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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It Happened at the Coliseum … on MARCH 31st

25 years ago tonight (1990) – In retrospect, maybe this wasn’t the best thing that happened to the Islanders. Some could argue that it was even the worst.

Entering play on the final Saturday of the most up-and-down season in Islander history, the Islanders trailed the 4th place Penguins by one point for the final playoff spot. 
Patrick Division
W-L-T
Pts
NY Rangers
36-29-13
85
New Jersey
36-34-8
80
Washington
34-38-6
74
Pittsburgh
32-39-8
72
NY Islanders
30-38-11
71
Philadelphia
30-38-10
70

Pittsburgh had already guaranteed that they would finish with more wins than the Islanders , so the Isles had only one shot – beat Philadelphia at home and have the Penguins lose to Buffalo.

Brent Sutter did what he could scoring twice for the Isles, but the Flyers scored in the first minute of both the first period and second period so the game was tied 2-2.  Jari Gronstrand scored the 8th (and final) goal of his NHL career  at the 3:20 mark of the second period and when David Volek scored 64 seconds later, the Islanders had some breathing room.  Pat LaFontaine and Don Maloney would turn the game into a rout with third period goals and the Isles had a 6-2 win.

Then it was up to the Sabres.  With the Coliseum crowd watching on the (then-new) center ice scoreboard, the Penguins, with Mario Lemieux back in the lineup after missing 21 games with a herniated disc, and Buffalo headed into overtime.  Sabre defenseman Uwe Krupp, who would become an Islander in a trade just 19 months later, scored the overtime goal that knocked the Penguins out of, and the Islanders into, the playoffs.


Final Standings
Patrick Division
W-L-T
Pts
NY Rangers
36-31-13
85
New Jersey
37-34-9
83
Washington
36-38-6
78
NY Islanders
31-38-11
73
Pittsburgh
32-40-8
72
Philadelphia
30-39-11
71

The Isles, who managed to make the playoffs despite a 1-14-5 stretch, would meet the first place Rangers in the playoffs.  Al Arbour understood that what the Isles had accomplished was a bit remarkable and a bit unbelievable, telling Newsday’s Mark Herrmann: “The other fellows set the examples. It's up to these fellows to carry the torch through…The Good Lord was watching over us; we got a lot of help, and we'll accept it graciously."

It certainly was a longshot.  So long that Mark needed an “expert” to put it in perspective:
  
“The Islanders made the playoffs because a series of five games involving the Islanders, Penguins and Flyers worked out precisely the right way for them. It was a 241-2 shot, according to Eric Hornick, an actuary who spends his spare time as an Islanders' historian / statistician for SportsChannel and the team publication. He figured the odds based strictly on possible outcomes, disregarding factors such as home-ice advantage and winning streaks."

The Isles would overcome similar odds 17 years later when they rallied to sneak into the dance on the season’s final day.

The Isles would fall to the Blueshirts in the first round. But the longer lasting issue was that by qualifying for the playoffs, it pushed the Islanders to the 6th spot in the 1990 Entry Draft.  What’s the difference in one spot?  How about Jaromir Jagr vs. Scott Scissons?

1
Quebec
Owen Nolan
2
Vancouver
Petr Nedved
3
Detroit
Keith Primeau
4
Philadelphia
Mike Ricci
5
Pittsburgh
Jaromir Jagr
6
NY Islanders
Scott Scissons

Of course that means the Isles also passed up Daryl Sydor and Derian Hatcher.  The two defensemen were picked 7th and 8th and each played over 1,000 NHL games.

Also on this date: (1988) – In the final regular season home game of Denis Potvin’s career, the Isles moved close to clinching first place in the Patrick Division with a 7-3 win over Washington.  The Isles announced that Potvin would become the first Islander in the team’s “Hall of Fame”; his jersey would be retired weeks before Mike Bossy’s was, in 1991.  Potvin also received NHL milestone awards from John Ziegler honoring him for 1000 NHL games and 1000 NHL points.


Here is some video from this game --including game action and a brief look at the post-game ceremony:



Also on this date: (1979) - Chico Resch blanked the Buffalo Sabres 2-0.  Bob Nystrom and Bob Bourne scored for the Isles, who remained 2 points behind the Canadiens for first place overall.

Here's NewsCenter 4's highlights, with Larry Sacknoff:



All-time, the Isles have played nine March 31st games at the Coliseum and finish with a 5-4-0 record on this date at 1255 Hempstead Turnpike in Uniondale.


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