For the first time in five years Montreal is out of the picture, but despite the absence of all that mystique and tradition, the 1980 Stanley Cup finals between Philadelphia and the New York Islanders loom as an exciting and fascinating matchup in their own right.
The Flyers bring some tradition of their own to the best-of-seven series opening here tonight, having won the cup in both 1974 and '75. They still have many key players from those glory days, too, and the veterans have blended perfectly with an influx of talented youngsters to produce a team which set a National Hockey League record of 35 consecutive games without a loss this past winter en route to the regular season championship.
That looks like a tough combination to beat, but if any team can do it, New York just may be the one. Unlike last year when they won the regular season title only to fold in the playoffs, the Islanders started slowly this time, surged late in the campaign, and seem to have played that old Montreal trick of reaching their peak at just the right moment. The Islanders have incentive, too , trying to win not only the first cup in their own eight- year history but the first for any New York team in 40 years. And last but not least, they have the "away ice advantage!"
Don't laugh. The Islanders, like all teams, may prefer to play in the friendly and familiar surroundings of their own arena, but in this year's playoffs they have been a much tougher opponent on enemy ice.
"We have won every big game we've played so far," says sparkplug center Butch Goring -- but whether by coincidence or not, it happens that except for the clinching semifinal victory over Buffalo every one of those key contests came on the road.
It started in the preliminary round, when the Islanders were upset at home by Los Angeles, thus creating a "must win" situation on the road. They responded by winning both games in LA, closing out the Kings 3-1 in that best-of-five mini-series.