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Simpson: Islanders Take It To the Limit One More Time: A Retrospective

The New York Islanders will travel to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning this Friday in what is the franchise’s 14th playoff series that has gone the limit. Series-deciding games are unusual: in Islanders history, they are rare if nevertheless memorable.  So, as the Islanders and their fans look forward to this Friday’s contest with a mix of eagerness and anxiety, let’s recall past deciding contests, some of which are celebrated in Islanders lore while the memories of others still sting.

Some stats: of the previous thirteen series’, one was a three-game series (Isles won), three were five-game series (Isles won all three), and nine were seven-game series (Islanders won four, lost five). All of the previous series’ were against traditional Patrick Division foes (New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitals) except for two against fan-favorite Toronto Maple Leafs. Only three of these games took place in Nassau Coliseum (1978, 1982, 1984; with a record of 2-1), and the fourth was when the Isles were the “home” bubble team in Toronto in 2020 versus the Flyers. As the road team, the Islanders have won five of nine series-deciding games.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and remember what came before:

1975: In the Islanders’ first playoff appearance, all three series went the limit. After upsetting the Rangers 2-1 on J. P. Parise’s overtime goal, the Islanders rallied from an 0-3 deficit to topple the Penguins 1-0 before just falling short against the Flyers (after coming back from another 0-3 series start) in a 4-1 defeat.

Here’s a treat: Marv Albert’s radio play-by-play of that decisive game against the Rangers:

1978: In a stunning upset, the Islanders lost to Toronto 2-1 on Lanny McDonald’s overtime goal in the quarterfinals … a bitter loss that would stick for some time (and still does for some people). It’s the only time between 1975 and 1985 that the team did not win at least one postseason series.

Read More – Bentivenga: Varlamov’s bounce back in goal helps Isles force Game 7

1982: The Islanders gave up a 2-0 series lead and were trailing the upstart Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the third period before John Tonelli spearheaded a comeback that resulted in a 4-3 overtime win … the only time during the four Cup-winning years that the Islanders played a game when a loss would have eliminated them. The dynasty survived, but barely.

1984: Kenny Morrow kept the Drive for Five alive with his overtime score against the Rangers in a 3-2 win. Enough said.

1985: Having made history in 1975 by rallying from 0-3 to win a series, the Isles came back from an 0-2 deficit to beat the Washington Capitals in five games in a series where only one game was decided by more than one goal (and that one an empty-netter). The score in Game 5? 2-1.

1987: One of the high points of the post-dynasty years was the legendary Easter Epic, where Pat LaFontaine’s goal in the fourth overtime over the Capitals ended what remains one of the most memorable Stanley Cup series-deciding games of all time (and the longest Game 7). Forgotten is that the Islanders rallied from another 1-3 deficit against the Flyers in the next round before falling 5-1 in the deciding contest.

1993: David Volek’s overtime goal secured a 4-3 triumph for the Islanders over the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. This left Al Arbour and Scotty Bowman tied at two in their playoff confrontations.

2002: Although Islanders fans still celebrate Shawn Bates’s Game 4 penalty shot, the Leafs prevailed 4-2 in the deciding game (each team won all its home games).

2015: The Islanders won Game 6 in what was supposed to be the last game ever played at Nassau Coliseum, but the Barry Trotz-coached Capitals easily trounced a lethargic Islanders squad in a Game 7 that looked closer (2-1) than it was.

2020: In the bubble, the Isles nearly frittered away a 3-1 series lead to the Flyers before closing the door with authority in a 4-0 win in Game 7.

The Islanders come to this final game just five wins from the Stanley Cup, something that has happened six times in team history (1975, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984).  Their record is 5-6 in semifinal series’. So this is ratified air, even for a team with a storied past. A win on Friday will help the present Islanders stand tall in the company of their predecessors and give fans more memories … and more games at Nassau Coliseum.




Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksDSimpson

About Brooks Simpson

Brooks Simpson writes, teaches, and speaks on American history and politics as a professor at Arizona State University. A native Long Islander, he has been an Islanders fan since the franchise's inception in 1972.

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