Looking Back: Islanders Cup-Free Since ’83

Moving forward in the Stanley Cup playoffs, The Hockey Writers will be taking a short look at the past successes of the final eight teams left in the postseason. When was the last time they reached the Stanley Cup Finals? How long has it been since they hoisted the Cup?

Starting in the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders let the league know they’re for real after earning a spot in the postseason with a 100-point season and finishing in the top wild card spot. By narrowly missing third in the Metropolitan division, the Islanders found themselves in a first-round matchup against the Atlantic Division winning Florida Panthers.

However, after a hard-fought series – and one where captain John Tavares showed up in a big way – the Isles are set to move on to the second round where they’re running head first into a hot Tampa Bay team.

Now, the last time they made the Conference Semifinals it was 1992-93 when they finished third in the Patrick Division with a 40-37-7 record. The Islanders managed to take down the Washington Capitals in six games (including two double overtime wins in Games 2 and 4). They followed that up with a Conference Semifinal win over the Pittsburgh Penguins with a Game 7 overtime win before falling in the Prince of Wales Conference Final to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.

When we’re talking about their last Cup-winning year, we have to go back another decade to 1982-83. It was the last of four straight Cups for the franchise and a time that Islander fans remember fondly.

1982-83: New York’s Regular Season

The early 80s was a great time to be a fan of the Islander franchise. Starting off the 1982-83 season, New York was coming of their third straight Stanley Cup win and on the verge of the dynasty tag.

Mike Bossy, New York Islanders, NHL, 1983 Stanley Cup, Hockey
Mike Bossy led the New York Islanders in goals and points during the 1982-83 regular season on their way to their fourth straight Stanley Cup. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

The team put up a 42-26-12 record in 80 regular season games and finished second in the Patrick Division behind the Philadelphia Flyers. But that was just the beginning. After losing their opening game on October 5 by a 2-1 score against the Vancouver Canucks, the Islanders went on to win eight straight games – a sign of what was to come.

The team was led by Mike Bossy. He put up 118 points (60g-58a) in just 79 games. He finished with 19 powerplay goals and eight game winners in the regular season. The Islanders had five players score over 60 points during the regular season – something we’ve grown accustomed to not seeing in the modern-day game.

Bossy finished fourth in league scoring behind Denis Savard (Chicago), Peter Stastny (Quebec) and, of course, Wayne Gretzky (Edmonton). Both Rollie Melanson (2.66) and Billy Smith (2.87) finished among the top four in goals against average and split time in the Islander net almost right down the middle – playing 2,460 and 2,340 minutes respectively. They went on to win the Jennings Trophy for the league’s goaltenders with the least goals against.

Bossy won the Lady Byng trophy that year and both he and Melanson were named as part of the NHL All-Star teams.

Boston entered the playoffs with 110 points while Philadelphia and Edmonton went in as division leaders and 106 points. That being said, the Islanders were coming off three Cups and certainly couldn’t be underestimated.

1982-93: The New York Islanders Road to the Cup

“The Islanders were stacked,” read an article from The Hockey News, “led by one of the greatest two-way players in league history, the calming Bryan Trottier; the super-confident Mike Bossy, who seemed able to score at will; team captain and three-time Norris Trophy winner Potvin, a man who oozed confidence; all-time grinder Clark Gilllies; and goaltender Billy Smith, seemingly able to will himself to victory. Behind the bench, the Islanders were helmed by coach Al Arbour; pulling the strings was GM Bill Torrey. All seven of those men are now in the Hall of Fame.”

So while they still iced a strong team, injuries and some lacklustre efforts during the regular season had dropped New York from the spot of Cup favourites to simply a playoff contender. And yet, they weren’t going to let that affect their journey to a fourth straight Cup.

They took on Washington in the Division Semifinals. They beat the Capitals handily, outscoring the opposition 19-11 in four games earning a trip to the second round. From there, they entered into a Big Apple showdown with the Rangers in the Division Finals.

After taking the first two games by a 9-1 combined score, the Islanders gave up two to the Rangers where they were outscored 10-7. The Isles finished off the series with a 7-2 win in Game 5 followed by a 5-2 victory in Game 6 and knocked off their fellow statesmen in six games.

The Conference Finals were next for the suddenly surging Islanders. Their opponent was the Adams Division champion Bruins – a matchup that wasn’t going to be easy. The Bruins and Islanders swapped wins in the first two games before New York scored 15 goals in the third and fourth games of the series to jump out to a 3-1 series lead. After a tough 5-1 loss in Game 5, the Islanders went home and won Game 6 by a score of 8-4 to earn their fourth straight trip to the Stanley Cup Finals – against the Edmonton Oilers.

“We want to beat (the Oilers) more than anything,” said Gillies heading into the series (in the THN article). “They think they’re the greatest thing since the invention of sliced bread.”

And so, the stage was set. Oilers versus Islanders. The Isles were looking for their fourth straight Stanley Cup. It was Potvin, Trottier and Bossy taking on Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, and Coffey (to name a few).

It should’ve been a close series, right? Well, the Islanders had their minds set on beating the Oilers and beating them good. And just like that, New York went on to win four straight games. They basically shut down the league’s regular season top scorer in Gretzky and outscored the Oilers 17-6 sweeping Edmonton in four games.

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With that, the Isles were handed the dynasty tag for their four-year Cup run. Smith put up monster numbers in the playoffs for the Isles going 13-3 with a 2.68 goals against average and earned himself Conn Smythe honours as the playoffs MVP and Bossy led all scorers with 17 goals – finishing fifth in playoff scoring with 26 points.

Bob Bourne topped the Isles scoring list with 28 points (8g-20a) and made his presence felt throughout the playoffs. It was the team’s ability to overcome a back-and-forth season, injuries and use their team depth that earned them yet another Stanley Cup.

Since then, New York’s made the Cup Finals once. They followed their fourth Cup win with another trip to the finals in 1983-84, losing in five games to those same Edmonton Oilers. They’ve made the postseason 15 times (including this season) since their last Stanley Cup championship with little success.

It’s safe to say that 2015-16 is off to a nice start for the Tavares-led Islanders in their playoff run.

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