What did we expect of this game?" Mike Bossy repeated the question as if it were too obvious even to ask. "We expected to win, and we did." He shrugged, as if the New York Islanders win playoff series every day.
Maybe it only seems that way. By beating the New York Rangers, 5-2, tonight, the defending Stanley Cup champions took their Patrick Division final 4-2, setting an NHL record in winning their 14th consecutive playoff series. These same Rangers defeated them in the 1979 semifinals.
"They've got character, and they didn't give up," said Butch Goring, who scored two goals. "We came in here and knew what we'd have to do against them. I think we did it well and are getting stronger."
The Islanders, bidding to win their fourth straight Stanley Cup, will face the winner of the Buffalo-Boston series in the semifinals beginning Tuesday night on the home ice of the Adams Division team.
What the Islanders did, after the Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the first period, was to wear the Rangers down. "I could see (goaltender) Eddie Mio getting tired late in the game," said Bob Bourne.
After Ron Duguay gave the home team a lift with his goal at 12:44 of the opening period, John Tonelli and Goring gave the Islanders an edge. First Goring set up Tonelli with a backhand pass that turned into the tying goal at 4:02 of the middle period. A minute later, Tonelli returned the favor, passing the puck to Goring, who successfully took a hard wrist shot at 5:03.
The Rangers tied the score, 2-2, with a goal by Mikko Leinonen after a long pass from Anders Hedberg and, after two periods, both teams were surely pondering the possibility of overtime.
But the Islanders, who definitely did not want to play a seventh game, came back with three goals--by Goring, Brent Sutter and Ken Morrow--to send the Rangers packing for a summer vacation.
"We were set for a long series," said Islanders Coach Al Arbour. "We wanted to go into this game taking the body and I think, with six games, it seemed to pay off."
Taking the body paid off particularly well on Goring's second goal, when Tonelli shook off Rangers defenseman Bill Baker and left him standing by the boards, and Bob Nystrom skated around the other Rangers to put the puck on Goring's stick.
"I may have gotten the goals, but the wingers did all the work," said Goring, whose goals were his first of this year's postseason. "As a team we know we can turn it on when it really counts."
Arbour was especially pleased by all the different players scoring. "I've always said what we need in the playoffs is balance, and you can't just rely on one guy. In both the Washington series and this one, we've gotten that."
Herb Brooks, the Rangers coach, hid his disappointment well, and did not use the Rangers' numerous injuries as an excuse for the loss.
"In the first five minutes, we got to running around in the defensive zone and missed some assignments," he said. "We didn't always have proper coverage. But we played a very aggressive, as opposed to conservative, type of checking game, and we tried to open it up without the puck.
"Obviously, we played to win, not just not to lose."
Mio, despite facing 87 shots in the last two games (Islanders counterpart Billy Smith faced 50), did not show signs of tiring until very late in the game. "He had to be getting tired," said Bourne. "He started to go down early, and didn't cover angles as well as he had."
The Islanders were unanimous in paying tribute to the Rangers' tenacity. "You have to admire the way they came back at us after losing those first two games," said Bourne. "They played well tonight, too, but I really think it's our depth that made the difference. We're just a deeper team than they are at this point."