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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Skinny on: Time to Stave

(Revised 6/23/2021)
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 will find themselves on Wednesday against Tampa Bay.

The Islanders have successfully staved off elimination 29 times in 51 tries. Of course the other 22 times they've ended up on the wrong side of a handshake.

Six times in their history, the "Never-Say-Dielanders" have managed to stave off elimination at least two 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 1984, the Rangers were poised to end the Dynasty, after taking a 2-1 lead, but the Isles won Game 4 at MSG and then won the series in Game 5 on Ken Morrow's overtime goal. Two successful staves.

In 1985, their first playoff after being dethroned as Stanley Cup Champions, the Isles lost their first two 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.

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 4, only to fall to the eventual champs in Game 5. Three more staves.

In 2020, the Isles won Game 7 from Philadelphia to advance from the Toronto bubble and then beat Tampa Bay in double overtime of Game 5 before falling to the Bolts in overtime of Game 6 in Edmonton. Two more staves.

Five other seasons featured one successful stave. In 1976 and 1977, the Isles forced the eventual champion Canadiens to an extra game each year with their backs against the wall. In 1982, with their dynasty on the line, the Isles used an overtime goals to beat Pittsburgh to stave off elimination. In 2002, the Isles overcame the loss of Michael Peca and Kenny Jonsson in Game 5 in Toronto to win an emotional Game 6 at home.  In 2015, the Isles kept The Barn's doors open as they won the final home game in the first era of the Coliseum over Washington, only to drop Game 7 to Barry Trotz and the Caps in DC.

In games facing potential elimination, the Isles are 16-6 at home (including 0-1 in the Bubble) and 13-16 on the road (including 2-0 in the Bubble).

The Isles were eliminated at the Coliseum in 1977 by Montreal, in 1978 by Toronto, in 1986 by Washington, in 1994 by the Rangers and in 2013 by Pittsburgh. Technically, the 2020 elimination by Tampa Bay from the Bubble was also a home game.  

The Isles have been eliminated in the playoffs only 22 times. In eight of those seasons, the team that beat the Isles won the Stanley Cup [75-76-77-84-93-94-04-20] and in three other years, the team that beat the Isles lost in the Finals [79-85-87].

Wednesday will be the 132nd playoff game in Coliseum; the Isles will need two staves against Tampa Bay for there to be a 133rd.

Forever1940 is the nom de plume of Eric Hornick, statistician on Islander home telecasts since January 21, 1982. Visit my blog: NYISkinny.com and follow me on Twitter @ehornick

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