4. RANGERS apply ‘CHOKE’ HOLD: May 8, 1979, Madison Square Garden
The Islanders were unyielding in the late 1970s until a seven-game loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1978 NHL quarterfinals. Afterwards, some critics called them “chokers.”
“Choke” was repeated in 1978-79, but this time the upstart Rangers upset the mighty Uniondale men with a mighty playoff pop.
“No one in their right mind would have bet on us,” said Rangers captain Dave Maloney. “And that goes for me too.”
But the Rangers mesmerized their favorite foe, starting with Game 1 of the NHL Semi-Finals. Shero targeted stars Potvin and Mike Bossy and completely disarmed them.
“They were staring me in the eye,” Potvin complained, “even after I gave up the puck.”
The Rangers won the opener 4-1 at Nassau Coliseum with consummate ease. But even though coach Al Arbour’s skaters won two overtime games, the Blueshirts finished with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to finish the job at home. Once again, the Seventh Avenue skaters dominated, taking a 2-1 lead in the middle period. From there, hero goalie John Davidson did the rest, and the Rangers finished off the Islanders with consummate ease.
“The Islanders were at the top of the league,” said Don Maloney, who at 12 broke the Rangers record for points in a playoff season when he assisted on Ron Greschner’s game-winning goal. “They were the best and we were just this.” young group of guys who came on the scene and ended up winning, and then went to the (Stanley Cup final).”
5. SUBURB TO A DYNASTY: MAY 5, 1981, Madison Square Garden
This one had all the hallmarks of a new Rangers playoff from 1979. Only now it was a 23-year-old goaltender from Boston named Steve Baker who was ready to take on the defending Stanley Cup champions. As in 1979, the winner would receive a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
But times had changed. The Islanders won their first and second home games and insisted this wasn’t 1979 all over again. Any further doubt as to their superiority was removed in the Garden, and while all this was going on a new, long-lived chant was born:
“The thing took off like a jet plane,” wrote Islanders historian Zach Weinstock. ‘It was catchy. It was mean and it boiled down four decades of Rangers heartbreak into four syllables and five hand claps. It was the perfect song.”
NINE-TEEN-FORTY backed up what would be a perfect sweep for the Islanders, who remained invincible in the last two games at the Garden. Game 3 ended with the visitors winning 5-1. After a brief Rangers rally in Game 4, the sweep was over, ending with a 5-2 win for the champions.
“The Rangers were as dead as a Garden fish flying through the air at Denis Potvin,” Weinstock concluded.
No Islander shared this revenge of ’79 more than Bossy. His first power play goal simultaneously scored three NHL playoff points. It was his eighth power-play goal of the 1981 postseason and the Islanders’ 26th, both records, and Bossy’s 81st goal – regular season and playoffs included – breaking Reggie Leach’s five-year-old record of 80.
6. BOBBY BOURNE’S EXCITING RIDE: April 20, 1983, Nassau Coliseum
On Thursday, April 14, 1983, the rivals met for what the media dubbed “The Expressway Series, Part V.” By now, the Islanders were a certified dynasty, having won the Cup in three consecutive seasons.
When 1980 “Miracle on Ice” hero Herb Brooks coached the Rangers, they posed a formidable threat to Islanders’ dominance. The series was tied at 2-2 after four games. A Rangers victory in Game 5 would, many critics believed, give Brooks’ players the tournament win.
It wasn’t meant to be. Game 5 consisted solely of Islanders. After two periods they had defeated the Rangers 35-9, but one play in particular underlined the Islanders’ dominance, Bob Bourne’s definitive end-to-end rush, one linemate Duane Sutter shouted: “The most beautiful goal I have ever seen seen” and what Davidson said was “a work of art.”
Bourne took the puck at full speed from teammate Tomas Jonsson in the right corner of his zone, rounded the net, blew past two Rangers forwards and was met by defensemen Barry Beck and Reijo Ruotsalainen. First, Bourne zoomed past Beck at the offensive blue line and then stripped Ruotsalainen in the high slot.
It looked so easy when Bourne completed his expedition by beating goalkeeper Eddie Mio from the left circle at 18:35 of the second. His trip lasted six seconds and gave the Islanders a 5-1 lead, which ended up being a 7-2 loss.
“I went home and watched it ten or twelve times,” Bourne remembers. “Every time I watched it I got really excited. I’ll keep that tape for the rest of my life.”
Bourne’s rush to glory inevitably deflated the residents of Manhattan. Butch Goring broke a 2-2 tie at 5:21 of the third in Game 6 – his second goal and third point of the game – in a 5-2 victory. By late spring, the Islanders had defeated the big, bad Boston Bruins and Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers for their fourth NHL championship in eleven years of existence.
7. THE GREATEST GAME OF THE RIVALRY? April 10, 1984, Nassau Coliseum
During the 1983-84 regular season, the teams enjoyed several heart-stopping games. The dynastic Islanders, winners of four consecutive titles, were on a ‘Drive for Five’. An Islanders fan put up a sign warning the Rangers: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.”
The Rangers were unimpressed and, led by Brooks, took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 Patrick Division semifinals with a 7-2 victory in Game 3, and led 1-0 after two periods of Game 4 at the Garden. .
“Our hearts were in our throats,” Bourne said.
The Isles rallied from down 4-1 to force a decisive Game 5 at the Coliseum.
In what some critics considered one of the greatest games ever played, the Rangers dominated two periods with a 23-10 shot advantage. Amazing saves from Smith kept the score at 1-1 until Jonsson converted Duane Sutter’s pass for the Islanders’ go-ahead goal in the third. The Rangers held on until a Mark Pavelich drive soared into the air. Don Maloney hit the ball in for the equalizer. The ensuing overtimes were exciting, and then some.
The Rangers had the best game, but Smith kept saying “No!” say. especially after Dave Maloney let brother Don jump into a half breakaway. Smith foiled it with a toe save.
Then it happened.
In the left corner of the Rangers zone, the puck slid innocently to the right boards, straight to Islanders defenseman Ken Morrow. With a quick swing, Morrow one-timed the puck towards the goal, Patrick Flatley screened Glen Hanlon, and in no time the puck found its way past bodies and eventually under Hanlon’s pads.
That was the end of another classic.
Veteran CBS telecaster Warner Wolf spoke for everyone there at The Barn when he said, “It was the best game I’ve ever seen. Hands down!”