Islanders and Oilers in Stanley Cup rematch
The New York Islanders' ''drive for five'' is alive and picking up emphasis. The Edmonton Oilers' ''run for one'' is alive but delayed by a long wait. The veteran Islanders try to equal the National Hockey League record of five straight Stanley Cups, a mark set in 1960 by the Montreal Canadiens, the team New York dispatched to roll into the final.
The young Oilers have been there since eight days ago, when they finished a four-game sweep of Minnesota to initiate a rematch of last spring's championship round. The first game is here Thursday night.
The Islanders give every appearance of peaking at the perfect time. Outplayed by the New York Rangers in the first round of this year's playoffs, down a game to Washington, and down two games to the Canadiens, they now have put together four rock-solid, all-around performances to reinforce their stature as one of the game's greatest teams ever.
''They wear you down,'' said Canadien coach Jacques Lemaire. ''They play equally hard at both ends of the ice. You get within a goal of them, then they raise the level of their play and score right back. Their depth is a big plus. They beat us with six regulars out of the lineup. They find a way to beat you, a hallmark of greatness.''
Mike Bossy, in a slump early in the playoffs, is scoring again; he rocketed home two goals to help close out the Canadiens by a 4-1 score. Denis Potvin, the sturdy captain, is bulwarking a defense that is specializing in throwing its body in front of opposing shots and blocking them. The shots that get through are being stopped one after another by the peerless goalie, Billy Smith, with almost no rebounds left about.
Bossy scored a game-winning goal Saturday night, the 17th time he's decided a playoff game. One more and he ties the record of Jean Beliveau, the legendary Montreal center. Beliveau's playoff assists record of 97 was broken in the series-clinching victory by Potvin, who had two. Said Potvin with a chuckle, ''I was in the penalty box and the news went up on the scoreboard. I knew when the guard congratulated me.''
The stolid Smith, who held the Canadiens to one goal in each of the last three games, left behind Ken Dryden's record of 80 playoff victories and Glenn Hall's record of 115 playoff games.
He said of the Islanders's 19 straight capturings of a playoff series, ''We expect good play from our older fellows but the two kids (Pat Flatley and Pat LaFontaine) have just been great. Sometimes we get off to a slow start, but they've helped us build momentum. They've been the difference for us.''
The two Pats both joined the team after the Winter Olympics, where Flatley played for Canada and LaFontaine for the United States. Islander General Manager Bill Torrey feels he got the best player from each team.
So the Islanders have found their ''A'' game while the Oilers have been waiting to learn which team they'd play.
Said Islander center Bryan Trottier, ''We can use a few days of rest for our injured players. I wouldn't want as much time off as Edmonton as had, though. It would be difficult to stay sharp.''
The other question hovering over the offensively explosive Oilers is whether they can approach the Islanders' defensive intensity. Last year Edmonton lost in four games as Wayne Gretzky, the highest-scoring player in history, was held without a goal.
The Oilers come into the series with the four leading 1984 playoff scorers: Gretzky (28 points), Jari Kurri (22), Mark Messier (22), and Paul Coffey (18). Their overall balance has to remain suspect, however. Counting playoffs and regular season activity, they have lost their last 10 games to the versatile Islanders. They are under no illusions about the challenge facing them, but believe they are a different team this year.
''We're better prepared,'' says Gretzky. ''We're a young team that learned last year it doesn't mean much just to reach the finals. The objective is the Stanley Cup, and we haven't won it.''