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Maven's Memories: Morrow's Playoff-Clincher vs Rangers

Stan Fischler looks back at the Islanders-Rangers playoff series in 1984

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

  It was the best game I've ever seen -- Sportscaster Warner Wolf

Never mind Game Five, some fans would call the 1984 Islanders-Rangers collision-the best playoff series in their fond memories.

Writing in RANGERS VS. ISLANDERS, co-author (with me) Zachary Weinstock labelled 1983-84, "The greatest single season in the history of the Islanders-Rangers rivalry.

But now it was the post-season and the competition got even better. After all, this would be the sixth time the boiling-point rivals would meet in the playoffs. And, easily, this turned out to be the most exciting series, especially with the Islanders competing for another title.

The media called it "The Drive For Five." Having won 16 consecutive playoff rounds and four straight Stanley Cups, the Islanders felt it was the perfect slogan. 

Their playoff crusade began on Thursday, April 4, 1984 with an old-style best-of-five -- instead of best-of-seven -- tourney.

A portion of the press contingent believed that such a shortened series would favor the underdogs from Manhattan.

And why not? Over the regular season, Herb Brooks' skaters clinched victory in the Battle of New York for the first time since 1975. Plus, Mike Bossy remembered how the Blueshirts upset his club in the 1979 playoffs.

"If the Rangers were able to upset us once," warned Boss, "they could do it again."

Bossy's words would prove to be close to prescient although you couldn't tell by the opener at the Coliseum; one that bristled with high sticks, hard hits and scrums galore. Peace in our time was not an option over the 60-minute fray.

Apart from the physical aspect, Al Arbour's brigade prevailed thanks to the new blood infused into the lineup. When Pat LaFontaine and Patrick Flatley joined the club after the 1984 Winter Olympics, the Nassaumen revved up into a higher gear.

In the opener at Uniondale, each rookie scored a goal and an assist helping their club to a 4-1 triumph while Bill Smith bested Glen Hanlon when it came to puck-stopping.

But one night later Hanlon got even with a stunning shutout. He played the game of his life withstanding a 45-shot Islanders onslaught while his mates put three behind Smitty. 

As if the loss wasn't galling enough for the defending champs, Hanlon's post-game quotes added insult to his schneid. Asked about his many outstanding saves, Hanlon shot back, "No big deal." 

When another reporter wondered if he had ever enjoyed a game like that before, Glen grinned and offered "Yeah, once on the golf course!"

Complicating matters for Radar was the fact that he now had to shepherd his defeated legion to Manhattan for the next two games. What's more -- and worse -- Arbour's fears were justified during Game Three. Final Score: Rangers 7, Islanders 2.

A single game away from elimination; the Drive For Fivers put on a brave face, Call it bravado if you will.

"I wouldn't want to be the Rangers tomorrow night," snapped Bryan Trottier in the visitors' dressing room after the loss.

At first, Game Four at The Garden seemed more like a nightmare than a rallying point for Trots & Company. The Rangers seized a one-goal lead and Hanlon seemed impregnable nursing his blank job over two frames.

Video: Thank You Stan Fischler

Arbour needed a quick fix; pronto. He got it faster than that, Radar's S.O.S. was answered with a John Tonelli red light before the frame was a minute old.

The 1-1 deadlock finally was broken in mid-period thanks to a Brent Sutter net-bulger followed by insurance goals from Clark Gillies and Trottier. The series had now become a SERIES with rough play charges and counter-charges flying across the county lines.

The media, which seized upon a major episode, spotlighted Patrick Flatley for touching off a side war between the skating antagonists.

In Game Four -- to the utter dismay of Rangers fans at the Seventh Avenue arena -- a physical torpedo in the form of Flatley had been launched against burly Blueshirts defenseman Barry Beck.

The seemingly indestructible Beck absorbed the clean shoulder check and sunk along the boards, never to be seen again in the series. 

If that wasn't tough for the Rangers to swallow, Smitty added a not-so-subtle postscript: "I'm glad Beck is out of their lineup!"

Well, at least Battlin' Bill was being honest since he was echoing the thoughts prevailing in Islanders Country; not to be confused with the Island of Manhattan.

So it all came down to the finale in Uniondale, April 10, 1984. Suffice to say that had anyone owned an Oxygen container stand at the Coliseum that night, he or she could have vended about 15,850 canisters and retired for life.

The excitement began with the opening face-off and by the final minutes of the third period, it reached a new height of intensity as the Islanders nursed a 2-1 lead right down to the finish -- almost.

With 39 seconds remaining in the third period, Don Maloney completed a Rangers assault by chopping a rebound at shoulder height past Smith for the tying goal.

Fans could -- and did -- argue until the cows came home as to whether Maloney's stick was at an illegal height or not. Didn't matter since referee Dave Newell ruled it was a good goal and that was that. An extra sudden-death would be necessary to end the war.

More thrills, spills and saves provided still more heart-throbbing in almost nine minutes of overtime. Smitty was out of his mind robbing the Rangers left and right while Bossy missed the winner by a hair, hitting the wrong side of the goal post.

The Islanders needed a hero and during the between periods intermission they turned to defenseman Ken Morrow, alias "Wolfman," to pick up his magic goal stick; and he obliged.

Here's how it happened -- told in his own words by Morrow:

"Al sent me out as part of a line change and then Brent Sutter took a bad-angle shot that resulted in a rebound. The Rangers tried to clear it along their right boards but John Tonelli kept it in. Then Rangers defenseman Reijo Ruotsalainen tried to clear the puck.

"When it bounced off the boards on my right side, I got it, saw an opening and didn't hesitate. I put the shot right on goal and fortunately Patrick Flatley had camped right in front of Glen Hanlon who was screened. Hanlon didn't see the puck and neither did I.

"As a matter of fact, I didn't know the puck had gone in until I heard it clang off the bottom of the net. Looking backward, I have to say what a relief that was because the Rangers were terrific." 

The 3-2 victory marked the astonishing 17th straight playoff series win for the Nassaumen and left the professional journalists with a temporary case of lockjaw virtually at a loss for words to describe the dynasty on Hempstead Turnpike.

Perhaps Newsday put the Islanders latest accomplishment best with one word: "Epic!"

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1. MORROW MAGIC: "Three overtime goals in one career for a defenseman is no fluke," said Bossy. "Kenny was not a natural goal-scorer. Just amazing and no fluke either."

2. CALM UNDER FIRE: On the brink of elimination, the Isles marched into The Garden for Game Four cool as Champions could be and took the game away from the Rangers to stay alive in the tourney.

3. MISTER CLUTCH: For much of the Game Five overtime. Herb Brooks' skaters had the better of the play and the best chances. True to his reputation, Bill Smith made the big saves until Wolfman Morrow sealed the series.

4. YOUTH IS SERVED: Fresh reserves came though handsomely. Among the young heroes were Patrick Flatley, Pat LaFontaine, Tomas Jonsson and Brent Sutter. 

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