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Islanders-Flyers Playoff History

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Kate Smith, Tonelli to Nystrom and Mikko Makela highlight the memorable moments

Islanders Celebrete During 1980 Stanley Cup Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

The Islanders will face the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 1987. Just to put in perspective how long that has been, Lou Lamoriello was just named President of the New Jersey Devils and Barry Trotz was in his first and only season as General Manager and Head Coach of the Dauphin Kings in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

On the player side, only four Islanders were alive (Andy Greene - 4, Johnny Boychuk - 3, Thomas Greiss - 1, Andrew Ladd - 18 months).

The Islanders are 1-3 all-time against the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is the only Patrick/Atlantic/Metro Division team that the Islanders have a losing record against, playing more than one series.

1975 NHL Semifinals - Flyers defeat Islanders, 4-3

The Islanders had a coming out party in their third season of existence. In one of the biggest turnarounds in NHL history, the Isles finished the 1974-75 regular season with 88 points, 32 more than the 1973-74 season and two more than their first two seasons combined.

Their first-ever playoff series would be fitting as they faced the New York Rangers. The Islanders blew a three-goal third period lead (sound familiar?) and the game headed to overtime. The extra period lasted a whopping 11 seconds as J.P. Parise sent the Islanders to the next round and a matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The momentum that the Islanders has as a result from the their first series win was gone as they quickly went down 0-3. Billy Smith was replaced with Chico Resch, who helped the Isles win the next three games to force the deciding Game Seven. In the 36 years since the NHL adopted the best-of-seven playoff series, only one club ever had lost the first three games and then rebounded to capture the next four (1942 Maple Leafs against the Red Wings).

The first six games of the series would average six goals per game. Game Seven would feature just one, late in the third period, Isles captain Ed Westfall’s backhand goal would complete the epic comeback. The Penguins would not lead at any point after Game Three.

The Islanders prize for advancing, the defending Stanley Cup champions Flyers who took the first three games. Famed New York Times columnist Dave Anderson remarked “The Islanders never can seem to win a playoff game until they’ve lost the first three.”

Flyers goalie Bernie Parent shut out New York in two of the first three games. Islanders head coach Al Arbour commented “We got them where we want them.” He was almost correct.

The Isles scored the first three goals of Game Four. In typical fashion, they gave up the next three. With seconds left in regulation, Flyers winger Reggie Leach scores what likely was the Cup-clinching goal but the referee immediately rushed to the linesmen to say that it came after the buzzer sounded, the Islanders still had a pulse.

Islanders forward Jude Drouin scored two minutes into overtime giving New York their first win. The Isles took care of business, roughing up the Flyers, 5-1, in Game Five. Clark Gillies also took care of business, pounding Dave “The Hammer” Schultz.

Game Six saw the Flyers quickly get out to a 1-0 lead, Denis Potvin evened it late in the second period. The Isles scored two in the third to even the series at three. Momentum was clearly in the Isles favor. However, the Flyers had their good-luck charm for the decisive Game Seven.

Philadelphia was all but unbeatable (40-3-1) when singer Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” played prior games. The Islanders thought they had a way to get to Smith. The myth was that Westfall planned to present Smith with a bouquet of roses.

Westfall revealed the truth to Stan Fischler. Gerry Hart received a bouquet of chrysanthemums from a fan who wanted to wish the team good luck. “I told Gerry to give me the flowers and I’d give them to Kate and this we way would steal some of the Flyers’ thunder. So I took the chrysanthemums and told the guys to follow me; which they did and we presented them to her and then all shook her hand. She was rattled and almost couldn’t sing” Westfall added.

Smith, who had a statue erected in front of their arenas for over 30 years until it was removed due to racial lyrics in some of her songs, was giving a TV interview said, “Here I am, getting pumped up and this handsome Islanders captain presents me with this beautiful bouquet. You know I almost couldn’t sing. What I couldn’t figure is he he knew my favorite flower is a chrysanthemum?”

The Smith gimmick failed as the Flyers scored early in the game en route to their second-straight Stanley Cup. Somehow you feel that the Islanders would get their revenge.

1980 Stanley Cup Final - Islanders defeat Flyers 4-2

The 1975 loss to the Flyers began a stretch of losing in the semifinals four of the next five years. There was plenty of chatter whether this team had right pieces to win the Stanley Cup. Enter Butch Goring, who was acquired by general manager Bill Torrey in a March deal. Goring was the veteran influence that New York was missing.

Torrey also revamped his defense that season, bringing back Denis Potvin’s brother, Jean, trading for Dave Langevin and Gord Lane. Following the “Miracle on Ice,” Ken Morrow joined the Isles in late February.

Ironically, the Islanders faced Goring’s old team, the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. The Isles took the best-of-five in four games. Then defeated the Boston Bruins in five games. Advancing to the semifinals was nothing new, neither was their opponent, the Buffalo Sabres, who they dispatched of in the 1976 and 1977 playoffs. New York scored 21 goals in the six-game series win over Buffalo. One hurdle down.

The Flyers had a historic regular season. The team started 1-1 and then didn’t lose another game until January 7, a stretch of 35 games (25-0-10). They compiled a league-best 116 points, won 11 of their first 13 postseason games.

