After beating the Capitals last night, the Islanders spouted all the right cliches: a big victory, satisfying, very important, good response to pressure. And then team captain Denis Potvin took a swig of beer, wiped his face with a towel and said, "But next Wednesday, the first game of the (Stanley Cup) playoffs against them, this won't mean a thing. We've beaten them three times in a row, and I've already forgotten the first two."
For the Islanders, the victory restores their sole ownership of second place in the Patrick Division, which ultimately will result in the home ice advantage in the playoffs. Potvin and Islander Coach Al Arbour agreed it was nearly as much a pressure situation for New York as for Washington. But as Bob Nystrom said, "We've been there (to the playoffs) and certainly we are used to this kind of pressure. We were really up for this, and I think maybe they were just a little tense."
Arbour, reading a final statistics sheet, was most pleased with seeing five different players account for goals--two each by Mike Bossy and Brent Sutter, the rest by Tomas Jonsson, Bob Bourne and Nystrom.
"For this time of season, it's such a big win, and with all the different guys getting goals, it gives our game a more balanced effort overall," he said. "It shows we're gettting more confidence, individually and collectively, and are sacrificing for each other. But I think our players have the common sense not to get carried away with this. We still have to face two more games (Pittsburgh at Uniondale on Saturday and the Flyers in Philadelphia to finish the season Sunday)."
Potvin, asked if the team was playing its best hockey as it faces a chance for a fourth Stanley Cup, gave a little half-smile. "Even at our best, I don't feel that," he said. "There's always room for improvement, and don't think that because of this win things will be any less intense in meetings and at practice. This was a two-point victory, an edge for us, but when the playoffs come, who cares what happened during the regular season?"
Nystrom thinks the team is heading for its peak at just the right moment. "We've come along well, and even though Philadelphia got a big lead on us (in the division) we never really gave up on catching them. Truthfully, though, they could slide at some point, and we never felt out of it. Going into the playoffs, you don't have to work at it to get up, you just play up."
Bossy, almost expressionless as always, acknowledged last night's game as "a good one, significant for us because they're the team we meet first in the playoffs. After seeing this tonight, you know well enough to expect a good playoff with them. And we know we can't relax."
In their dressing room, the consensus among the Islanders was that they would not be complacent in the playoffs even though they beat the Capitals in their last three meetings.
"I don't think there's one player in here who could go on the ice thinking that," Arbour said. "When the season's over, it's a new slate and you have to forget about what's already happened."
Potvin pondered the question a little longer, then said, "If there was any sign of such complacence, of somebody relaxing, whoever is at fault will find himself with 19 or 20 guys going after him . . .
"Certainly, in the Islander kind of thinking, you can't let up, don't let up till that final buzzer sounds and I skate over and pick up that cup."