That call by CBC broadcaster Jim Robson described the final moments of the signature play in New York Islanders history. Bobby Nystrom's goal in overtime, off a pass from John Tonelli in Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers, gave the Islanders a 5-4 victory and the first of four straight championships.
"People still ask me all the time, 'What's your greatest moment in the game of hockey?'" said six-time Stanley Cup champion Bryan Trottier, a center on those Islanders teams. "I didn't score that goal. I was on the bench resting fast for my next shift. But that is still my biggest moment. I tell it to Bobby, 'Thank you. You made me a champion in that moment.'"
Video: 1980 Cup Final, Gm 6: Nystrom leads Isles to 1st Cup
That moment, at Nassau Coliseum on May 24, 1980 -- ironically, coming on a play that the Islanders could never quite get to work in practice -- was their reward for pushing through the adversity of the previous two seasons. They had proven their worth following a Stanley Cup Playoff failure in 1978, a too-close-to-home playoff disappointment in 1979, roster changes and questions about expectations and belief.
On the 40th anniversary of that first championship, here is the history of how the dynasty began, as told by the Islanders players who were a part of it:
Learning from losing
The Islanders fell two wins short of the Cup Final in 1977, losing in the NHL Semifinals in six games to the Montreal Canadiens, arguably the greatest team in NHL history.
They thought it was a positive step, and it looked that way when they finished the 1977-78 season with 111 points, first in the Patrick Division and third in the NHL. But they didn't get out of the first round of the playoffs, losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime of Game 7 after leading the series 2-0 and 3-2.
Bob Bourne, forward: The overtime loss against the Leafs, that's the one that really got us. I'll never forget after that series, I thought (general manager) Bill [Torrey] was going to blow the team up.
Chico Resch, goalie: That was a huge upset. As a player, you do a tremendous amount of self-analysis because you're invested in the team.
Being eliminated by the Maple Leafs paled in comparison to the disappointment of losing to the New York Rangers in six games in the Semifinals the following season, especially because the Islanders finished the regular season with an NHL-leading 116 points, 25 more than the Rangers.
Bryan Trottier, center: That was not fun. We underachieved to a degree, but hats off to [Rangers goalie] John Davidson. He stood on his ear against us. Hats off to the Rangers because they played well, very well. They played a game they had to play.
Denis Potvin, defenseman: There's a pretty popular picture of me on my knees leaning up against the boards right at our bench after the loss to the Rangers. I didn't see it for years, but when I saw it I thought, "Wow, that pretty much tells the story in terms of the disappointment."
John Tonelli, forward: That was another hard lesson to swallow. We thought we were good enough. We had a great season, regular season, but we played a very, very strong Ranger team who had the confidence that they can knock us down. And they did.
Potvin: One of the problems that happened against the Rangers is we may not have had the numbers on the back line, meaning we played most games I think with five defensemen. The thing about Freddy Shero, who was coaching the Rangers at that time, they really dumped and chased. They would dump the puck deep in our corners, and we as defenseman had to go turn and chase it. I recall how exhausting it was for us, and it was a good strategy by the Rangers. One of the things that changed the following year is we shored up our defense so we had more able bodies that could play.
Resch: When you lost to the hated Rangers, that really slapped you in the face. We were desperate.
Bobby Nystrom, forward: We felt like we were the king of the hill, then the Rangers beat us. I thought for sure we were going to get a lot of changes and things like that during the summer of '79.
It didn't happen that way. The only changes in the offseason were defensemen Jean Potvin and Dave Langevin replacing forward Ed Westfall and defenseman Gerry Hart.
The approach allowed the players to keep the faith and believe that the losses to the Maple Leafs and Rangers would pay dividends in the end.
Trottier: We're young, we're dumb, we're stupid. We think we'll make it. But being young helps. Young and naive. Growth. Maturity. Just realizing that through maturity we gained confidence, we gained the ability to see things for what they are, make more realistic expectations and not let outside distractions come along, whether it's media expectations or other people's expectations. Were we ready? I don't think we were ready to win [in 1978 or 1979]. I don't know if we had the confidence yet to win. We didn't know how to win. We were gaining confidence, but I think losing gives you a little bit of that. We were young and eager and good students, and we learned from it all.
