When the Los Angeles Kings failed to qualify for the NHL playoffs, it meant another season without a repeat Stanley Cup champion. The last team to win back-to-back Cups was the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
It also furthered the likelihood that one NHL record may never be broken: the New York Islanders’ 19 consecutive playoff series wins from 1980-84.
With this year’s postseason under way, here is a look back at the streak to put into perspective how remarkable an accomplishment it is. With each series is a key moment or turning point that helped the Islanders keep the streak alive:
vs. Los Angeles Kings, 3 games to 1 — After splitting the first two games at Nassau Coliseum, the Kings led, 3-1, after two periods of Game 3. But goals by Clark Gillies and Butch Goring tied the game and Ken Morrow’s first professional goal at 6:55 of OT gave the Islanders a 4-3 win. They clinched the best-of-5 series the next night in Game 4, 6-0.
vs. Boston Bruins, 4-1 — After winning Game 1 in OT in Boston, the Bruins came out in Game 2 and tried to intimidate the Islanders; there were an NHL-record 248 penalty minutes in the first period. But Clark Gillies and the Islanders stood up to Terry O’Reilly and the Bruins. The Islanders won again in OT, 5-4, to take a 2-0 series lead.
vs. Buffalo Sabres, 4-2 — Bob Nystrom’s goal at 1:20 of the second overtime of Game 2 gave the Islanders a 2-0 series lead heading back to Long Island.
vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 4-2 — Splitting the first two games in Philadelphia, the Islanders came out in Game 3 and scored four goals in the opening 14:29 of the first period on their way to a 6-2 win and a lead in the series they would never relinquish. Of course, Nystrom’s OT goal in Game 6 gave the Islanders their first Stanley Cup.
vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-0 — Leading the pesky Maple Leafs after the first period, 2-1, the Islanders erupt for four goals in the second period on their way to a 9-2 win. They never look back, outscoring the Leafs in the next two games, 11-2, to sweep the series.
vs. Edmonton Oilers, 4-2 — Game 4 in Edmonton. The Islanders lead the series, 2-1, but the score is tied, 4-4. Roland Melanson, starting in place of Billy Smith, stops Mark Messier on a breakaway midway through the third period to keep the game tied. Ken Morrow then scores the winner at 5:41 of overtime.
vs. New York Rangers, 4-0 — Power-play goals late in the first period by Mike Bossy and Bob Bourne send the Islanders on their way to a 5-1 win and a commanding 3-0 series lead. It was their first win in two years at Madison Square Garden. They had lost four straight regular-season visits, outscored, 25-10.
vs. Minnesota North Stars, 4-1 — Butch Goring’s hat trick in Game 3 helps subdue the North Stars, 7-5, and gives the Islanders a 3-0 series lead on their way to their second Cup.
vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2 — The closest the streak came to ending. Trailing, 3-1, Mike McEwen and John Tonelli scored in the final 5:27 of regulation to tie the game. Tonelli then won the game and the series at 6:19 of overtime. But it was coach Al Arbour made that was the difference. With 5:50 left in regulation, Arbour replaced goalie Billy Smith with Roland Melanson. Back then, teams were allowed to warm up the replacement goalie for two minutes. Arbour used the ploy to give the Islanders a much-needed break. Twenty-three seconds after play resumed, McEwen scored on the power play to start the comeback.
vs. New York Rangers, 4-2 — Leading the series, 2-1, Duane Sutter’s goal at 12:27 of the third period of Game 4 at Madison Square Garden breaks a tie score and gives the Islanders a 5-3 win.
vs. Quebec Nordiques, 4-0 — Dominating the first two games at home, the Islanders head to Quebec for Game 3. Wayne Merrick’s goal at 16:52 of OT gives the Islanders a 5-4 win and a 3-0 lead in the series.
vs. Vancouver Canucks, 4-0 — Trailing the Canucks in the third period of Game 1, Mike Bossy scores the tying goal with 4:46 left in regulation. He then nets the game-winner with :02 left in OT.
vs. Washington Capitals, 3-1 — Game 3 in Washington. The Islanders kill off 11 power plays in a 6-2 victory that gives them a 2-1 series lead.
vs. New York Rangers, 4-2 — Each team held serve on home ice through the first four games. In Game 5 at Nassau Coliseum, Bryan Trottier returned after missing the previous three games with a sprained left knee. He has a goal and an assist in a 7-2 win that gives the Islanders a 3-2 series lead.
vs. Boston Bruins, 4-2 — Clinging to a one-goal lead heading into the third period of Game 4, the Islanders erupt for five goals in a 5:59 span en route to an 8-3 victory and a 3-1 series lead.
vs. Edmonton Oilers, 4-0 — Mike Bossy missed Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final with tonsillitis and a virus. But goalie Billy Smith made 35 saves in a 2-0 shutout win. It was the first time in 198 games that the Oilers were blanked. The Islanders were on their way to their fourth straight Cup.
vs. New York Rangers, 3-2 — The other time the streak almost came to an end. The Rangers’ Don Maloney forced overtime with 39 seconds left in regulation. But Ken Morrow scored at 8:56 of overtime to clinch the series and keep the Islanders’ “Drive for Five” alive.
vs. Washington Capitals, 4-1 — After losing Game 1, the Islanders were in the verge of going down 0-2 in the series. But Anders Kallur scored at 7:35 of overtime to give the Islanders a 5-4 win. They then won both games in Washington, then closed out the series in Game 5.
vs. Montreal Canadiens, 4-2 — Montreal won the first two games on home ice. But in Game 3, the Islanders scored five times on their first 14 shots, including two 13 seconds apart by Tomas Jonsson and Greg Gilbert, to win 5-2. They then held the Canadiens to one goal in each of the next three games to win the series.
Alas, the streak came to an end in the Stanley Cup final when the Edmonton Oilers beat them in five games.
During those five seasons, the Islanders played a total of 99 games in the playoffs. That’s the equivalent of an entire regular season, plus almost a quarter of another.
Some day, maybe, a team will come along and match — or even break — the Islanders record. With the parity in the NHL, however, it’s going to take a pretty special team to do it.