Forging the Dynasty
There's no shortage of adjectives to describe the Islanders' 1982-83 season. Thrilling, exhausting, dominant and miraculous are four that come immediately to mind.
Exhausting because the Islanders began the season a tired team, having sent 11 players to the Canada Cup tournament a mere 10 weeks after winning their second championship. Thrilling, dominant and miraculous because of several monumental events that happened during the regular season and playoffs, accounting for perhaps the most unforgettable seven-month stretch in franchise history.
In the regular season, there was The Streak. The Islanders put together 15 consecutive victories to break the Boston Bruins' 50-year-old record, including stirring rallies to tie and shatter the mark. On February 18, 1982, it seemed as if the streak would end at 13 as the Philadelphia Flyers held a 4-2 lead over the Isles. But the champs scored five consecutive goals to earn a chance to break the record at home against the lowly Colorado Rockies.
The storyline was made more interesting by the fact that two former Islander favorites -- goalie Glenn Resch and defenseman Bob Lorimer -- were returning to Nassau Coliseum as Rockies. The Isles took a 2-1 lead on goals by Bryan Trottier and Brent Sutter, but Don Lever tied the game early in the second period.
From that point, the Colorado defense bent but would not break. It looked as if the contest would end in a tie when, with only 47 seconds left, John Tonelli sent a Bryan Trottier pass through Lorimer and Resch for the game winner.
The streak ended with the Isles' next game, but the team steamrolled through the regular season. Franchise records were set for victories, points and goals scored, and the team won its second consecutive regular-season title.
The Pittsburgh Penguins awaited the Isles in round one of the playoffs, and it looked like no match. New York took the first two games of the best-of-five series in convincing fashion, outscoring the Penguins 15-3. Pittsburgh took the Isles into overtime and won game three at home, 2-1, then shocked the champs with a dominant 5-2 win in game four.
Although most Islander fans were concerned, there was no panic. After all, game five would be at Nassau Coliseum, where the Isles had lost only three of 40 games in the regular season. The Islanders came out flying, outshooting their guests by more than a 2-1 margin. But it seemed like Cinderella's night, as the Penguins held a 3-1 advantage in goals.
With less than six minutes to play and desperation setting in, Mike McEwen drew the champs within a goal. Three minutes later, Tonelli scored one of the most important goals in franchise history to send the game into overtime. An early bid by Pittsburgh's Mike Bullard was denied in spectacular fashion by Bill Smith, and Tonelli capped his historic evening minutes later by scoring the game winner.
All of the 1982-83 adjectives were brought into play during the Pittsburgh series, but they worked a double shift in the next playoff round. That's because the Rangers were the opponent, and they were looking to even the score after being swept out of the playoffs by the Isles in the previous season. Down 4-3 in game one with less than four minutes left in regulation, the Isles pulled even on another clutch Tonelli goal. But the magic ran out as Reijo Ruotsalainen beat Smith with a slap shot at 18:02. It was the first time in the championship run that the Islanders had lost game one of a playoff series.
That loss was shrugged off the very next night, however, as the Isles whipped their crosstown rivals 7-2. Games three and four were a bit closer, but the Isles took those as well. The Rangers closed the gap with a 4-2 win in game five, but the Isles wrapped it up behind Smith's stellar goaltending and Bob Bourne's two goals in game six.
The formidable Quebec Nordiques were next, but the Isles cut them down to size in a four-game sweep. Then came the upstart Vancouver Canucks, who featured a few old acquaintances. Their coach was Roger Nielsen and their enforcer was Tiger Williams, two former members of the Toronto Maple Leafs squad that dispatched the Isles in a brutal 1978 playoff series.
Williams was on top of his game before the finals began; he was quoted as saying Smith would have to drink from a straw after the Canucks were finished with him. But Smitty and the Isles had the last laugh, drinking champagne from the Stanley Cup for the third straight time after a playoff sweep.
The win established the Islanders as the first U.S.-based team and only the third ever to win the Stanley Cup three consecutive times. The dynasty was officially forged, and it seemed the only question remaining was how much greater could this team become?
Regular Season Record:
54 wins, 16 losses, 10 ties, 118 points, 385 goals for, 250 goals against, first place in the Patrick Division, first overall.
Playoff Record: 15 wins, 4 losses
Leading Goal Scorer, Regular Season: Mike Bossy (64)
Leading Goal Scorer, Playoffs: Mike Bossy (17, most in 1982 playoffs.)
Assists Leader, Regular Season: Mike Bossy (83)
Assists Leader, Playoffs: Bryan Trottier (23)
Points Leader, Regular Season: Mike Bossy (147)
Points Leader, Playoffs: Bryan Trottier (29, most in 1982 playoffs.)
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