Lorne Henning, center: I think most teams have to lose before they win. Whether you're a young team and you're just not ready, or you don't have the experience, or you don't know how to play a certain way. There's no easy way. You have to figure out how to win. You have to have the depth, and I think (coach) Al [Arbour] and Bill realized that that we had to have the depth to do it. You have to go through a lot of adversity to understand what it takes. We had some serious bonding over the years, bonded through losing.
The hangover from being eliminated by the Rangers appeared to stay with the Islanders into the 1979-80 season. They were 6-10 with four ties through 20 games, 17th in the 21-team NHL.
Worse yet, Potvin sustained a major thumb injury in their 21st game, a 5-3 loss at the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 30. It would keep him out for three months.
Henning: We were struggling. There was some pressure there. We asked ourselves, "Are we going backwards here?"
Potvin: The injury was very painful, but there was a possibility that I could have just played in a cast and continued playing, but obviously debilitated. That was an option, but I remember being in a hospital and getting X-rays and all that with Bill Torrey, and I believe Al Arbour was there as well. They decided, "Let's get it operated on, let's try to get you back to as normal as possible," being that it was November 1979. Well, I didn't come back until March 1.
Video: 1979-80 Isles become second expansion team to win Cup
The Goring trade
The Islanders went 23-14 with four ties in 41 games without Potvin, jumping from 17th to seventh in the NHL standings, and had already beefed up the roster by the time he returned, particularly with the additions of defensemen Gord Lane and Ken Morrow.
New York acquired Lane in a trade with the Washington Capitals. Morrow, drafted by the Islanders in 1976, joined them after helping the United States win gold at the Lake Placid Olympics.
But the big move came March 10, when the Islanders acquired 30-year-old center Butch Goring in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings for forward Billy Harris and defenseman Dave Lewis.
Goring was the No. 2 center the Islanders needed behind Trottier. They went 8-0 with four ties after the trade.
Goring: For Bill Torrey to make that move, it really gave me an opportunity to fulfill my dream. It obviously changed my career, changed the way people think about me.
Trottier: We lost two popular players to get him, but we brought in this dynamic guy who was almost like a reality check for us. He told us that we don't realize how the rest of the League looks at us. We were kind of beating ourselves up about the last two years with the Maple Leafs and Rangers. We had a lot of doubt. But here's Butch reminding us basically that you guys are a lot better than you think you are, and the rest of the League, nobody wants to play against you guys. It was good to hear. He brought that mentality.
Bourne: I'll never forget him and I sitting there having a beer and he says, "You know what? I never knew how good you were." That's a huge ego thing. It was such a confidence booster.
Henning: Butchie had that personality where he's really outgoing, and we didn't have a lot of guys that were really outgoing. He became part of the dressing room right away, and I think it helped our group to relax a little. He was a big part of the transition where we believed a little bit more. Butchie just loosened the group because maybe we were too uptight, and maybe the pressure was there and we felt the pressure.
Trottier: (Goalie) Billy Smith loved the guy, and anything Billy loved, I loved. I never went out after a hockey game. I usually stopped at the Wheatley Hills Tavern, had a bite to eat with my wife and went home. I can't remember who we played that night, but I just remember Smitty sitting across the locker room from me and he said, "You're coming out with me and Butch." I was like, "OK, I'll go hang with you guys." I don't drink, but I think I got blasted that night. It took me a couple days to get over it. I still remember the taste. It burned. But we had a blast. I got to know Butchie a little bit. Butch was like, "Hey, we've got something special here. I'm not getting any younger. Neither are you. Let's get her going."
Henning: Butchie up front and Kenny on the back, those were two huge additions. They both loved to play under pressure, and it didn't bother them.
The Islanders had home-ice advantage and defeated the Kings in four games in the best-of-5 Preliminary Round, but it wasn't easy.
They won 8-1 in Game 1 behind a hat trick from Trottier and 23 saves from Smith, but Resch got the start in Game 2 and gave up six goals before being replaced by Smith in a 6-3 loss.
Smith took it the rest of the way.
Resch: Al called us in and said, "I know you guys have split, but these are desperate times, so we're going to go with the hot goalie." I was hot at the end and Smitty was playing well, and we'd gotten Butchie. Smitty started Game 1 and we blew out L.A. Next game I started, and they got a shorthanded breakaway and scored. I wasn't great. The Kings were the way better team, and I didn't have a great game. Smitty got the third game and won, and we got on a roll.
