Beginning tonight, there will be three Game 7's (or, uh, Games Seven...or 7th Games...see comments) within 24 hours in the NHL playoffs. It's pretty much hockey heaven. But don't get used to it: As with double-OT games, sometimes you get spoiled by them appearing in bunches, and then next thing you know we go a whole round or two without seeing another series reach Game 7 or multiple overtimes.
While we're on the topic of deprivation though, these occasions always get me thinking back to when the Islanders were actually in the playoffs long enough to reach a Game 7. It's been a while.
The euphoria after a Game 7 victory is a feeling pharmaceutical companies only wish they knew how to bottle and package. Afghan farmers and murderous Columbian soccer fans wish they could harness it for profit. As with many narcotics, it comes with a devastating risk: A loss in Game 7 is, simply, the worst feeling you can have as a hockey fan. It's a stomach flu mixed with a hangover mixed with a death in the family. It's for that reason I look back on Islanders Game 7's with a very cautious nostalgia.
They were the best of times, they were the worst of times -- if you have personal memories of any of these games, do share them in comments...
1975: Expansion Team Announces Its Arrival
Islanders win Game 7 in Pittsburgh, 1-0
Islanders lose Game 7 in Philadelphia, 4-1
In just Year 3 of the franchise, the Islanders storm into the playoffs and take Pennsylvania by surprise. For 35 years this stood as the broadcast graphic "last time a team came back from a 3-0 series deficit to win." The Islanders did it to Pittsburgh, then almost did it again the next round.
We dug up a lot of info and a little bit of video on that year in this post last May.
1978: Heartbreak and Underachievement
Islanders lose at home to Toronto, 2-1 (OT)
This was when 12 teams made the playoffs and a preliminary 8-team, best-of-three round was held to see who would face the division winners who had byes to the second round. Warning: This video may cause pain, bring back nasty memories. (The death blow happens at about the 6:40 mark of the video.)
Lanny McDonald's OT winner in Game 7 was almost as low as it would get for the high-expectation pre-Dynasty Islanders. (Sadly, it would get lower the next year: The Isles fell to the Rangers in six games, giving the Smurfs their chance to be thumped 4-1 in the Cup finals by Montreal.)
1980-84: A Dynasty Without Game 7's
That would be all for a while, as the dominant 1980-84 Islanders were never forced to a Game 7. In fact, in their 19 consecutive playoff series wins they were forced to the brink just twice -- both times in best-of-five preliminary round games, and both times ending with Islanders OT winners to clinch the series and carry the most impressive playoff record in NHL history onward.
Otherwise, generally the dynasty was marked by lots of 4-0 sweeps and 4-1 thumpings.
Game 5 Caveats:
The Islanders did have a winner-take-all scary first-round series with Pittsburgh in 1982. The Penguins pushed the Isles to the maximum five games and, if not for the heroics of John Tonelli tying the game and winning it in OT, there might not have been a dynasty at all. (Video of both goals is at the end of this post.)
A couple of years later, with the Drive for Five still on, the Islanders had another preliminary round Game 5 -- this time with the hated Rangers. Kenny Morrow took care of things in OT:
Another exception, in the last season in which the NHL played best-of-five opening round series, the Islanders had another winner-take-all Game 5 and got by the Capitals with a 2-1 nailbiter. They were eliminated in the next round by Philadelphia, 4-1. Let's not go there.
1987: Why I Will Always Love Easter
The 1987 playoff year saw two Islanders Game 7's, one that ended with heroics currently featured on NHL "History is Made" commercials, the other that ended in ways we don't need to talk about.
The Islanders got past the Capitals in seven games thanks to Pat LaFontaine's quadruple-OT winner in the Game 7 known as the Easter Epic. If Game 7's are torture, Game 7 OT's are -- to steal the Richards-Miller verbal motif of the moment -- mass murder. Unless you win, of course, in which case it's your wedding day and the birth of your firstborn all wrapped in one moment.
The Islanders went toe to toe with the Flyers in the next round, coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to force Game 7 in Philly. The Flyers won that one 5-1, the most lopsided game of the series.
1993: What a Year, What a Year
The Islanders got past the Capitals in six games -- D. Hunter is a gutless coward -- but had to face the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions without Pierre Turgeon. No matter. It took seven games, but the apprentice bested the master*: Al Arbour's boys got past Scotty Bowman's millionaires thanks to Ray Ferraro and Dave Volek, among many heroes.
*This is when I always relay the story that when Arbour was considering the Islanders job the first time around, Bowman -- who'd coached him in St. Louis -- told him, "You take that job you'll be losing for 10 years." Turns out 10 years later Arbour was winning his fourth consecutive Cup and Bowman was learning in Buffalo that being coach and GM is harder than it looks.
I love you, Dave Volek:
Huh. Strange. Apparently our data is missing from this period. That's weird.
2002: The Return
The Islanders returned to the playoffs with a thunderous, bloody bang, going seven games in a brutal series with the then-quite-brutal Maple Leafs. Casualties abounded. Darcy Tucker took Michael Peca out with a dirty hit. Gary Roberts (who somehow became some sort of hero in later years) knocked Kenny Jonsson out with a check from behind. Shayne Corson and Tucker were both exposed for what they were, which is only a few levels above Hunter. Shawn Bates scored on Curtis Joseph on a penalty shot where the roof nearly blew off the Coliseum.
The Isles lost a tough Game 7 in Toronto, 4-2. (The Leafs would beat Ottawa in seven games in the next round, then fall to the Hurricanes in the Conference Finals.) It's been eight seasons and nine years since that series. The Isles would return to the playoffs three more times over the following four seasons, but never last as long as a seventh game.
It's about time that changed.