When hockey fans think of the New York Islanders, the first thing that comes to mind is “The Dynasty”, in which the team won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983. After winning those Stanley Cups, the late Al Arbour watched his franchise get back to the cup yet again in 1984. The Edmonton Oilers would come out on top, and despite going on to win four cups in five years, no team will ever accomplish what that Islanders group did.
All fans born after that era of Islanders hockey have to fall back on the highlights available and the shared memories from the players and fans that were fortunate enough to witness the brilliancy first hand.
Fortunately for the fanbase, the Islanders have taken strides in the right direction to get back to being contenders. New York is in the playoffs for a third consecutive season. They are currently 3-2 in their first-round series matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The end goal for the Islanders, and every team competing, is to take home the shrine that is the Stanley Cup.
But what does it take to win it?
Only the ones who have been fortunate enough to hoist the elusive Stanley Cup can answer this question.
Chris Peters, a freelance journalist who covered the NHL with ESPN and CBS, sat down with Islanders legends Clarke Gillies and Bobby Nystrom to pick their brains on achieving the goal of every player who has ever laced up the skates.
Sometimes teams know when magic is brewing, and for the Islanders, key acquisitions got their confidence level at an all-time high ahead of their first Stanley Cup.
“I would have to say when we got [Miracle on Ice defenseman] Kenny Morrow and Butch Goring, I think that really solidified our team,” said Nystrom. “At that point, I thought we could have a run at it.”
The Goring trade will go down as one of the greatest trades in NHL history, as he played a pivotal role in all four cups. While his acquisition helped pave the way, the lessons learned from losing played a strong part as well.
“It took losing those two years against Toronto and the Rangers,” said Gillies. “It took losing to help us figure out what we needed to do to put the effort in to win.”
Just like forty years ago, physicality remains a critical part of winning the Stanley Cup.
Gillies went on to explain how physically demanding the playoffs are. When the Islanders faced the big, bad Bruins in the second-round back in 1980, the conversations surrounding the series were the same: Boston was going to intimate this New York team physically.
However, they did not allow this Boston team to do such a thing. “I think we showed them in a big way that we weren’t going to be pushed around in 1980. It springboarded us to beat the Flyers in the finals, and I think from that point on, we had the respect of everyone in the league.”
So far this postseason, the Islanders and Penguins have laid hits every chance they have. Both teams have combined for 437 hits through five games (87.4 hits per game). For teams in the playoffs who cannot use their bodies effectively, their lifespan will be rather short. It is a grind out there for every inch of ice.
The Islanders found out last year in their long postseason run just how grueling the journey to the Stanley Cup Finals can be. Their run went as far as the Eastern Conference Finals, where they got knocked out by the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Lightning in six games.
Losing leaves a bitter taste but winning is ever so sweet
Losing in the playoffs leaves a bitter taste in a team’s mouth. Until a team can win it all, that taste never goes away. Most players never get the satisfaction of that glory. For the select players that do, though, the taste is so very sweet.
“I always go back to 1978 and 1979, and what a bitter taste that left in our mouths,” Gillies said.
“To win, to find out what a sweet taste that was. We were still a very young team, and the personnel had not changed from the first year. So we were still all very hungry. We knew we had another shot.”
There are only two players on the Islanders who have their names etched in Lord Stanley. Nick Leddy won the cup with the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2013. Additionally, Johnny Boychuk, who will never play another game in the NHL due to a career-ending injury, won back in 2011 as a member of the Boston Bruins.
The road to the cup never gets easier, and the feeling of winning never gets old. “We knew each year that we were going to have to do our best and play our best and overcome adversity,” said Bobby Nystrom. “It’s just not an easy thing to win.”
All of the quotes in this piece were from Peter’s May 13 blog post with Betway Sports for the purpose of it being displayed on other outlets.