Game One went to the Islanders, thanks to the captain Denis Potvin, who scored two goals, including the first overtime power play goal in Stanley Cup Final history.

The Flyers rebounded in Game Two, roughing up goaltender Billy Smith and the Isles, 8-3. Smith was bench in favor of Glenn “Chico” Resch. Head coach Al Arbour split the goalie duties in previous postseasons but went with Smith almost entirely in 1980. Smith played in 20 of the 21 postseason games, compiling a 15-4 mark with a 2.70 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.

Arbour’s team out-scored the Flyers, 11-4, giving New York a 3-1 series lead and a chance to hoist their first Cup in Game Five. The Flyers had other plans, staving off elimination and sending the series back to the Island for Game Six.

“We didn’t want to go back to Philadelphia,” Mike Bossy told NHL.com. “We wanted to win it at home. When we walked into the locker room that morning (it was a day game) we were saying to ourselves, ‘We’d better do it this time.’”

Not counting the craziness of 2020, May 24, 1980 was the latest the Islanders played in a season. Game Six was not without its share of controversial calls, or non calls, thanks to linesman Leon Stickle.

Duane, not Brent, Sutter’s goal 14 minutes into the first period gave New York a 2-1 lead. But was it offsides? Clark Gillies’ drop pass to Goring looked it could have been offsides.

Maybe I was too close to the play,” Stickle later explained. Judge it for yourself. (38 seconds into the clip)

Thanks to second period goals by Mike Bossy and Bob Nystrom, the Isles headed into the third with a 4-2 lead.

“We were so high after that period, we already were congratulating each other,” Nystrom told Fischler. “We forgot there were another twenty minutes to play.”

Spoiler alert, this game goes to overtime as the Flyers tied the game early in the third. John Paddock, who played in three games that postseason, scored the Flyers fourth goal.

The Isles had a ritual where they would go around the locker room asking each other who would be the hero tonight.

“I was thinking that I would really like to be the hero,” said Nystrom. “Mr. Islander” already had three OT winner on his resume.

Nystrom was on the wing with John Tonelli and Lorne Henning. The future Islanders assistant and head coach was filling in for Wayne Merrick, who went down with a charley horse. Henning was skating through the neutral zone, found Tonelli near the blue line, who then laid it out for Nystrom and “The Islanders win the Stanley Cup!”

1985 Patrick Division Finals - Flyers defeat Islanders, 4-1

The Isles were down 0-2 to the Washington Capitals before winning three straight and taking the series.

The Flyers ended the Isles streak of five consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances. Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh shut out the Islanders in Games One and Five. Tragically, Lindbergh was killed in a single-car accident just months after taking the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final and winning the Vezina Trophy.

Brian Propp scored a hat trick for Philly in Game Two.

1987 Patrick Division Finals - Flyers defeat Islanders, 4-3

The 1986-87 was one of crossroads for the Islanders. Al Arbour stepped down following the 1985-86 season and was replaced by Terry Simpson, who became the first Islanders head coach not named Al Arbour to win a playoff series, coming back down 3-1 and winning Game Seven in the fourth overtime. Mike Bossy’s injury-filled season proved to be his worst statistically, 38 goals in 63 games. That’s not bad for a mortal, but substandard for a player of Bossy’s caliber. Bossy’s back was acting up most of the season and he missed the last ten games in order to get ready for the postseason. Bossy was injured in Game Two of the Capitals series and missed the rest of the series. Bossy would return in Game Four against the Flyers.

Potvin also battled through an injury-filled regular season, playing in just 58 regular season games. Nystrom was behind the bench for his first full season as an assistant coach.

This became Pat LaFontaine’s team, having registered career best with 38 goals and 70 points. LaFontaine’s heroics in the “Easter Epic” set up the matchup with the Flyers. Game One started less than 48 hours later. The Islanders looked sluggish and went down 4-0 in the second period en route to a 4-2 win.

Game Two, the Flyers dominated most of the game, except where is mattered the most, the scoreboard. It remained scoreless into the third. Potvin tied the game with his first of the postseason. With just 48 seconds remaining in regulation, the Flyers took an ill-advised too many men on the ice penalty. Only three seconds remained in the third when Isles forward Mikko Makela skated in on Flyers goalie Ron Hextall and fired the puck past Hextall on his stick side to give the Isles the win and evening the series 1-1.

Games Three and Four went to the Flyers, leaving the Isles once again down 3-1. Bossy remarked following the game “My back hurt just waiting for a face-off. I gritted my teeth and did the best I could.”

Following the 15 combined goals of the previous two games, Game Five was a low-scoring affair. The Isles got on the board thanks to Richard Kromm’s first of the playoffs. Then New York took the lead for good as Ken Morrow wristed a shot that caromed off rookie Randy Wood past Hextall as the Isles inched closer in the series.

New York looked to the past for Game Six as Bossy and Bryan Trottier scored three of the Isles four goals, evening the series at three, Could another miracle be in the works?

The Flyers were missing captain Dave Poulin for the first six games with bruised ribs. He returned for Game Seven, wearing a flak for protection, made his presence felt. Poulin assisted on the Flyers first two goals. Philly also scored two shorthanded goals on the same Islanders power play in the second period. The late Ilkka Sinisalo scored two third period goals for insurance as the Flyers advanced to the Wales Conference Finals.