Islanders' Stanley Cup secret? They play better hockey
The New York Islanders do not win with swift skating, or straight shooting, or loud hitting, or precise passing, or stonewall goaltending. They win with all of the above.
"I think we can beat you more ways than the great teams of the past," said Captain Dennis Potvin, the defensive mainstay of the team which has now won the Stanley Cup two years in a row.
"We're not the Flying Frenchmen, we're not the Bruising Bruins, we're not the Broad Street Bullies. We're the allaround Islanders, and we combine the various facets of the game better."
The array of records set by New York in the playoffs supports Potvin's contention. The team expanded its own records for power play goals (31 in 18 games) and shorthanded goals (9).
Individually, Mike Bossy broke the scoring record with 35 points, on 17 goals and 18 assists, and Potvin set a record for a defenseman with 25 points. Bryan Trottier, who played only on a spot basis the last game because of a sore shoulder, scored in all 18 postseason contests for another record.
Butch Goring, Trottier's backup at center, broke the unofficial Stanley Cup record for number of unusual inspirational efforts and was named Most Valuable Player. The pesky little veteran hustled his way to 10 goals -- two of them shorthanded -- and 10 assists as the Islanders won all three games from Toronto in the opening miniseries; defeated a stubborn, upset-minded Edmonton team in the quarterfinals 4 games to 2; swept the arch rival New York Rangers in the semifinals, 4-0, and closed out Minnesota in the final, 4-1.
Goring was a constant problem to the young North Stars in the finals, starting almost from the opening faceoff. His two goals early in that first game, as New York scored three times in five minutes, took much of the wind out of Minnesota's sails right off the bat. The first was a snapper from the right side after Minnesota failed to clear the puck out of its zone, the second a sprawling putaway of a centering pass.
Then after New York had won the first two games and the sky-high North Stars were battling to get back in the series before their home crowd, Butch deflated them again by scoring three times for the hat trick as the Islanders rallied from behind for a 6-4 victory to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
And finally, after Minnesota had stayed off elimination in the fourth game and sent the series back to Long Island, the 5 ft. 9 in. buzzsaw did it again, scoring on a power play at 5:12 of the opening period to give the Islanders a lead they never relinquished en route to a clinching 5-1 triumph.
"I don't expect to be a scoring star," says Goring, whose perpetually disheveled appearance makes him the object of much good-natured kidding. "We have enough guys who can score. I just try to plug away all the time and make things happen. Awards are extra. I look around our locker room and see superstars like Potvin and Trottier and Bossy, and I say to myself, 'Gee, maybe I'm in the same class with them now.' That's a great thrill.
"This was an important year for me. Bill Torrey, the general manager, brought me here late last season and I felt I made a contribution, but you have to be consistent to convince people you belong at the top. Last year we won, but there was a little doubt about us. Now it's certain we're a championship team. We have so much balance and depth. There's no real weakness.
"Our power play was very, very intimidating. That let us play our game because other teams were afraid to foul us. We have a lot of confidence in our penalty-killing, and that got to be pure fun. When you have five and six guys who can spell each other, you can put the other team on the defensive, and that's what we did."
So well did Goring and so many of his teammates play throughout the playoffs, the contest for Most Valuable Player award was closer than the action on the ice , where they wound up winning 15 of 18 games, most of them convincingly.
"You think you have one of their big guns shut down, and another breaks through," said North Star goalie Don Beaupre, who stood out in Minnesota's fourth game victory. "But Goring's my MVP. He never stops working. He keeps you off balance."
The Islanders were asked over and over if winning the Stanley Cup was even sweeter the second time around, and most agreed it was.
"Last year it didn't dawn on us what we'd done," said Coach Al Arbour, doing his usual impassive imitation of Mt. Rushmore. "This year we were expected to win, and that makes it tougher. This is still a young team, and if we keep it together we should continue to play well."
Said Billy Smith, the combative goalie who was magnificent in the playoffs, "I wasn't tested as much this year. We were very solid and this team never panics. Maybe now the more fickle experts will concede we're a tremendous club. They said we weren't supposed to get this far, then when we win we hear it's supposed to be easy for us. It's never easy. Edmonton gave us a scare in the quarterfinals.And if we hadn't beaten the Rangers in the semifinals, we'd never have heard the end of it."
Bob Nystrom, whose overtime goal in the sixth game against Philadelphia last year gave the Islanders their first cup, said this year's final was much less physical and grueling. "That shows that our team can play any way it has to and win," he said.