Potvin: I think it was kind of a breakout for Billy Smith. Billy started to write his Hall of Fame resume.
Game 3 at the Great Western Forum wasn't easy either, especially because the Islanders were without their leading scorer, forward Mike Bossy, who fractured his thumb in Game 2, an injury that would keep him out until Game 4 of the Quarterfinals.
New York trailed 3-1 after two periods but tied it on goals from Clark Gillies and Goring in the first 6:34 of the third. Morrow scored in overtime for a 4-3 win.
The Islanders won 6-0 in Game 4.
Potvin: We were not overly confident going into the playoffs. I mean, why should we be, right? It was, what's the next thing to happen? We didn't take anything for granted, though. We knew we had to earn everything. We knew that going in.
Resch: Game 3 in L.A., we were so much better. That was the turning point. People downplay that one. It wasn't that we were intimidated and thought L.A. might be able to upset us. It's a short five-game series. We won that game, and then we won the fourth game easily. Game 3 was a turning point because then we thought we could overcome not just what was going on on the ice, but also mentally. We now were strong enough to overcome the negative feelings. That was the mental hurdle that we finally jumped. Then the physical hurdle we jumped was against [the] Boston [Bruins]. They were a tough team.
The Islanders defeated the Bruins in five games in the best-of-7 Quarterfinals. They won the first three, including Games 1 and 2 in overtime at Boston Garden 2-1 and 5-4, without Bossy.
There were a combined 254 penalty minutes in Game 2.
Trottier: Clark Gillies and Bobby Nystrom and Gordie Lane, I mean a whole bunch of guys, they all just made us feel like we were 7 feet tall. It was definitely a challenge to our toughness and to our grit and to our intimidation playing the Bruins. The Bruins, they came out smoking. We were like, "You're not going to intimidate us." We went into their building and got a couple wins.
Resch: We win Game 1, and [Bruins forward Terry] O'Reilly kind of handles Clarkie a little bit because Clarkie didn't realize it was going to happen so quickly, right off the face-off. But we win, and then in the second game the brawls took place. They had O'Reilly, [forward John] Wensink. They had (forward) Stan Jonathan. That's not even counting (forward) Wayne Cashman. The referees couldn't handle all the fights. This had to be the toughest, most extensive line brawl in the NHL. It wasn't just two guys going at it and everyone else watching, kind of shoving and grabbing. There were four or five major heavyweight fights going on.
Poor (Islanders defenseman) Bob Lorimer. He gets Stan Jonathan, and Jonathan hits him under the eye. He couldn't finish the game. Bobby's cut was really bad. We're getting ready to go out on the ice after the intermission and Bobby can't go. He was in showering. We're getting ready and Bobby comes out of the shower, eyes swollen, getting really ugly looking. Bobby never said anything, but he looks up and says, 'Boys, it's our time. Go get those [guys].' It was so emotional. Perfect timing. If you've ever heard of someone taking one for the team, that was it. I can still see Bobby coming out of the shower at the old Boston Garden and we were just all -- wow. That was the physical hurdle we needed to get over, and we did.
The Islanders won 5-3 in Game 3 at the Coliseum. Bossy returned in Game 4 and scored two goals, but the Bruins won 4-3 in overtime on a goal by O'Reilly. New York went back to Boston and closed out the series with a 4-2 win in Game 5.
Trottier: They didn't die. To Boston's credit, they came right back and stole one in our building too. But we didn't have Mike (Bossy) for part of that series. We had to find a way to win without Mike Bossy. But that built our confidence. It was finding ways to win.
Resch: Nobody felt more pressure than Al. Before we got Butch and started to win, it was getting tight for Al, and there was talk about maybe having to fire Al. I remember a sign that said, "Fire our coach, not our players." There was pressure on Al, and he was feeling it. I think in many respects, if we were happy for anyone other than our teammates, it was Al Arbour. Al was the greatest coach.
Trottier: Al kept reminding us, "We're going to find a way to win. We don't care how. We'll play any game and we'll beat them at that game." But it was very disciplined hockey. We had to play disciplined and we had to play aggressive but not retaliatory hockey. We were the aggressors. We were going to be the guys who set the tone, but not in a costly way but by being mindful of our systems. We had to be focused and on top of it, not let distractions come in. The guys were great. Al was super. He was a commander on the bench.
