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Friday, April 20, 2007

Time to stave (apologies if you have already received this)

Updating a piece that I wrote for nyi.com a few years back....

According to Webster, "stave off" has been around for nearly four centuries. Funny, I didn't realize that there were playoffs then.

It seems like the only time I ever hear the word stave is when a sports team is one game away from elimination-- the situation the Isles find themselves in Friday evening at HSBC.

The Islanders have successfully staved off elimination 25 times in 41 tries. Of course the other sixteen times they've ended up on the wrong side of a handshake.

Four times in their history, the "Never-Say-Dielanders" have managed to stave off elimination at least three times in a single playoff year.

In 1975, the Isles beat the Rangers in the decisive Game 3, and then found themselves down 3-0 to both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The Isles won eight of the nine elimination games they played, setting an NHL-record for avoiding elimination.

In 1985, their first playoff after losing the Cup, the Isles lost three of their first four playoff games, and looked like they were headed to an early spring, before rallying to beat the Caps three times, to stave off elimination each time. The Isles trailed the Flyers 3-0 in the second round and won game four before losing the series in five. Four successful staves.

Two years later the Caps and Flyers again became Islander victims. The Isles trailed both series 3-1; yet beat the Capitals on Easter morning, before losing to Philadelphia in seven. Five more successful staves.
Finally in 1993, the Isles trailed Pittsburgh 3-2 before winning in 7 on David Volek's overtime goal. After Montreal used eight guys on the ice to score in OT in Game 3 of the Conference Finals to grab a 3-0 lead in the series, the Isles staved off elimination with a home-ice win in game four, only to fall to the eventual champs in Game five. Three more staves.

Five other seasons featured one successful stave. In 1976 and 1977, the Isles forced the eventual champion Canadiens an extra game each year with their backs against the wall. In 1982 and 1984, with their dynasty on the line, the Isles used overtime goals to beat Pittsburgh and the Rangers to stave off elimination and increase the legacy that guides this franchise today. Finally, in 2002, the Isles overcame the loss of Michael Peca and Kenny Jonsson in game 5 in Toronto to win an emotional game six at home.

In potential season-ending playoff games, the Isles are 15-4 at home and 10-12 on the road.

The Isles were eliminated at home in 1977 by Montreal, in 1978 by Toronto, in 1986 by Washington and in 1994 by the Rangers.

The Isles have been eliminated in the playoffs only sixteen times. In 7 of those seasons, the team that beat the Isles won the Stanley Cup [75-76-77-84-93-94-04] and in three other years, the team that beat the Isles lost in the Finals [79-85-87].

If the Islanders were to lose tonight, it would mark the fourth time that they've been eliminated by losing the final 3 games after splitting the opening pair. It happened in 2003 to Ottawa and 2004 to Tampa Bay but it also happened in 1984, when the Dynasty ended with three straight losses to Edmonton. Of course, the Edmonton series deserves an asterisk -- games 3-5 of that series were all played in Alberta.

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