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Maven's Memories: The 1983 Battle of New York

Stan Fischler looks back at the Islanders-Rangers playoff series in 1983

by Stan Fischler StanFischler / NewYorkIslanders.com

  "I want to beat the Rangers very badly." -- Bob Bourne, Islanders, Spring 1983


At least a dozen-and-a-half teammates seconded Bob Bourne's motion.

Approaching Round Two of the 1983 playoffs, the Islanders believed that this time their intense rivals from Seventh Avenue in Manhattan would be an even more formidable foe than before, when the Isles vanquished them in 1982.

It wasn't merely a matter of Olympic hero Herb Brooks, the crafty and inspirational coach being behind the Blueshirts bench. The challenge would be much more than that because of the Rangers deep offense.

Mike Rogers, Mark Pavelich and Anders Hedberg were just a few of the scoring talents which had to be tamed by the Isles blue liners as well as backchecking forwards.

Then there was the matter of revenge, especially on the part of the Blueshirsts who had become fed up with three straight years of Islanders Cup celebrations and choruses of "1940," that being the last time the Garden denizens last won the title.

Not that there wasn't motivation on the Nassau side. Just mention the world "Ranger" to a member of Al Arbour's troupe -- especially Bob Bourne -- and his reaction will begin with a frown and an explanation.

"The New York Rangers are the New York Rangers," Bourne declared with appropriate disdain. "That's enough for me." 

Bourne went on to explain that it wasn't so much the Blueshirts players he disliked as much as it was the Rangers fans.

"The things they shouted as us are vulgar," Bob went on, "and unbelievable."

Video: 1982-83 Islanders win fourth straight Stanley Cup

No less un-real was the fact that the Seventh Avenue Skaters had been able to reach the quarter-final round. Having finished 26 points behind first place Philadelphia, the Rangers were expected to be wiped out of the first round with ease. 

Instead they ousted the Flyers in a three-game sweep the Rangers now confronted the three-time defending Champions with more confidence than they had in previous years.

"The Islanders are still the Champs," acknowledged Rangers defenseman Tom Laidlaw. "But this year we realized that they are more human. They had their problems all season."

Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum hosted the opening two contests and after two games the capacity crowds figured that an Islanders four-straight sweep was possible. Certainly Bourne made it feel that way.

Centering a high-speed line with the Western Canadian brothers, Duane and Brent Sutter, Bourne helped break a 1-1 deadlock in the third period by setting up three goals, thereby tying a club record for assists in one period.

Meanwhile, Denis Potvin returned to form -- he promised that he would -- with the go-ahead goal early in the final frame. The 4-1 triumph suggested that everything was coming up roses for Arbour, Inc.

"it's a great rivalry," chortled Captain Potvin, "but the team that loses has a whole summer of explaining to do." Then, a pause: "And that's not for me."

Laughing was short-lived for the Nassaumen. To their chagrin, they learned that future Hall of Famers Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies would be sidelined with injuries along with steady defender Dave Langevin for Game Two on April 15, 1983.

"What was so impressive," observed Mike Bossy, "was the way the other guys compensated for the loss. Bournie was tremendous playing with the Sutter Brothers. Duane and Brent's energy seemed to inject Bob with young blood."

If the opening game was a convincing win, Game Two was an abject rout of the Rangers. Duane Sutter delivered his first NHL hat trick while Bourne produced three assists. Brent Sutter was no slouch either; good for a goal and a helper.

Bourne: "It's rejuvenating for me to play with the Sutters. We're a good blend and they keep me involved."

Bill Smith stopped every shot in the 5-0 whitewashing which led many observers to believe that even the injury-riddled Isles could come up with a four-game sweep. 

"What impressed me," Herb Brooks opined, "is how the Islanders have worked so hard to make up for their missing players and still play a great game."

Not that the Blueshirts coach was conceding Game Three at Madison Square Garden; far from it. And the Seventh Avenue arena was packed to the overhead steel beams in anticipation -- or at least hopes for a Rangers comeback.

Desperation bred determination for Brooks' brigade right from the get-go and it showed on the scoreboard; 7-2 Rangers in the third period. 

While Smitty was suffering an off-night after producing 114 minutes of shutout hockey, Eddie Mio was flawless at the other crease -- until the Isles got good and angry,

One, two, three, four Islanders goals -- including a pair of shorthand's -- and the score now was 7-6 for the home club which had fallen into a state of disorderly retreat.

While the clock ticked down to the final seconds, the visitors stormed the barricades. Suddenly, Bossy -- with two goals to his credit -- entered the chaotic scramble in front of Mio. 

"The puck was under Mio's leg pad," Bossy recounted, "but he hadn't covered it all and I just poked it in."