The Islanders also took a 3-0 series lead in the Semifinals against the Buffalo Sabres, again winning the first two games on the road, including a 2-1 victory in Game 2 on a goal by Nystrom in the second overtime. They held Sabres forwards Gilbert Perreault and Richard Martin to a combined one goal in Games 1-3.
Trottier: Bobby Nystrom was a menace. He was a presence. I just remember they didn't want certain matchups, and I think that frustrated [Perreault and Martin] to a certain degree. Every time Nystrom was on the ice they'd pull that line off, and I think it screwed up their rotation of their line and the momentum you get when you're rolling lines. Al played it so well too.
The Islanders were feeling so good that they were even playing pranks on one another.
Resch: We were in Buffalo, practicing on a day off. Clark Gillies had bought white suede shoes. I said to the guys, "We're all going to take this marker and we're going to autograph these white suede shoes. Clarkie doesn't get mad much, but I've got to get $5 from each of you guys so that when he snaps on me, I can say, 'Clarkie, you can replace them.'" Everybody signed them. Clarkie came out of the shower and saw that we had signed them. He was always so calm and cool, you could never push his buttons, but he kind of lost it. So really quickly I said, "Clarkie, we've taken up an offering here and you can go buy a new pair." That was just something off the ice that kind of brought us together.
But the series turned interesting when the Islanders lost 7-4 in Game 4. Smith allowed five goals and was replaced by Resch, who then started Game 5.
It was the first time New York switched goalies since the Preliminary Round.
Trottier: Al was very clear. He said, "Guys, don't get distracted by this." He said sometimes it's not the goalie's fault. Sometimes you have to make a change to change what the other team is looking at or to change our focus and get us back online. Don't overthink it, and we didn't. Hey, perfect, boom, let's go. We had no doubt about our goalies.
Resch: No one talks about the Sabres series. It kind of gets lost in the shuffle. I remember thinking, these guys are pretty good, and we're not out of the woods yet. We were a little bit drained. The series against the Bruins had been very emotional. You think about it: Los Angeles, no fear there, no physical intimidation. We go to Boston -- a lot of physical fear, a lot of emotions rise. Then we go to the finesse team, Buffalo, and we drop again. That was a series we won on determination and skill.
The Islanders lost 2-0 in Game 5 with Resch in net, giving Arbour the opening to go back to Smith for Game 6 at home. He made 22 saves in a 5-2 win.
Trottier: Smitty was a battler, and it was the greatest thing you could call a goalie. I just knew that when Smitty was in there it was going to be a battle. He was playing his heart out for us. He's a stingy as they come, but he said, "Boys, I'm going to make the saves I've got to make." Perfect. That's all you want to hear. … He wants to be the goalie that is in there. … Smitty would always tell us this: "Boys, when I'm playing for money, I'm playing for keeps." That's what you want to hear from your goalie. It makes it fun to play in front of a guy like that.
Stanley Cup Final
The Stanley Cup Final was supposed to be a mismatch: the experienced Flyers, with several players from their Stanley Cup championship teams in 1974 and 1975, against the upstart Islanders.
The Flyers finished the regular season with an NHL-high 116 points. The Islanders had 91.
Tonelli: The mindset was we needed all our assets. We needed to play tough. We needed to execute on the power play. And we needed to play a game where we stopped them from scoring. We set them back a little bit because our power play was so effective. They couldn't take crazy penalties. That can happen in a game. Teams can play physical, get away with stuff and have a ton of confidence in their penalty kill, which allows the whole team to play a little bit more aggressive. So maybe in that sense, because we were so good on the power play, it's something they had to think about a little bit.
Nystrom: The experiences that we had over the course of the year were very good because, needless to say, we had a lot of fights with those guys. I think that they had a respect for us that they might not have had for other teams because we could really play that kind of a game. But even more than that, our power play was awesome, and because of that they couldn't take bad penalties. So therefore, we had kind of a little bit of a reprieve from them trying to run Bossy and Trottier, guys like that.
The Islanders' belief blossomed when they won 4-3 in Game 1 at the Spectrum on Potvin's goal in overtime.
