Thursday, August 4, 2011

New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 7, 1993 Patrick Division Finals

Once upon a time, the Islanders were a pretty decent hockey team. Sure, the 1992-93 were nothing like the team that won four straight Stanley Cups in the 1980s, but they still had Al Arbour coaching behind the bench and a mixture of talented veterans and promising youngsters. The Islanders of 1992-93 were good enough to snatch third place in the Patrick Division, then beat the Capitals in six games in the first round. But nobody expected the Islanders to hang around with the two time defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Led by Mario Lemieux, the Penguins had All-Stars up and down their lineup, and finished the regular season with a 19 game unbeaten streak. They breezed past the Devils in the first round, but were flummoxed by the lightly regarded Islanders, who fought and clawed their way to a game 7 in Pittsburgh. In the deciding game, the Islanders would win four to three, thanks to an overtime goal by an unlikely source, left wing David Volek. The Penguins hopes for a three-peat were done, and the Islanders moved on to the conference finals. The Islanders haven't won a playoff series since. A few notes about this game.

- Volek is a classic example of the playoff hero that comes out of nowhere. During the regular season, Volek scored a mere eight goals, and was so highly thought of that he was a healthy stracth for the entire first round and the first two games of the second round. Volek came into game 7 without a point in the playoffs, but with the score knotted at one in the third period, Volek took a drop pass from Ray Ferraro and fired a shot just under the blocker of Penguins goalie Tom Barasso to give the Islanders the lead. Then in overtime, Ferraro and Volek led a 2 on 1 break, and Volek fired a one timer past Barasso to knock the Penguins out of the playoffs. Success would be fleeting for Volek, as he scored only seven more goals in his career and was out of the NHL after the 1994 season, but he'll always have that one moment in the spotlight.

- Another player that came up big for the Islanders was goalie Glenn Healy. In the first period, the Penguins outshot the Islanders by a 17-6 margin, and Healy stopped them all. Overall, Healy stopped 42 shots in the game, including a great diving glove save on Ron Francis in overtime. Not bad for a 5'8" goalie who split time with Mark Fitzpatrick during the regular season. But despite his small stature, Healy was huge for the Islanders here. Healy would leave the next season and end up on the cross town Rangers as a backup, where he won a Stanley Cup ring, while the Islanders replaced Healy with Ron Hextall despite Healy's stellar work in the postseason, which was yet another move that hasn't worked out for the Islanders in the last 20 years.

- During the game, the announcers kept referring to the Islanders winning as one of the biggest upests in Stanley Cup playoff history, and they were probably right. The Islanders had 87 points during the regular season and their roster was populated with mostly journeymen like Healy. Furthermore, the team's brightest star Pierre Turgeon (132 points during the regular season) missed the first six games due to a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, the Penguins had four future Hall of Famers (Lemieux, Francis, Joe Mullen, Larry Murphy) a fifth player likely to be a Hall of Famer when he's eligible (Jaromir Jagr) and All-Stars such as Rick Tocchet, Kevin Stevens, Ulf Samuelsson, and Barrasso. Furthermore, they had the league's most points (119), won the last two Stanley Cups, and were led by Scotty Bowman, the man widely considered the greatest coach in NHL history. But thanks to some great goaltending from Healy, key contributions on offense by Ferraro and Steve Thomas and the stellar defensive play of Darius Kasperitus, the Islanders somehow fought their way to a seventh game and a victory over a team that many felt were the class of the NHL that year. That's why they play the game.

- Give credit to the Penguins, though. They looked out of it after falling to a 3-1 deficit in the third period. But with less than four minutes to go, Larry Murphy led a rush, wound up behind the net, and set up Ron Francis to score a goal to get the Penguins and their fans back into it. With just over a minute to go, the Penguins pulled their goalie, and once again Murphy (who almost lost the puck at the blue line) set up a goal with a shot that bounced off of Francis and Rick Tocchet's sticks and wound up in the net. Even though the goal was credited to Tocchet, replays did not indicate that the puck deflected off of him at all, and it looked like Francis was the last to touch it. Either way, the Penguins tied it at three and finally showed some fight after being in a haze for most of the final period. Of course, the Islanders didn't fold, stayed calm, and wound up with the winning goal, but the Penguins didn't go down without a fight.

- While Healy was great on the Islanders end, Penguins goalie Tom Barrasso didn't have his best night. The first goal he allowed was the result of a poor clearing pass by Ulf Samuelsson and a lucky bounce off the boards, while the second one was a shot he had the angle on, but just missed it. The third goal the Islanders scored was nearly unfathomable. Benoit Hogue fired a wrist shot from behind the blue line that slightly bounced off of Murphy's stick, but was still headed right at Barrasso. Somehow, the puck went under his blocker and landed in the net to give the Islanders a 3-1 lead. To me, that was worse than allowing the game winner, because it was one of the easiest chances of the night and Barrasso just whiffed on it. If he stops it then, who knows what happens? because it's still a one goal game. Barrasso was the goaltender for the Penguins' cup winning teams, but his poor play throughout the series has caused him to be looked at as the main reason the Pens didn't win a third cup. But Barrasso wasn't the only goat, as the Penguins defense was loose with the puck all night long, constantly letting passes go by them and being unable to keep it onside. Ulf Samuelsson, even though he scored the first goal, caused the first Islanders goal with a bad pass, and he went too far up the ice on the play that eventually resulted in Volek's game winner. Meanwhile, Bowman played Mario Lemieux early and often, and while Lemieux was effective in the first two periods, he eventually wore down and wasn't his usual spectacular self.

- Then again, it could have different for the Penguins if Kevin Stevens wasn't hurt in a first period collision with Islanders' defenseman Rich Pilon. Stevens, one of the top wingers in the league at the time, left the game with a concussion and a broken nose after his check went awry. Meanwhile, the Islanders got their own superstar back in Turgeon, although he only played limited minutes and was not a factor.

After this game, the Islanders went on to the Conference Finals, well they fell to the Montreal Canadiens in 5 games. It's the last time the Islanders have been that close to the Stanley Cup Finals, as years of mismanagement have turned a once-proud franchise into a joke. The Penguins didn't get a third Stanley Cup until 2009, but remained a competitive team thanks to Lemieux and Jagr for much of the next decade. Well, thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this game or ideas for future posts, then share them either by leaving a comment or by sending me an e-mail at

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