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Maven's Memories: Prepping for the Drive for Five

Stan Fischler writes about the 1983-84 regular season, plus the arrivals of Patrick Flatley, Pat Lafontaine and Kelly Hrudey

by Stan Fischler StanFischler / NewYorkIslanders.com

  "I waited for this moment for a long time." -- Pat LaFontaine after his signing.

By the Summer of 1983, the Islanders had become the talk of the hockey universe. 

They had won 16 consecutive playoff series and no other National Hockey League team could make that statement. Guaranteed no team ever will match that mark.

Apart from the Montreal Canadiens, no other team, but the Isles, had won four straight Stanley Cups. 

And no American-based team -- except for the Nassaumen -- ever had sipped champagne from more than two consecutive mugs donated by Lord Stanley of Preston.

Now what?

Only one team in the 76 years of major league had amassed five Cups in a row. 

"It was my hometown team, the Canadiens," said general manager Bill Torrey. "And I would have loved for us to have had the chance to play that Montreal team of the Fifties. And for a lot of money. It would have been some series."

Starting with the 1955-56 season and concluding with the 1959-60 campaign, the Habs dominated the six-team NHL. But to successfully complete their drive for five, the Montrealers only had to win a total of 10 straight playoff rounds.

Which is absolutely in no way meant to demean coach Toe Blake's Flying Frenchmen. The best way to put it is that -- looking ahead to the 1983-84 campaign -- the four-time Champ Isles were being favorably matched with the Mighty Montrealers of that earlier era.

Mike Bossy: "The writers were comparing me to Rocket Richard while Trots was Jean Beliveau, Denis was Doug Harvey and Smitty was Jacques Plante."

Both championship squads were sprinkled with Hall of Famers and each possessed a we-should-never-lose mentality.

"I never saw a team so intent on winning as our team was in this (1983) playoffs," said defenseman Ken Morrow who had scored as many goals in the post-season (five) as he had all year. "Our sweep of Edmonton showed the determination we had."

But when Torrey lifted the curtain on training camp in September 1984, the giddy memories of Spring now seemed like ancient history. It was time to look ahead and strategize for the new challenges as four-time defending titlists.

"I think they're capable of repeating," Torrey insisted. "Whether they do it or not is entirely up to them. We're talking about immortality and putting ourselves in that category."

Remarkably, Bow Tie Bill left his lineup intact, except for one change. He added promising young goaltender Kelly Hrudey to his brigade on the assumption that the newcomer would share the crease with aging Bill Smith and Roland Melanson.

But The Maestro -- like a poker player with a couple of aces up his sleeve -- knew a pair of gifted, young players eventually would be heading his way; both first-round draft picks -- one from 1982 and the other from 1983.

The pair of prospective forwards -- Pat LaFontaine and Patrick Flatley -- were as different as steak and tuna salad.

American-born LaFontaine could have been nicknamed Kid Lightning. A center, he darted around the ice in a dipsy-doodle fashion that thoroughly confused defensemen.

By contrast, the Canadian, Flatley, could be mistaken for a runaway bulldozer -- on skates. He was a master of board work and remarkably adept at fetching a puck from the corners.

Torrey knew that each was committed to his national team for the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. They only would be available for hockey in Uniondale in late February after the international tourney had ended.

Not that there was any immediate need for them as the 1983-84 season unfolded. Like a jockey who knows precisely when to spur his thoroughbred to the finish line, coach Al Arbour used his whip sparingly.

By mid-season, the Nassaumen were breezing along. At the end of January 1984 their record was a commendable 31-19-2. Even Wayne Gretzky had kind words for them.

"They know what it takes to win," The Great One allowed with genuine admiration.

Plus, the post-Olympic arrival of the two Pats infused the club with just the zip necessary to finish the regular season in fine fettle. With the Double-Pats producing, the Isles finished 11-3-2. Their 50-26-4 record, good for 104 points, was second-best on the league.

Bossy: "We needed the two new Pats because, even though we finished high, we entered the playoffs hurting."

Still, the skating wounded were determined to make the Drive For Five a success and they all knew one of the most threatening obstacles was straight ahead -- in Manhattan.

Herb Brooks' Rangers couldn't wait to start a revenge-filled opening round against the Islanders!

Neither could the fans. Before Game One at The Coliseum, an Isles fan hung a banner directed at the Blueshirts bench:

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Goods!

Video: 1982-83 Islanders win fourth straight Stanley Cup


LISTS: FOUR SCARY THOUGHTS FOR THE ISLES BEFORE THE 1984 PLAYOFFS

1. SLIPPING BOSSY: Although he won the Lady Byng Trophy for the second-straight year, Mike only scored 51 goals, his lowest total since 1979-80. Plus his back was aching big-time.

2. A HURTING NY: Before the Rangers series began, Bobby Nystrom was nursing a sprained wrist that threatened to sideline him in the first round.

3. ATTRITION: Surviving four title years meant that Radar's skaters had to pay a heavy price in wear and tear. Exhausted veterans threatened to brake the club's latest playoff push.

4. THE LAW OF AVERAGES: Aiming for their 17 consecutive playoff series challenge, the Islanders knew that their streak could not go on forever. The Law of Averages often is observed in the NHL.

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