Skip to main content
Greatest Moments

Potvin recalls Islanders dynasty

Fourth straight Stanley Cup championship in 1983 in contention for Greatest NHL Moment

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The New York Islanders entered the 1983 Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers as the three-time defending champions but also feeling like underdogs.

The Oilers, led by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey, were on the verge of their own dynasty that would win the Stanley Cup four times in five seasons and five times in seven seasons. In 1982-83, Edmonton finished first in the Campbell Conference with 106 points and rolled to the Stanley Cup Final, going 11-1 in the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Islanders, who had 96 points that season and finished second in the Patrick Division, weren't ready to pass them the torch, though.

"We knew in '83 if we took our foot off the pedal, we could easily be beaten," captain Denis Potvin said. "We still had edges in certain areas. Goaltending was a big edge for us still at that time. There's no doubt that we came in as the underdogs, but also we knew what it takes."

The Islanders' experience gave them a big advantage in the Stanley Cup Final. They swept the best-of-7 series, outscoring the Oilers 17-6 in the four games, and became the second team in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup in four consecutive seasons. They joined the Montreal Canadiens, who won five straight titles from 1956-60 and four in a row from 1976-79.

Video: Greatest NHL MomentsL Lemieux vs. Islanders Dynasty

The Islanders' fourth consecutive Stanley Cup championship is among the Greatest NHL Moments Presented by Coors Light and Pepsi Zero Sugar. As part of the NHL's Centennial celebration, a blue-ribbon panel of broadcasters from NBC Sports Group, NHL Network, Sportsnet and TVA Sports selected 64 moments. Fans can vote on them in a bracket-style tournament with four rounds, semifinals and a final.

In the third round, the Islanders winning the Cup for the fourth straight year is facing Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins becoming the first player to score goals five different ways in the same game in 1988.

The Islanders four-peat advanced from Round 1 by defeating Gretzky's Game 7 hat trick against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1993 Campbell Conference Final that helped the Los Angeles Kings reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. In Round 2, the Islanders' dynasty defeated Willie O'Ree becoming the NHL's first black player in 1958.

The Greatest NHL Moment will be announced Dec. 16 at the Scotiabank NHL 100 Classic between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, HNIC, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).

No team has won the Stanley Cup in more than two consecutive seasons since the Islanders' run of four in a row. The continuity of their roster proved to be a difference maker. 

They had 16 players who were on all four Stanley Cup teams: Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bob Bourne, Clark Gillies, Butch Goring, Anders Kallur, Gord Lane, Dave Langevin, Wayne Merrick, Ken Morrow, Bob Nystrom, Stefan Pearson, Billy Smith, Duane Sutter, John Tonelli and Bryan Trottier.

Potvin, Bossy, Trottier, Smith, Gillies, coach Al Arbour and general manager Bill Torrey have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Video: Looking back at the Islanders' 1980's dynasty

"Our team, I still think was the best in history, but there's a reason for it," said Potvin, now a color analyst on Florida Panthers telecasts for Fox Sports Florida. "We had everything covered. We had the best skaters, the most-physical guys, the most-talented shooters, the most-talented puck passers, the most-talented goaltender, on and on."

During the Islanders' four Stanley Cup seasons, they went 11-2 in games decided in overtime and faced elimination once. That came in the deciding Game 5 of the 1982 Patrick Division Semifinals against the Penguins.

Pittsburgh led 3-1 with less than six minutes remaining in the third period. But Mike McEwen scored a power-play goal with 5:27 left to pull the Islanders within 3-2 and Tonelli tied it with 2:21 remaining. Tonelli scored the winning goal 6:19 into overtime.

"You look at our overtime record over those four years and it's amazing," Potvin said. "That's where you have the edge, having been there and knowing that there's somebody in that room, whether it's Bobby Nystrom or Kenny Morrow or John Tonelli or Bossy or Trottier or whoever, we had confidence that the hero was in our room. And I think that's the key to being able to keep things going."

The Islanders' "Drive for Five" fell short when they lost to the Oilers in five games in the 1984 Final, ending their record run of 19 consecutive playoff series wins. Potvin believes that record will never be matched.

"That has got to be the toughest grind," Potvin said. "Typically, what I found was the early series was always the most nerve wracking because you just didn't know what to expect. Even though you were playing against teams where you would be the favorite, it's still very scary. And the reason I say that is as you move on in the playoffs, I think the machine just gets really well oiled. By the time our teams got to the semifinals and final, we never let anybody go seven games."

Video: Isles' 1980s dynasty produced four consecutive Cups

The Islanders' first Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers, which they won in six games, was the only one that went more than five games. They defeated the Minnesota North Stars in five games in the 1981 Final, and swept the Vancouver Canucks and Oilers in 1982 and 1983, respectively.

"That was the hallmark of a team that repeats," Potvin said. "They just keep getting better and better as the challenge gets greater and greater."

View More