That tied the score at 7-7 -- for about two seconds.

Frantically, referee Bruce Hood waved his arms signaling and shouting, "No goal!"

What's more -- or worse for the Islanders -- Hood's ruling was upheld on the grounds that Bruce had blown his whistle because he had "lost sight of the puck."

Despite the Islanders protestations -- "I can't remember any finish as weird," said Bossy -- the final score was 7-6, Rangers. 

All of a sudden, we now had a series while Radar had a headache.

Arbour: "We weren't going on all cylinders. We can't stand around and watch, especially against a team that skates like they do. Plus, we didn't play as a unit, didn't block as a unit or clear them out and we left too much room to skate."

Fortified with new confidence that came with the victory, the Rangers returned for a second home game on April 18, 1983 at The Garden. 

In this match, the puck looked like the Goodyear Blimp to Eddie Mio who was having a memorable evening. He stopped all but one Islanders shot in the 3-1 decision that tied the series at two apiece.

Mio: "This was a good win but I don't want to celebrate anything too early."

Smart. The Islanders were not three-time Champs for nothing. They returned to Uniondale determined to close the floodgates on their traditional foe. By contrast, the Rangers were popping their vests over Mio's performance. The Islanders would second the motion.

"He stoned us," said Bob Nystrom. "He held them together." 

Game Five was billed by some analysts in the Rangers camp as the beginning of the end for Islanders four-Cup aspirations. They felt that the Blueshirts momentum would be decisive.

Instead it was a 7-2 conquest for the Nassaumen and featured what many consider the greatest end to end rush leading to a goal in franchise -- if not NHL -- history.

Zachary Weinstock, who co-authored RANGERS VS. ISLANDERS with me, detailed Bob Bourne sensational "touchdown run" with these words:

"Bobby took the puck from Tomas Jonsson behind his own net, flew by two Rangers forwards, blew past defenseman Barry Beck at the attacking blue line, undressed defenseman Reijo Ruotsalainen in the high slot, and beat Eddie Mio from the left circle." 

Here's how Bourne remembered it from the moment he retrieved the rubber behind the Islanders goal: "As soon as I got the puck, I saw two of them behind me and I knew there was nobody between me and Beck and Ruotsalainen. 

"I had a lot of ice to skate with so I took a few strides and got up some speed and then I saw as I got to the blue line that Ruotsalainen had planted his feet for some reason. I put it through his feet and went around him and picked it up."

The wrist shot that followed zipped into the far corner, detonating a decibel count rarely heard in the Coliseum. It also inspired some telling comments. To wit.

Duane Sutter: "Prettiest goal I've ever seen."

John Davidson: "A work of art."

Watch: Youtube Video

Only six seconds were required for Bourne's excursion. Bob concluded, "I haven't scored like that since I was in Juniors. I was more shocked than anybody in the building. I'll save that tape for the rest of my life."

(From my SportsChannel broadcast booth, Bourne looked like a pinball bouncing and rolling to the bottom flippers. In more than 50 years of sportscasting, I've never seen another playoff goal quite like it.)

Bourne's goal put a coda on the 7-2 drubbing as well as the series finale on April 22, 1983 at The Garden. The final score was 5-2 for Arbour's skaters which meant that Radar's arresting outfit now had won a record 14 consecutive playoff series.

Only one team eventually would break that record and, or course, it would be the Islanders.

Arbour's next target on April 26 would be the Boston Bruins who had finished first in the Adams Division with more points (110) than any team in the league; and 14 more than the Islanders.

Or to put it another way, it would be a playoff classic --the Champions against Ray Bourque, Brad Park, Mike Milbury and the rest of the Big, Bad Bruins.

Stay tuned!


LISTS: FOUR REASONS WHY THE RANGERS COULDN'T BEAT THE ISLANDERS JINX:

1. BOB BOURNE: The Blueshirts didn't have him and the Isles did. The fleet Saskatchewan native reached the peak of his career during the 1983 playoffs. The capper was Bob's end to end rush for a goal that essentially ended the Rangers quest for playoff victory.

2. AL ARBOUR TOPS HERB BROOKS: While the hero of Uncle Sam's1980 Olympic victory employed his speedy forwards to advantage in beating Philadelphia, Brooks' "Smurfs"could not handle the combined fast-and-tough strategy executed by Arbour.

3. REBOUNDABLITY: After losing the first two games, the Rangers successfully counterattacked to tie the series at two wins apiece. But the Nassaumen then rebounded themselves to close the tourney with two wins.

4. HALL OF FAMERS: As fiercely competitive as the Rangers may have been -- and were -- they could not match the excellence of such Hall of Famers as Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies up front and Denis Potvin on defense. As the saying goes, "Genius will out!" And it did

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