NY Daily News
May 6, 1981
Potvin Sums It Up: Wonderful Series
By Frank Brown
When it ended in 1979, when the rangers had recorded the 2-1 triumph
that ended the Battle of New York in six games, Denis Potvin was on
his knees at the sideboards in front of the Islanders' bench. There
was a dazed look on his face as that final buzzer droned in his ears,
and the defenseman simply stared ahead for a long, long moment. There
was nothing more to do except leave and try to wash the sorrow away.
Tuesday night, as the final moment approached, Potvin had a different
story to tell and so did his teammates. He skated onto the ice for
his final shift of the semifinals with 1:56 left in a game the
Islanders would win, 5-2. With 55 seconds left, during a stoppage of
play, he tapped Clark Gillies on the butt with his stick, then he
tapped goalie Bill Smith, and defenseman Ken Morrow, and center Wayne
Merrick and right wing Bob Nystrom. Then he leaned over and whispered
in Nystrom's ear.
He said "Wonderful series, Bobby," and he meant that not only for the
veteran right wing but for the rest of the team as well. With 40
go, he tapped Duane Sutter -- who was playing junior hockey in 1979
the scorer of the coffin-closing fifth goal Tuesday night -- and then
Denis Potvin left the ice. He went to the bench and got a "high five"
from left wing Bob Bourne.
They stood on the bench as the final seconds ticked off, and Bourne
said to Potvin, "Denis, do you remember where you were two years ago?
You were just on the other side of the boards here. The same place,
but on the other side." And Potvin remembered. "I couldn't help but
remember two years ago."
He doesn't have to remember any more. None of the Islanders has to
remember. The demon of Madison Square Garden has ben exorcized, as
has the spirit of the rangers' triumph. This Battle of New York was
no more than a skirmish. The Islanders made sure of that with an
authorative sweep. Mike Bossy, who had just one goal and 10 shots on
net in 1979, had five goals on 11 shots in this semifinal. He set a
league-record for most goals in a season, 81, by scoring twice on
power plays in the three-goal first period just three days short of
two years after disaster had struck.
Mike Bossy remembers being on the ice - somewhere - when that final
buzzer sounded two years ago. "It was 2-1, and we had pulled our
goalie," he recalled. "And when it ended, I guess I just felt
disappointed. I was young then. I took everything the wrong way."
He did not like the criticism he received for "letting the team
down." He did not like being singled out as a cause of failure. The
feeling was so different Tuesday night as the final seconds ticked
off. "We were just mentioning on the bench how much better the
feeling was tonight than two years ago, and the fact that we beat the
rangers in their building made it even better."
It was better because the Islanders' team is better.
"It didn't matter whether I scored five goals in this series or two
goals in this series," Bossy said. "I don't think my goals are as
important to this team as they used to be." They aren't because, as
center Wayne Merrick pointed out, "You can't win with eight guys
going. You've got to win with 25, and we didn't have that in 1979. We
had a great team, but we were missing that depth. We were stronger
than the rangers then, but we didn't have all our guys going."
"Not to put the rangers down, but GOD we played well," Trottier said.
"They're a good team, and we were scared of them going into this
series because of the type of hockey we had heard they were playing
and the goaltending they were getting. So we just said, 'Well, we'll
take it one shift at a time, one period at a time and one game at a
And it worked this time because the Islanders are a powerhouse now.
And because they have learned summer of anguish two years ago as
well as the spring of anguish last year.