Don't think for a second that Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin hasn't been paying attention to the excitement emanating from his old stomping grounds in Uniondale, N.Y., with the New York Islanders these days.
Potvin, currently a television commentator for the Ottawa Senators, spent 15 seasons with the Islanders. The first player taken in the 1973 NHL Draft, he won the Calder Trophy in 1973-74, then was the captain when the team won four straight Stanley Cups to start the 1980s. He also won three Norris Trophies, and is seventh all-time among NHL defensemen with 1,052 points.
FORMULA FOR PLAYOFF SUCCESS
Denis Potvin said he can vividly recall winning his first Stanley Cup with the New York Islanders in 1980.
He grinned when asked to discuss his team's six-game series victory against the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that earlier that season had established a North American professional sports record 35-game unbeaten streak. However, Potvin said he and his teammates were unfazed by it all.
"When we went up against the Flyers, it wasn't a question of bowing to them over the streak they set over two months that season," Potvin said. "They were a great team, but how would we match up against them?
"I remember we had this attitude that we could play with them, and then, of course, the biggest thing that happened was winning Game 1 of that series in overtime in their building. We ended up winning in six, so that was a huge game and a big confidence boost."
Potvin said any team that faces the Pittsburgh Penguins or Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year might want to take the same approach his team did in 1980. The Blackhawks went 24 games without a regulation loss to open the season, and the Penguins had a 15-game winning streak in March.
"The team that faces the Blackhawks or the Penguins this year don't have to think about anything else but how they stack up, 1-on-1, against them," Potvin said.
In other words, those remarkable streaks mean nothing in the playoffs.
-- Mike G. Morreale
The Islanders last reached the Cup Final in 1983-84, Potvin's 11th season with the franchise. That was when the Edmonton Oilers would end New York's four-year reign as Stanley Cup champion. The organization had occasional success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after that, but has fallen on hard times since 1994-95, failing to qualify for the postseason in 13 of the next 17 seasons.
There's optimism today for the Islanders, however, with the team on the verge of earning a playoff berth for the first time in six seasons.
"Can I be honest?" Potvin said. "I was in denial for, like, 25 years and didn't want to look at [their situation] because it was so bad. Now I find myself getting very excited for them and I've really enjoyed following the team again."
Potvin said this season's Islanders team is reminiscent of the 1974-75 club that became the first in franchise history to make the playoffs. That team rallied from an 0-3 quarterfinal-series deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, then rallied from another 0-3 deficit in the semifinals before losing Game 7 to the Philadelphia Flyers.
"I know what it's like to break through," Potvin told NHL.com. "They're like the 1975 Islanders with the way they're starting to get noticed. The Rangers aren't the only team being talked about in the New York area this year."
Potvin points to Islanders second-year coach Jack Capuano as one reason the team has rightfully earned a share of the spotlight in the metropolitan New York area.
"When people talk about the Islanders, they are always asking me, 'Who is this guy Jack Capuano, and is he a good coach?'" Potvin said. "Jack has shown a lot of patience and it's paid off for this team. For many parts of last season and earlier this year, it always came back to the fact that they seemed to lack maturity, lack the ability to hold onto leads. They didn't play as well in the third as they did in the earlier periods.
"But Jack has them believing."
It also doesn't hurt that the Islanders feature one of the NHL's best players, John Tavares, who is tied for third in the League with 24 goals and 10th with 42 points. But the Islanders are getting offense from other places, including the second line of center Frans Nielsen with Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo.
"You need two lines that can score and that might be the big difference between them having a winning and losing record," Potvin said. "The fact you now have a second line that can be offensive is where this team is starting to show maturity. Sometimes players get caught with a superstar and they'll sit back and say, 'He'll do it and we won't have to work so hard because he'll get it done.' But that's never the case, and teams that do it pay the price."
Potvin said he believes the Islanders have supported Tavares a lot more this season, and the results have been encouraging. Seven players have at least 18 points, including Tavares, Matt Moulson (39) and Brad Boyes (31).
"I've played with the greatest players in the world, and relying on just one player never works," Potvin said. "Those on the second, third and fourth lines have to take a role that's bigger than what they even think it is."
Center - NYI
GOALS: 24 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 42
SOG: 135 | +/-: -5
Potvin also credits general manager Garth Snow
and his persistence in being able to sign a few key players.
"Tavares is a great story, but I like the perseverance with Garth Snow and his signing [Evgeni] Nabokov and [Lubomir] Visnovsky when it appeared as though no one wanted to go there," Potvin said. "I remember what Garth went through when he attempted to sign players prior to that, so they had to develop their own, and that's where a guy like Jack Capuano fit in so nicely since he coached in the minors and understood those young players like Okposo, Bailey and Nielsen."
Potvin also said he feels Tavares should be considered a strong candidate for the Hart Trophy as the League's most valuable player, with one exception.
"If the Isles make the playoffs, he would be a strong candidate for the Hart," Potvin said. "The problem is, if you don't make the playoffs, the Hart Trophy doesn't belong to you and it shouldn't because it still reflects a team award to some extent. I wouldn't be able to justify giving the Hart to a player whose team doesn't make the playoffs."