Potvin: It was huge. I don't know that there was any more important victory because of the fact that it was the Flyers. They went 35 games without a loss that year (a record for North American major professional sports). They were a dominant team. But that was a huge game, and I'll never forget it. The first goal of the game I scored on Billy Smith. That was a problem. The puck was laying in the crease and Billy was down, and I was just going to tap it into Billy. Billy at that point probably felt that he lost sight of the puck and tried to lift up a little bit, so I ended up sliding it right underneath him. You could see right away that I look at the referee, who is right there, and he's pointing [to signal a] goal. I was like, "Didn't you blow the whistle?" No, it was 1-0 Flyers, and I remember (Philadelphia forward) Mel Bridgman skating by me on the way back and he said something like, "Thanks, Potvin." And that obviously [ticked] me off. In overtime, (Flyers defenseman) Jimmy Watson got a penalty and John Tonelli gave me the pass in the slot, and I scored. Still, I don't know that I ever had a more important goal.
Nystrom: Maybe they had a little bit of a feeling like, you know what, it's our building and we don't lose much here. But when we're able to sneak that one out of there, that was a big positive for us.
Trottier: They were the Broad Street Bullies and we're walking into the Spectrum, which is intimidation again. Here we are, just a group of young and dumb kids, and we just said we're going to play our game that Al Arbour makes us believe in. Then we get a win, and now all of a sudden, we're bigger believers.
Tonelli: But obviously the Flyers came out in Game 2 and played very well and took it to us.
The Flyers won 8-3 in Game 2, but the Islanders won Games 3 and 4 at the Coliseum 6-2 and 5-2 to take a 3-1 series lead.
Philadelphia kept the series going with a 6-3 win in Game 5 at home.
Tonelli: I think you have to give credit to the Flyers because they really had a great team. There was no quit in them, and they were thinking about winning. They played that good in Game 5.
Trottier: They hammered us. They wanted to send a message and they did. But we said, "We're not going back to Philly for Game 7. We are not going back into that atmosphere for Game 7." We had a chance to wrap it up at home. It was an afternoon game. We were focused on our game. And we thought, we may never get in this situation again, so let's not waste this opportunity.
Game 6 was on a Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum.
Nystrom: I hated afternoon games because I like to come down to the rink in the morning and get my sticks and skates and everything ready, and then go home and have a pregame meal and then sleep for a little bit, so this just seemed like it threw us right off. At least I felt that way. I definitely had some nerves, but I got down to the rink pretty early and got a chance to sit there, chill out a little bit and get all my stuff ready.
Tonelli: It was a beautiful spring day and I lived in Brookville, so I was about 20 minutes from the Coliseum. And I used to go the back way, the back road. I wasn't nervous. I was just calm and more excited. Driving to the game by myself. I said, "Wow, this is something, this is really a possibility of a dream come true." You [have to] give it everything you have and just try to stay calm.
Nystrom: I tell people all the time [I'd] never almost cried in warmup. I almost cried in warmup when we came out at the Coliseum that day because it was absolutely incredible that they stood up and cheered for our whole warmup, and then when we came on just to skate around prior to the game, they were in it. It was chilling to go out there during warmup.
The game was tied 2-2 after the first period. Bossy and Nystrom scored in the second to give the Islanders a 4-2 lead, Nystrom's goal coming with 14 seconds left. But the Flyers tied it 4-4 in the third period on goals by Bob Dailey at 1:47 and Alvin Paddock at 6:02.
Nystrom: A two-goal lead in my mind is the worst lead to have in hockey because it seems like the other team always comes back. We thought we had it in the bag, and that turned around pretty quickly. I mean, pretty quickly. The tendency is to think that the other team is going to die, and it usually never happens. But we definitely had a little bit of that in our mind, and it was a different story when we came into the locker room after the third period.
Tonelli: There was definitely chatter. "Who's [going to] be the hero?" I think a lot of us were saying it. I just wanted to dream about it my head and make it happen. I was really calm and focused, vividly thinking of doing it. There's one thing I know: We weren't extremely nervous.
Trottier: It was, now we're playing on our time. That was our mentality. It was, "OK, who is going to be the hero?" We believed it. Everyone was like, "I am, I am, I am." That was great to hear.
