Detroit-Pittsburgh re-match? A look back at the Oilers-Islanders of 1983 1

Flashback to May 1983. Stanley Cup Final, Game 4. The setting is Long Island, New York.

After winning the first 3 games of the series, the New York Islanders are trying to clinch their 4th straight Stanley Cup title.

Their opponent is the young and talented Edmonton Oilers, the highest scoring team in NHL history, featuring Wayne Gretzky and company.

Trailing late in the third period 3-2, the Oilers are doing everything they can to tie the game and avoid being swept in 4 games.

With the clock winding down and with goalie Andy Moog on the bench, the Oilers are applying good pressure.

But the Islanders, 3-time winners of the Cup and the best defensive team in the NHL, manage to gain control of the puck.

Defenceman Ken Morrow skates the puck out of the Isles zone and fires the puck down the ice into the empty Oilers cage.

The goal clinches Cup number 4 for the Isles.

Meanwhile, the Oilers bench is in total disbelief. How could a team that features Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, and Paul Coffey be held to just 6 goals in the entire Final?

After all, this team still holds the NHL record for most goals per game in a season, at 5.7!

Mind you, the Islanders were also stacked with great players: Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, John Tonelli, Bob Nystrom, Bob Bourne, Butch Goring, Denis Potvin, Morrow, and ‘Battling’ Billy Smith.

However, the key reason the Islanders swept the Oilers in ’83 was because they had poise and experience. They simply knew what had to be done to win in the playoffs.

The young Oilers, in contrast, were still learning. They had just been taught a valuable lesson by the defending champs.

Fast forward to May 2008

The Pittsburgh Penguins have breezed their way through the first 3 rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 12-2 record. Their speed and skill is put on full display. Their offence is seemingly unstoppable.

They feature a slew of talented players, including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Jordan Staal, Petr Sykora, Sergei Gonchar, and Ryan Whitney

Their opponents in the Cup Final are the Detroit Red Wings, a team that resembles a dynasty as we’re ever going to see in today’s parity era.

The Wings feature a team with vast skill and playoff experience. Their core stars include Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall. Their supporting cast features Tomas Holmstrom, Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Samuelsson, Daniel Cleary, and Jiri Hudler.

In other words, a wealth of talent and experience.

Right off the bat, one could say that the experienced Wings of ’08 strongly resemble the Islanders of ’83, while the young Penguins of ‘08 resemble the ’83 Oilers.

Today we know that the Wings went on to defeat the Penguins in 6 games to win their fourth Cup in 10 seasons.

Detroit managed to shut down Crosby and Malkin in much the same way the Islanders completely neutralized Gretzky and Messier.

The Wings played with poise and confidence while the Penguins could not develop any flow in their game. Although the Penguins won 2 games, they were clearly over-matched. They were simply not ready.

Flashback again – May 1984

Going back in time again, 25 years ago this month.

The Islanders and Oilers meet again in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Islanders won all 3 regular season meetings in 1983-84 against the high-scoring Oilers. Not to mention the 4-game sweep in the previous Final.

But the Oilers believe they are ready this time. They feel the experience of losing to the Islanders last season will make them much better this time.

After the Oilers win Game 1 on Long Island by a 1-0 score (Grant Fuhr stood on his head), the Islanders storm back with a 6-1 rout of the Oilers.

The series then moves to Edmonton for Game 3. About half-way through the game, with the Islanders up 2-1, the tide begins to change.

Messier picks up the puck at his own blue line and begins to motor toward the Isles zone facing not 1, but 2 defenders. He then badly dekes one defender, and before the second defender can respond, he fires a strong, quick wrist shot past Billy Smith to tie the game.

From that point forward, the Oilers go on to skate circles around the Islanders. They defeat the Islanders in 5 games to capture their first Stanley Cup.

A completely different result from the previous Final. What happened?

Clearly the Oilers had the talent to win in ’83. But they simply weren’t ready and did not fully understand what it took to win it all.

With the experience of ’83, the ‘84 Oilers managed to become ‘a team’.

Edmonton eventually won Cups again in ’85, ’87, ’88 and ’90. But it was the ’83 Final that gave the Oilers the needed experience to learn how to win.


Fast forward to May 2009

The Penguins appear to be headed to another Stanley Cup Final bout with the Red Wings.

This would be the first Cup Final re-match in successive seasons since the Oilers-Islanders met 25 years ago.

The similarities are quite apparent.

No team has the playoff experience of the Red Wings, much like the Islanders way back when.

Arguably no team can run a high tempo offense like the Penguins, much like the Oilers in the past.

The Red Wings are trying to win another Cup, like the Islanders.

The young Penguins are trying to avenge their loss from the previous year, like the Oilers.

The Pens feature a high-scoring offence led by Crosby and Malkin. Ditto the Oilers with Gretzky and Messier.

It remains to be seen whether the Penguins will follow in the Oilers footsteps, or whether the Red Wings will prevail again.

Nevertheless the parallels are as glaring as they are intriguing.


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