SI Vault
Kathy Blumenstock
June 02, 1980
Bob Nystrom's overtime goal gave the New York Islanders a whole new image. They are the Stanley Cup champions now, not a bunch of chokers
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June 02, 1980

Putting The Hammer To The Old Bugaboo

Bob Nystrom's overtime goal gave the New York Islanders a whole new image. They are the Stanley Cup champions now, not a bunch of chokers

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"They were freaky goals," said Smith. "Dailey's just went wide of the net, hit someone and went in. And on Paddock's, they had three guys standing in the slot and the puck slid in between their feet. Did I panic? I was scared skinny."

But if the chunky Smith was scared, his teammates remained calm—outwardly so, anyway. "When we went back out there for overtime, we knew what we had to do, that's all," said Bossy. Grimly determined now and drenched from exertion, the Islanders returned to the ice to a great ovation. A fan dressed as the Stanley Cup—inverted garbage can for the base, spray-painted birdbath up top—paraded around the rink. A banner in the balcony pleaded, LET'S WIN THIS ONE, I WORK TUESDAY NIGHT. The Islanders, too, would be laboring Tuesday if they fizzled in O.T. "Going back to Philadelphia would have been an awful lot of trouble, big trouble," Bossy said. "Nobody wanted to go back."

Except the Flyers, of course. They had compiled the NHL's best record over the 80-game regular season and had set a league mark by going 35 games without a defeat, but as Clarke said, "The only thing people ever remember is who won the Stanley Cup."

Philadelphia had the edge in the early moments of overtime as Clarke, Linseman and Al Hill took aim at Smith. But then—at 7:11—it was Nystrom's moment. "All I had to do was shovel the puck in," he said, ignoring the fact that there was some artistry involved, too. It was a beauty of a goal, the little sweep on the backhand and the deflection up and in. Even before Nystrom had completed his swing, the red light blazed and the Coliseum was a solid wall of noise.

Islander General Manager Bill Torrey watched his team skate a victory lap with hockey's crown jewel and beamed when someone offered him a paper cup of champagne. As builder of the Islander franchise and rescuer of the team from bankruptcy two summers ago, Torrey had often talked about his long-run game plan. When he was named G.M. of New York's expansion franchise in 1972, Torrey promised no results right away but indicated that by Year 4 or 7 or 8 the Stanley Cup would be on the horizon. If you buy the eight-year version, the Torrey system is right on schedule, although Torrey still insists that last season's team—the best in the NHL during the regular season—had the talent, if not the temperament, to win it all.

Instead, the 1980 Islanders—No. 5 during the 80-game season—finished No. 1 in the end. Along the way they set a playoff record by scoring 25 power-play goals, including a stunning 15 against the Flyers, and the 23-year-old Trottier, the 1979 NHL scoring champion but a playoff bust the last four seasons, set a point-scoring record (29) as he won the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the MVP of the playoffs.

Four original Islanders remain from the hapless days of the '70s—Gary Howatt, Smith, Henning and Nystrom. One Islander, Defenseman Ken Morrow, has been with the team for less than three months; before that, Morrow was helping the U.S. win the gold medal at Lake Placid. The team averages 25 years in age and four years in NHL experience.

"The difference in this series? We scored more goals than they did," said Gillies as he sipped a beer instead of the bubbly. "We really don't realize this whole thing yet. It might hit us in a week. I know I'll still be up tomorrow. But when everything calms down here, I'm going home where I have a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator. It's been there since Christmas, and I've been waiting for something special to drink it. And when I have a nice, calm drink of it, instead of squirting the stuff like in here, then I'll realize what we've done."

Nobody chokes on champagne.

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