Nystrom: I had gone into the medical room and I grabbed a scalpel from [trainer] Ron Waske. I went back into the bathroom area and I was sitting on the toilet with all my equipment on, and I carved a notch in my stick signifying that I was going to score the goal. And I felt positive that I was going to score the goal.
In overtime, the sequence that led to the winning goal started with Nystrom hitting Dailey into the end boards in the Flyers zone. The puck sprung free and was rimmed up the boards and out.
Henning picked it up in the neutral zone and saw Tonelli cutting through the middle, Nystrom curling around behind him.
Henning: Wayne Merrick was usually Bobby and Johnny's partner, and when Wayne got hurt in the second period, that became my line. I was actually coming behind the play and could see it develop the whole way.
Nystrom: I always thought that when I went in and I hit Bob Dailey to the side of the net, I could have very easily gotten a penalty. I think back: What if I got a penalty there, and what if they would have scored, and what if we had to go back to Philadelphia? I was just so lucky.
Henning put the pass onto Tonelli's stick. Tonelli didn't have to break stride. Neither did Nystrom.
Tonelli moved the puck to his forehand and split the Flyers defenders with a pass, laying it onto Nystrom's backhand for a redirection that fooled goalie Pete Peeters, who was moving with the pass and couldn't reset to stop Nystrom's shot. It was a play the Islanders had run through in practice quite a bit.
Trottier: Those two guys would stay on the ice and practice crisscrossing driving the net. I watched those two ding-dongs do that 100,000 times. And there it is. Perfect pass. Perfect deflection. On the backhand. Top shelf. That's tough to do. Unbelievable.
Tonelli: There was no hesitation. Lorne was a very bright, intelligent player on the ice, and he could see that we're probably catching them in a little bit of a change. So there's a little gap in the neutral zone, and Bobby Nystrom and I were fresh along with Lorne. And I think Lorne could see that we could execute a play that we have practiced like religion every day for the whole season. That play was 100 percent executed from a play that we were taught to do in practice. The thing in practice, though, was it never worked. The defense knew what we were doing. We'd get so frustrated.
Nystrom: Johnny put it just right in front of me, which was just absolutely perfect. It was a great play on his part. It had enough speed, all I really had to do is deflect it. There was a guy who pulled up, I think it was (Flyers defenseman Andre) Dupont, and I had a stride on Dailey, and he put it in just a perfect spot for me to deflect it.
Henning was the first player to reach Nystrom at the end boards. Tonelli jumped in next. Everyone followed into the pile of players.
Henning: Other than my family, kids being born, it's one of my greatest memories. I was just numb because it's a marathon, just exhausted mentally and physically, and it was such a relief that it was over. We answered the critics. It's over.
Bourne: All I remember was it was over. It was over. I'm dead serious. We'd done all the work the three or four years before. We should have won a couple of years before. And then all of a sudden, it was over. You won something you never thought you would. You're just saying, "You've got to be kidding. This is amazing."
Tonelli: When that puck hit the back of the net, it was like everything was in slow motion. It was just the most exciting time in my career as a hockey player, and all I could do is jump like crazy and get my butt over to hug Bobby and celebrate because it was a dream come true. … That feeling was so great. We were going to play our hearts out to have that feeling again.
They'd have it again each of the next three seasons. The Islanders didn't lose a playoff series again until the 1984 Stanley Cup Final, when they lost to the Edmonton Oilers in five games. Their 19 consecutive playoff series wins are an NHL record.
The run started in 1980 after years of building, disappointment and belief in themselves, and what they were capable of doing.
Nystrom: I'm reminded almost every week or every day about where people were when I scored the winning goal. People have been just incredibly good to me, so it's a thrill. More than anything else, I'm so surprised that people reminisce about it. I would have thought that people forgot about it, forgot me. I see young kids, and they bring it up. It's a thrill, it really is.
Bourne: Nineteen wins in a row. No one says it. I never see it. It's always the Chicago Bulls, maybe the New England Patriots. But no one gives us credit. Nineteen. That's what I'm very proud of. No one in this world, in any sport, will ever beat 19 in a row. No one. It's impossible. And we did it.
NHL.com staff writers Brian Compton, Jon Lane, John Kreiser and Jim Cerny contributed to this report