so fast," cautioned Bow Tie Bill. "You have to win four games to get The Cup. We're not there yet."

Torrey nearly blew his top when told that the gleaming silver trophy would be traveling on the Islanders charter aircraft heading back to Nassau. 

Video: Thank You Stan Fischler

"Bill was so serious -- so superstitious," one reporter noted, "that he didn't want the Cup on the team's plane for fear of jinxing his squad."

Torrey finally relented under league pressure after which the North Stars relented under Islanders pressure. Game Five before an exuberant Coliseum crowd went virtually as planned.

Goring sandwiched first period goals around a Wayne Merrick tally while Bourne added one in the second. All things considered it ended as logic dictated that it should - 5-1 for the now two-time Champs!

Writing in Newsday, Pat Calabria offered this prediction: "The Islanders grip on the Cup could last for years."

Until then no American team ever had won three Stanley Cups in succession. Could the Isles do it one more time?

When so advised, Bob Nystrom had the perfect punch line: 

"Why not a dynasty?"

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