In the end, it was all that deja vu of playoffs past that tipped the scale.
"We've been here so many times before," said Mike Bossy, who scored a goal in each period. "For them, I think maybe the playoff jitters kind of got to them. For us, we had such confidence. We seem to come alive more in the playoffs."
Bossy seemed openly relieved that his old scoring touch had returned. In the series' first three games, Bossy hadn't a point to his name. After Saturday's win, he was asked what, if anything, was wrong.
"I don't know that anything's wrong," he said. "We've only played three games. I'm not worried." Then he hesitated. "Well, obviously my contribution, which is scoring goals, just isn't there right now."
Would he do anything specific to correct the situation? "Nothing I would tell anybody about," he said then. "I just hope the goals start coming."
But by last night, Bossy had returned to form, with his first goal less than three minutes into the first period. That one gave him his 100th playoff point (his totals now are 55 goals and 47 assists in 74 NHL playoff games). Someone asked if the 55 goals meant anything to him. Bossy wrinkled his nose and said, "No, not really. I scored three goals tonight. I'm back on track, I hope. And the team played very, very well."
Coach Al Arbour also seemed relieved that Bossy had begun to contribute again. "When Boss got that goal (late in the final period, which made the score 5-3), he got us back where we should have been. We get up a few and start taking it a little casual." Arbour shook his head and grinned. "You'd think we'd learn."
If Bossy had been secretly concerned at his lack of goals during the earlier games, the rest of the team worried openly. "I've gone three games, three playoff games, without a goal before," he said. "But this time, the team was still in the driver's seat. It didn't get to me as much as it got to everybody else. It really seemed to get to the other players."
Bryan Trottier, Bossy's linemate who set up two of the goals last night, smiled at that. "When he starts scoring, that gives us the kind of confidence you need in the playoffs and lets us relax," he said. "When he starts coming alive in the playoffs, well, it's a real treat."
Bossy wasn't really listening. Still in uniform and skates, he sipped a Coke and mopped his face in the glare of the TV lights. Asked about the difference in the series, he said, "They made us work hard, by playing hard against us. Our penalty killing was so good, and that's always a boost, to kill off penalties well. Our goalies--well, I think we've got the best tandem in the league. I just think especially in the third game, Washington was jittery and they let it get to them. It made the difference."
Washington Coach Bryan Murray didn't agree. "Not at all," he said emphatically. "They've (the Islanders) had the experience, the maturity. And their stars really were stars--Potvin, Bossy and whichever goaltender he (Arbour) uses. They're stars and they come up big for them."
Brian Engblom sat in a corner and let the disappointment flow. "Experience always counts for a team when you're under fire," he said. "They stopped us. We had outstanding chances, but they stopped us. I don't think the scores of the games were indicative of how close the games really were. Except for that game we won, we were always chasing them on the scoreboard."
Engblom has been to the playoffs before, during his years with Montreal, and the last few seasons with the Canadiens produced early-round exits.
"In the playoffs, you need everybody working, and the Islanders have that," he said. "All these guys who've been taking a knock all year, now they're wound up, hungry, working. All these different guys scoring goals for them. You've got to get it from everybody, and that's what the Islanders do during the playoffs."
Mike Gartner, obviously disappointed at his lack of production during the postseason, called the playoff games "a learning experience."
"We had a respectable season, improved immensely, and sure, there's disappointment that we didn't do as well as we thought in the playoffs," he said. "Right now, I guess we feel like the Islanders did four or five years ago." He smiled. "They got through it okay."