Although the Quebec Nordiques bowed out of the Stanley Cup playoffs tonight, they left the 15,238 fans in Le Colisee with some bright remembrances to help fill the hockeyless summer months.
Trailing the champion New York Islanders, 3-0, with four minutes left in regulation time, the Nordiques got goals 37 seconds apart from Dave Pichette and Michel Goulet. They could not produce one more, however, and an empty-net score by Duane Sutter with two seconds left gave New York a 4-2 victory and the Prince of Wales Conference championship in the minimum four games.
"I'm very pleased, because we didn't want another crack at this team," said Islanders Coach Al Arbour. "When they get rolling, you don't know what will happen."
The Islanders now will await the winner of the Chicago-Vancouver series as they bid for a third straight Cup. For the young Nordiques, the playoff triumphs over Montreal and Boston offer ample consolation, despite this four-game wipeout.
"I'm really proud of my team," said Quebec Coach Michel Bergeron. "We never gave up. The Islanders are a great hockey club. The big difference is experience. They know the way to win. I hope this year we learned about that and next year we'll be more ready."
For 53 minutes, the Islanders were in complete control. Bob Bourne breezed in unchallenged from the right-wing circle to beat goalie Dan Bouchard on the short side at 2:01 of the first period. Then John Tonelli converted Bob Nystrom's pass with a shot over Bouchard's left shoulder at 1:09 of the second.
With goalie Bill Smith spoiling the Nordiques' few scoring chances, the series was slumbering toward a conclusion. With 6:13 remaining, however, Quebec's Peter Stastny caught his frequent tormentor, Bryan Trottier, off balance and knocked him into the boards.
Stastny was penalized for interference and Clark Gillies' power-play goal, against a gambling Quebec penalty-killing unit that included three forwards, appeared to wrap it up at 3-0.
Instead, Stastny seemed to transmit some belated energy to his teammates. Pichette hit a 40-footer past Smith to end the goalie's shutout bid with 3:51 left. Thirty-seven seconds later, Goulet took a pass by Tonelli and scored on a breakaway, putting a low shot under Smith's glove.
The fans were screaming, hoping for a miracle. The Islanders came on with renewed vigor, however, and only some remarkable saves by Bouchard maintained the one-goal differential until a foolish two-line pass gave Quebec a chance to replace the goalie with a sixth skater.
That error proved inconsequential when Sutter took the puck away from Wilf Paiement and put a shot into the empty net.
"I think we were lax," Nystrom said. "We thought we had it sewed up. We'd gone 55 minutes without allowing a goal and there wasn't really any pressure, but the lump was pretty high when they scored that second goal. My throat was full of cotton balls and that hasn't happened for a while, but we've been through a lot of pressure situations and we clicked on again right away."
"We had our lapses and they scored on both of them," Trottier said. "Overall, though, we checked them very well. We broke up a lot of plays at the blueline. We'd rather play that way than open it up, because when you open it up anything can happen.
"Stastny caught me when I wasn't expecting it, but I have a whole career to get him back."
After the final siren, Denis Potvin, the Islanders' captain, took a brief skate with the Prince of Wales Trophy. It was sort of a dress rehearsal for the Cup victory most folks consider inevitable, just as soon as the final victim is determined.