A year ago, the New York Islanders became the first National Hockey League team to rebound from a two-game deficit and win a best-of-five playoff series.
Their frustrated victims, the Washington Capitals, have gone two up again and are in position Saturday to become the first team to sweep a series from the Islanders.
New York has taken 27 of 34 postseason series and won at least one game in each of the seven it lost. Aided by favorable home-ice line matchups, the Islanders no doubt will wage a gallant fight to maintain that record.
The Capitals, however, are riding such a wave of confidence, buoyed by victories Wednesday and Thursday as well as on their last two visits here, that they appear capable of ending things without further ado.
"The team is very confident right now and we just have to play the same way in New York that we did at the Centre," said defenseman John Barrett. "It would be nice to get some rest before the next series. The Islanders are a good hockey team with a lot of character and we don't want to give them any life if we can possibly help it."
The excellent play of Barrett and Greg Smith, the defensemen obtained from Detroit in the Darren Veitch trade, has been a major factor in the Capitals' recent success. In the past, the Islanders have worn down four-man Washington defensive units -- in 1983, the Capitals actually rotated three in Rod Langway, Scott Stevens and Brian Engblom.
"This year is different, because we're not just playing four defensemen," Langway said. "We're playing six and it's keeping us up physically."
Barrett and Smith were not part of the three previous flops, so they entered this series in a positive frame of mind, one that has become contagious.
"We have to win one more game, period," Smith said. "Everything else is history. Oh, the other series against the Islanders have been mentioned in the locker room, but it's not negative mention. It's an incentive-type thing. There's no way we want that to happen again."
Smith has been upgraded to a partnership with Stevens and the pairing had much to do with his first goal as a Capital on Thursday, which gave Washington a 2-1 lead.
"They've been keying on Scotty so much -- they have to, he's been playing so well -- that it kind of left me open," Smith said. "It's exciting for me, because obviously I knew I wouldn't make the playoffs with Detroit. Now, I'm with one of the better teams and it's been an easy transition. They play such a good defensive style here, it's easier to play for Washington than Detroit."
Smith and Barrett played little when they first arrived, but Murray has expanded their roles as he has appreciated the things he has seen.
"John Barrett and Greg Smith are strong guys and they're physically involved," Murray said. "Along with Kevin Hatcher, they're making a big contribution. One of my complaints three years ago was our style of play against the Islanders. We just weren't strong enough to get through them, or to hold them off.
"In this division, you have to have depth and you have to have strength. They've given us both. It took me a little time to get to know them and to get some confidence in them.
"They enjoy playing in tough, physical games. That's what we felt we needed when we made the trade and it has worked out very well. John Barrett is out there yapping at guys and pushing them around. We haven't had anybody like that before. And he's quicker than I thought."
Barrett made a shocking move past Rangers defenseman Jim Wiemer last week and he is not reluctant to carry the puck if defenders concerned with other players leave him room.
"I know what my role is," Barrett said. "I like to get involved and stir things up. I didn't get anything going last night, but I know that with Rod and Scott on the left side, there will be nights when I don't get a lot of ice time."
The Islanders took the body in the first period Thursday, but they were decked as often as they belted somebody. Eventually, they seemed to tire and lose enthusiasm for the hard hitting.
"They dumped the puck and hit us when we turned to get it," Barrett said. "But we hit them, too. Maybe the Islanders in other years felt they could punish us, but I think it's neutralized now."
The Islanders have won nine of their last 11 playoff games here, and lost 12 of their last 14 on the road. A key factor is the matchups, with Gaetan Duchesne's shutout job on Mike Bossy at Capital Centre a good illustration. It is unlikely New York Coach Al Arbour will send Bossy out Saturday unless Duchesne is on the bench.
"There's no question that having the right people on the ice is very important," Murray said. "We have to ask other guys to step forward and do the job against certain guys. There will be a little movement of personnel now.
"We know it won't be easy. We respect the Islanders and we're playing it one game, one shift at a time. I'm sure we'll hear a lot of comments about last year, but this is a different team and a different situation."
The Islanders probably will make a goaltending change, with Kelly Hrudey replacing Bill Smith, but their primary concern has to be freeing Bossy for better shots.
"There's no doubt about the fact that they're doing a good job checking us," Bossy said. "I know we can do a lot better, but, damn, they're doing a good job."
"I don't know if there's much we can do . . . to change our style of play," said New York's Denis Potvin. "What we've got to do is work a little harder, make a few breaks.
"This is a team that plays well when it's in the lead and every time they've had the lead. We have to take it away from them and see how they play then."