Bob Nystrom has been in the same deep, dark hole as the Philadelphia Flyers
and Dallas Stars
. He can tell them where to look to find the light.
He found it in the 1975 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when his New York Islanders
became one of just two NHL teams to crawl out of a three-games-to-none deficit and win a best-of-seven playoff series.
The '75 Islanders knocked off the Pittsburgh Penguins
in a quarterfinal-round series, joining the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs
, who beat the Detroit Red Wings
in the Stanley Cup Final, as the only teams in League history to come back from the absolute edge of defeat to achieve victory.
His advice to the players in Philadelphia and Dallas is the same one he got from his coach, Al Arbour
-- keep the focus small.
"More than anything else, what we did, and what Al instructed us to do, was think about winning one shift," Nystrom recalled for NHL.com. "When you think about four games, it seems impossible. But when you look at it as one shift, it doesn't look that bad."
That philosophy worked for the Stars on Wednesday night, as they rebounded to grab Game 4 to make it a 3-1 series heading into Game 5 in Detroit on Saturday afternoon. The Flyers will attempt to repeat the feat tonight when they meet the Penguins in Game 4 (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).
Nystrom also believes that just because a team is down in the series, they're far from out of it. In fact, he believes being that far down almost can give the trailing team a psychological edge.
"The biggest problem with that 3-0 position is they (the leading team) think the other team is going to die," Nystrom said. "It's no different in any sport, whether its tennis when you're up 5-love and you play differently. If I'm down 3-0, the one thing I'm doing is I'm saying we have a great opportunity to win this series."
That was the message Arbour passed along to Nystrom and his teammates, a group that included Clark Gillies
, Jude Drouin
, Denis Potvin
, J.P. Parise and Chico Resch.
After dropping a 6-4 decision in Game 3 at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders came back three days later and topped the Pens, 3-1. They took Game 5 back in Pittsburgh, 4-2, and stayed alive in Game 6 with a 4-1 win on Long Island. In Game 7, on April 26, 1975, Ed Westfall
scored the game's lone goal with just over five minutes left in regulation, and Resch made 30 saves for a 1-0 victory.
Nystrom said he could slowly feel the momentum turn in his team's favor.
"Especially in the fourth game, we had much more intensity," he said. "That's all we did and that's all we talked about, next shift, next shift. Once we won that first game, then we won the second game, you could feel the momentum changing. Maybe not panic, but you sense a change in the way they played."
That never-give-up attitude among the players, he says, is the key.
"It all depends on the character you have on the team," he said. "If there are key guys that die, or guys that allow them to die, then you're out of the series. But if you've got guys that will work to the bitter end, you're in pretty good shape."
Even with the right work and the right focus, a lot still has to go right for a team in such dire straits. And sometimes, well, the team up 3-0 wins that fourth game.
"Pittsburgh has a great team, Detroit has a great team," Nystrom said. "It might be just impossible to come back against these teams."
Nystrom, though, holds out hope. After the Leafs came back from their 3-0 hole in 1942, it took 33 years for the 1975 Islanders to turn the trick. It's been another 33 years since Nystrom's team came all the way back. It will take more than a numerologist, but does he think a third NHL team can join the exclusive fraternity?
"I hope someone does it," he said. "I think it would be phenomenal."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.