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Maven's Memories: Isles Beat Buffalo to Advance to 1980 Final

Stan Fischler looks back at how the Islanders beat the Buffalo Sabres to advance to their first Stanley Cup Final

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

In 1980, the Islanders trail to the Stanley Cup went through Buffalo.

Leading the Sabres two games to none in the semi-final round, coach Al Arbour's skaters sat just two wins away from entering the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

Two springs ago, in 1978, the trail went through Toronto and the Maple Leafs proved an effective roadblock. In 1979, it was the Rangers who threw up the wall.

"That was ancient history," said flashy Bob Bourne, who had come of age as an Islander clutch performer. "When we went two games up on the Sabres, we had a new confidence that we could move on to the Final."

Bourne's confidence was borne out in Game Three at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Paced by Bryan Trottier, the Isles gave Scotty Bowman's squad a 7-4 spanking after rebounding from a 2-0 deficit.

Trots already had set a team record with 11 points in the Boston series. Leading his club to victory in Game 3, he scored a pair against goalie Don Edwards while impressing his mates who never seemed to stop being amazed at his two-way versatility.

"Bryan put us up 4-2," said captain Denis Potvin, "and we never looked back. He knew we needed the goals then and not later; and he got them for us."

Leading the series three games to none, the Isles could be forgiven for looking ahead to the other semi-final. After all, if New York advanced to the last round it would play either the Minnesota North Stars or Philadelphia Flyers.

Bourne: "The way we're rolling now the Flyers and North Stars must pick up the papers, read about us and come to the conclusion that we're awesome. It's awfully hard to play against a team when you're thinking they're awesome."

There were plenty of kudos to spread around the Islanders dressing room. Bill Smith was sterling in goal and the Potvin-led defense never had been better. 

Meanwhile, leaders of the general staff, Head Coach Arbour and General Manager Bill Torrey, applauded Butch Goring. They could have congratulated themselves because Al and Bill were the ones who sanctioned the now-famed 1980 deadline deal.

When Bow Tie Bill traded defenseman Dave Lewis and right wing Billy Harris to Los Angeles for the center, Goring, nobody could foresee how effective Butch would be. But as time went by, Butch's value increased by the game.

"What I like about him," Torrey noted during the Buffalo series, "is that he's a 'hockey player.' A real throwback who loves to play. He's happy in his career and hockey is very important to him. He works his butt off and knows what he is."

Bow Tie Bill's basic plan was working to a T, as in Torrey. Goring's combined offensive-defensive assets relieved Trottier who, in previous playoffs, could be blunted by heavy checking. 

Plus, Butch infused the added assets of a veteran's experience combined with being a total team player.

"Butch knows how to say things constructively," Bourne asserted. "He knows how to put things and not turn off his teammates. His presence opened up so many things for us."

Meanwhile, having opened up a three-game lead, the Islanders either became complacent or the Sabres suddenly realized that they had the second-best regular season record for a reason; take your pick. Or both.

What happened then was labelled "The Big Scare," as Buffalo began winning with a vengeance. The Sabres got to Smitty for seven goals in Game 4 in the 7-4 rout. 

That spurred Arbour to give Bill the hook and start Chico Resch in Game Five in Uniondale. But Bob Sauve, now in the Buffalo crease, only needed two goals to blank the Isles, 2-0. 

Suddenly, the threat of an Islanders El Foldo, enveloped the media if not the Nassaumen, themselves. When in Game 6 at Uniondale, the Sabres jumped into a quick 2-0 lead even the usually confident crease-guardian, Smith, began to second-guess himself. 

"I didn't want to believe we'd blow it all now," said Smitty. "It couldn't happen to us. Frankly, I was petrified."

So were Islanders fans until Mike Bossy and John Tonelli counterattacked with red lights. Old reliable defensive defenseman Bob Lorimer pitched in on offense with the winning goal while two more goals, by Duane (Dog) Sutter and Bourne, knotted the ribbon on the victory.

That gift was a first-ever, one-way ticket to the Stanley Cup Final. It would begin at Philadelphia's Spectrum on May 13, 1980.

To that, Islanders fans offered four little words expressing their desire:


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