In the Islanders third year in the NHL, 1974-75, they made the playoffs for the first time. After two abysmal seasons — only 31 wins in 156 games — they finished 33-25-22 in ’75 and tied the Rangers for second in the Patrick Division with 88 points. The two teams met in the first round of the playoffs for a best-of-three series that would vault the Islanders into the New York sports consciousness when they knocked out the long-established Rangers. The Islanders took Game One at the Garden, 3-2, and were routed 8-3 two nights later at the Coliseum. That setup a decisive Game Three the next night at the Garden. The Islanders held a 3-0 lead early in the game before the Rangers mounted a furious comeback to force overtime, which is where we’ll pick up the story. The following is an excerpt from Dynasty: The Oral History of the New York Islanders, 1972-1984 and is republished with permission from author Greg Prato.
EDDIE WESTFALL: I had been there before in the playoffs and overtimes. So my thought was, “What did we do when I was a Boston Bruin when we got to the playoffs and overtime?” One thing we always said in the Bruin dressing room was, “When you’re going to go to overtime, you’ve got to win as quickly as possible. You’ve got to be aggressive, you’ve got to take a little bit of a chance. You don’t want to sit back.” So that’s what we had drummed up in the dressing room. They put out the oldest line on the team – JP Parisé, Jude Drouin, and Ed Westfall. And that’s all we talked about – “Win the face-off, get the puck in, put pressure on them, and we’ll take our chances down in their end of the ice. They can’t score if the puck’s in their backyard.”
JP PARISÉ: I think it was Dave Lewis who dumped the puck into the Rangers corner. And at that time, Jude and I had a play, where he would go to the puck, and just kind of bang it behind the net. I would automatically go to the far corner and receive that pass. We bought time so I could make a play – give him a chance to get back in front of the net or follow behind the net. We had different options. And for some reason, I decided to go to the net, instead. And Jude got to the point, first. One of the Rangers didn’t pick up the puck, so Jude was right on top. He’s the guy that made the whole play – he spotted me going towards the net. All of a sudden, it was right on my stick, and I had a whole open net. I scored, and that’s the last I remembered, because after I scored, I got hit from behind. Brad Park hit me, and I fell down on the ice. But we all went nuts, and the game was over. It was just a great, great feeling.
STAN FISCHLER: The overtime happened so fast, it was a blink of an eye. The whole sequence was surreal – so fast and very little replay availability in those days. I watched it on television. I still can’t believe it.
EDDIE WESTFALL: That was a playoff record at the time [the goal was scored eleven seconds into overtime]. We were surprised. You don’t know you’re going to score. You can’t set it up to say, “This is how you’re going to score it.” You set it up so you give you and your teammates the best opportunity to win the hockey game. And that’s really what that whole thing was about – to give yourself a chance to win it.
JEAN POTVIN: I remember sitting on the bench, and watching a lot of the fans still trying to make their way back from the hot dog stand to their seats, when JP scored eleven seconds into overtime. I will never forget with all the cheering we were doing, you couldn’t help but when you were skating off the ice, to notice all the fans that were still in their seats – many of them were just there with a blank stare. They could not believe that this had taken place. And you had people who were still coming back from the hot dog stand, rushing to see what the roar was, and they couldn’t believe it! People were telling them, “It’s over. They scored.” It was unbelievable.
GLENN “CHICO” RESCH: To get the early goal in the overtime really helped. I wouldn’t have wanted that to go too much further than that.
AL ARBOUR: It really sticks out. Beating the Rangers is really something. We were just starting at the time, and that made our team go. It was a very big win for us.
CLAIRE ARBOUR: I certainly do remember that! Oh my gosh – I was there. I went to very few Rangers games. It wasn’t an easy thing for me to do. Our neighbors down in the courtyard, they knew nothing about hockey, but they said, “Claire, if you want to go to the game, we’ll take you.” So off we go to the game. We’re sitting, and we’re very politely applauding every time the Islanders scored. So people around us kind of knew we were Islanders fans. They didn’t say anything. Then, when they tied it up and we were going into overtime, they tapped us on the shoulder, and said, “Oh, you guys had a great season.” They were kissing us goodbye. “We go to the Coliseum, we have season tickets there too, and it’s really nice. You can be proud of your team.” And of course, the overtime lasted so little – I still don’t know how I got the courage to turn around and say, “Well …see you at the Coliseum!” I was so excited; it was such an unexpected thing. Poor Al – he was in tremendous pain with his back. And they all got up at the same time. The bench went flying on his feet, and he’s trying to cheer that he’s happy, but he’s trying to get the bench off his feet. [Laughs]
BILLY HARRIS: We get down the back freight elevator to the bus, and there’s a mob scene out in the street. They’ve got beer bottles; they’re throwing shit at us. We had to get a police escort to the Midtown Tunnel.
CLAIRE ARBOUR: We came back home, and sat there in total disbelief, that we had won the series. But that was always what he aimed at – to win the playoffs.
AL ARBOUR: It was really great to beat the Rangers in the first round, the first time we were in the playoffs. I mean, it was unbelievable.
BOB NYSTROM: In just the first round with the Rangers, I think it was as if we had grown up. That series really put us on the map, because we beat “the big bad Rangers.” From that standpoint, it was a real feather in our cap. We finally got a little bit of recognition.
GARY “BABA BOOEY” DELL’ABATE: With the Rangers series, my dad was really excited about it – he always loved the underdog. So after they beat the Rangers, it was a huge statement.
STAN FISCHLER: That series was without a doubt the turning point for the team. The enormity of the upset – considering the relative talent on the team – cannot be measured. It was one of these hundred-to-one shots, and the way it was done was even more amazing. It was so tremendous in so many ways. First of all, it established that this was an exciting team. There were individuals now who were becoming personalities, like Potvin and Gillies. And of course, the fact that they were young and were underdogs, there was a romance about these guys. It was the key. It was the kind of thing that’s missing in teams like the Blue Jackets, for example, or the Thrashers – these guys never won. And the Islanders won. It started with that playoff.
GARY “BABA BOOEY” DELL’ABATE: Everything after the Rangers win was gravy.
GLENN “CHICO” RESCH: It was just sort of our year. It was meant to be our “Cinderella year/coming out year.”
JEAN POTVIN: I’ll never forget in the paper the next day [after the Islanders eliminated the Rangers], Derek Sanderson was quoted as saying, “This is a terrible hockey team” – the Islanders are. “They were lucky to beat us. I predict they will never win another game this year in the playoffs.” And we almost didn’t.
Greg Prato is a Long Island based journalist who has been featured in Rolling Stone and is the author of several popular books including the one excerpted here, Dynasty: The Oral History of the New York Islanders, 1972-1984. The book is available here as an ebook and paperback. This excerpt has been reprinted with permission.