Repeat the Feat
Uneasy is the head that wears the crown, or so the saying goes. But the Islanders made it look so easy in 1980-81 en route to their second consecutive championship.
Well, there were some bumps along the way, but nothing a true champion couldn't overcome. From an individual perspective, there was Mike Bossy's quest to become only the second player in NHL history to score 50 goals in 50 games. Boss entered game 50 against the middling Quebec Nordiques with 48 tallies.
Through two periods and most of the third, the Islanders' biggest gun was held silent. A little over four minutes remained when, suddenly, number 49 found its mark. Soon after came number 50 and another highlight of Bossy's brilliant career. He would finish the regular season with 68 goals and tack on 17 in 18 playoff games.
For the entire team, there were several challenges. These included knee injuries to right wing Duane Sutter and goalie Glenn Resch, plus a spirited race for the regular-season title with the upstart St. Louis Blues. Sutter, who was limited to 23 regular-season games, recovered in time for the stretch run. Resch was eventually included in a deadline trade for Mike McEwen, who would score six post-season goals including a series-clincher against Edmonton. The Isles ended the season by capturing 21 of a possible 26 points, including a late-March win in St. Louis, to secure the regular-season championship.
As Islander fans learned after their devastating 1979 playoff loss to the Rangers, however, the regular-season championship pales in comparison to capturing Lord Stanley's silver. The team also showed that lesson was well-learned by going through their playoff opponents like a buzz saw. They began with a three-game sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs, allowing only four goals in the series while scoring 20.
The second round offered the Edmonton Oilers in a preview of battles to come. Once again, the Isles came out roaring, taking the first two games and outscoring their opponent 14-5. But Edmonton shocked the Isles 5-2 in game three, took them to overtime before losing 5-4 in game four, and beat the Isles 4-3 in game five at Nassau Coliseum. It was by far the biggest challenge the Islanders would face in the 1980-81 playoffs, and they responded with a series-clinching 5-2 win at Edmonton.
The semifinals provided the matchup all New York had been waiting for: Islanders versus Rangers. The defending champions grabbed sweet retribution for their 1979 playoff ouster, sweeping their way to a second consecutive final round and outscoring their city counterparts 22-8 in the process.
Most observers expected the Blues or the Montreal Canadiens to be waiting for the Islanders, but instead it was the Minnesota North Stars. The Stars were a Cinderella team, finishing the regular season with only 87 points yet blazing an upset-laden trail to the finals. But their dream was ended by the Islander juggernaut, which scored 28 goals in a five-game cakewalk.
Through their remarkable 18-game playoff run, the Isles tallied a record 97 goals, including 31 on the power play and 9 shorthanded. They were rarely slowed and never stalled. Mark Everson of the New York Post put it best when he wrote, "The second time is tougher, and so are the Islanders. Imagine what they're going to be like with this behind them."
Regular Season Record:
48 wins, 18 losses, 14 ties, 110 points, 355 goals for, 260 goals against, first place in the Patrick Division, first overall.
Playoff Record: 15 wins, 3 losses
Leading Goal Scorer, Regular Season: Mike Bossy (68)
Leading Goal Scorer, Playoffs: Mike Bossy (17)
Assists Leader, Regular Season: Bryan Trottier (72)
Assists Leaders, Playoffs: Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier (18)
Points Leader, Regular Season: Mike Bossy (119)
Points Leader, Playoffs: Mike Bossy (35)
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