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Maven's Memories: Sipping From the Fourth Cup

Stan Fischler details the Islanders fourth cup in four years

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

  "It was my sweetest Cup of all" -- Mike Bossy

Defeating the upstart Edmonton Oilers in four consecutive games for the Islanders' fourth-straight Stanley Cup left every one of the Nassaumen sharing Bossy's sentiment.

"This was a terrific Stanley Cup Final," Bossy explained. "Although we swept them, every game in this series was fabulous hockey."

Whether it was Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Bill Smith in goal or captain Denis Potvin on defense, each Islander would confess to one undeniable fact: the four-win-sweep was filled with so many thrills -- and chills -- it felt more like seven games than the quartet that it was.

"Each game was bitterly fought," said forward Bob Bourne, a ferret on the spoor of a loose puck all series. "No matter what the final score, the intensity never let up; right down to the final buzzer of the final game. Credit the Oilers, they never quit."

After goalie Smitty almost single-handedly won the series opener in Edmonton, the Wayne Gretzky-led speed merchants burst out of the gates with a vengeance in the follow-up match at Northlands Coliseum.

Dave Semenko inspired the crowd to a frenzy when he beat Smith early in the first period. Unfazed, the Isles Tommy Jonsson, Bob Nystrom and Mike Bossy deflated the crowd with goals while Smitty infuriated them this way and that.

Video: 1982-83 Islanders win fourth straight Stanley Cup

Billy's artistry in goal again was at peak level and so was his belligerence. In Game One his target was Glenn Anderson. The second time around it was The Great Gretzky, a hitherto untouchable.

Smitty got Wayne's goat by swinging his goal stick at the Oiler as Gretzky circled the net. It was, in fact, a love tap but The Great One embellished it enough to first flop to the ice and then rise with his stick more like a bayonet at the ready. Smitty was amused at the threat.

"I knew he wasn't going to hit me," Smith later explained. "He wouldn't do that and he wouldn't fight me either -- I'm a lot bigger than he is. Plus, it's kind of dumb to hit a goalie wearing a cage."

"If what I did hurt him then I feel sorry for Wayne. If he's hurt I'll go out tomorrow and buy him a new pair of pants. The ones he's wearing obviously are worn out."

In the end, the Isles beat the pants off their hosts in Game Two, 6-3, moving the series to Nassau for the next match. Was a four-game sweep in the cards for New York? Edmonton leaders such as defenseman Kevin Lowe was worried.

Lowe: "There was no denying our firepower and our speed but the Islanders commanded one vital area and it became more and more apparent as the series wore on and they took over. It was experience."

Still the Oilers hung tough in Game Three. The teams battled through two periods and emerged for the third tied, 1-1. For the third straight game, Edmonton outshot Al Arbour's skaters but to no avail. When the chips were down those chips fell the home team's way.

Bob Bourne got the go-ahead -- eventually winning -- goal at 5:11 of the third and bing-bang-bop, three more red lights followed and roars of WE WANT THE CUP followed the 5-1 victors as they exited the Coliseum ice.

Between the third and fourth games, the NHL held a luncheon at the Marriott Hotel. Players, coaches and managers from both teams attended including a surprisingly defiant Oilers leader, Glen Sather.

"Slats admitted we were down by three games," remembered Lowe, "but said we sure weren't out of it. Then he toasted us with a glass of wine. Meanwhile, I could feel the hostility between the clubs. A very intense rivalry had been kindled."

As Sather had promised, his club was relentless in the fourth game at Uniondale. Down to the Isles, 3-0, after the first period, the Oilers tenaciously chipped away at the lead. 

By the end of the second period, you could feel nervousness among the crowd. It now was only 3-2 for Arbour's outfit and the idea of a return to Alberta appealed to no one in the crowd.

Nor was the third period for the faint-hearted. Paced by Gretzky, the Oilers threw everything they had at the home club. To some in the audience, a tying goal seemed inevitable. But it never happened.

Attack after Edmonton attack either was repulsed by Smith, his stout defense or the Isles' voracious backchecking forwards. With more than a minute remaining -- and the score still 3-2 -- Sather pulled his goalie, Andy Moog,

"It looked like we might organize something," said Lowe, "especially when Wayne got the puck in their zone."

The Great One had momentarily beaten New York's defenseman Ken Morrow to the puck and skimmed it to the goal crease. But Denis Potvin got there first, couldn't control it but out of the scramble came the inevitable clutch hero Morrow, carefully nursing the rubber.

Ken skated his prize to a safe haven, out of the zone to the center face-off circle. Then --as the rooters "Ohhhhhs," turned to "Ahhhhhs," -- Morrow buried the biscuit into the open net at 18:51. The game wasn't officially over at that point but the Final was.

From that point on -- amid cheers of WE'RE NUMBER ONE! -- the crowd roared its approval right down to the final buzzer. 

Eventually, NHL President John Ziegler strolled to center ice, presenting the Cup to captain Potvin and the Conn Smythe Trophy to Smith. Virtually drowned by cheers, the Isles did their victory laps and eventually wound up in the clubhouse.

Swarmed by the media, players offered varying reasons for their latest and most extraordinary success.

Bossy: "Four straight. We weren't too old!"

Potvin: "We're the best that ever skated, and if anyone doesn't believe it, they're kidding themselves. Nothing has ever matched this."

So many things about the victory registered fulsome admiration.But none more than the fact that the Nassaumen now had won sixteen straight playoff series. Only Scotty Bowman's Canadiens dynasty of the 1970s came close with thirteen. 

And no future NHL team ever will!


1. FROM THE LOSERS' ROOM: "With their discipline, opportunism and goaltending, the Islanders were a bit too much for us," concluded Kevin Lowe.

2. STIFLING WAYNE: The ferocious forechecking and backchecking -- especially by Bryan Trottier -- foiled Gretzky who wound up with no goals in the series.

3. IMPREGNABLE SMITTY: Battlin' Billy's first game (2-0) masterpiece set the template for the sweep that was to come.

4. ARBOUR RULES: From start to finish, Radar out-coached Slats. In the end, Sather did the talking, Arbour did the winning.

5. CLUTCH CONQUERS ALL: "Every time we got into the third period in a close game," said Bourne, "we won those periods."

6. HALL OF FAMERS: Trottier, Bossy, Gillies, Smith each played to his strengths while simultaneously minimizing Edmonton greats such as Messier, Kurri, Gretzky and Anderson.

7. THE UNSUNG HEROES: "We have guys who do it all," said Trottier. Lesser lights such as Dave Langevin, Stefan Persson, Billy Carroll, Tommy Jonsson, John Tonelli, Bob Nystrom and the Sutter Brothers, Duane and Brent played nobly throughout.

8. TORREY'S LOYALTY AND PATIENCE: Enduring a regular season pockmarked with slumps, Bowtie Bill never flinched. He ignored media demands for trades and stuck with his championship core. Once again, The Boss was right.

9. THE CAPTAIN'S COURAGE: Potvin played under a heavy burden through the Final, having learned earlier in the season that his father, Armand, was suffering from cancer.

10. INDOMITABLE MORROW: Clearly one of the most underrated players in NHL history, the 1980 Olympic Gold Medal hero time and again came through with big plays through the Final. He put his stamp on the dynasty with the final -- call it "cushion" -- goal against Edmonton.

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